Coming Soon: Review of “Civilized Life in the Universe”

The following paragraphs are excerpted from an upcoming review of Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials by George Basalla. The full review will be available at this URL after its publication in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel or another major metropolitan newspaper.

Are we alone?

In a thought-provoking new book, Civilized Life in the Universe, George Basalla, science historian and emeritus professor at the University of Delaware dives, with pen flailing, into the centuries old, often heated debate over the question of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Although readers will discover where he stands, Basalla’s intent is not to answer the question of whether intelligent extraterrestrials exist (and whether we and they could detect each other if they do). Rather, he focuses on the historical and social impact of the question itself.

This is not a book for spectators. Basalla’s prose challenges readers’ preconceptions at almost every turn. Whether or not they agree with his analysis, they will eagerly join him in the tussle of ideas….

Few readers will buy into every aspect of Basalla’s interpretation of this fascinating slice of science history. Still, it is hard to dispute that his research is thorough and his analysis well-stated. SETI advocates and Carl Sagan fans may consider Basalla to be a skunk at the garden party. But most readers will admire his ability to play a role that Sagan himself would occasionally assume, that of agent provocateur who brings attention to an argument well worth having.

If you like Civilized Life in the Universe, you might also enjoy the Science Shelf reviews of other books about life in the Universe, which includes additional links to additional related reviews, including Life As We Do Not Know It by Peter Ward.

Physicist Fred Bortz has written extensively about planetary science for young readers. His most recent book, Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel, describes three remarkable nights of observing Uranus, Neptune, and the moons of Mars at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. He is currently researching a book for young readers about the “Cool Science” of Exobiology.

1 thought on “Coming Soon: Review of “Civilized Life in the Universe””

  1. It was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on January 29, and a slightly longer version is available at the Science Shelf.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers ( and Science book reviews (

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