Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
By Lee Billings
(Penguin, 304 pages, $27.95)
IN THE PRINCIPLES of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: “We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him.” Descartes didn’t know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world has improved across the past half-millennium there has been a clear trend of dethronement, of blows to the collective self-esteem of Homo sap.