Where Are They? And why haven’t we found them yet? by Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger
This could be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read.I bought this book because I had previously bought and enjoyed History’s Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams. That book wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough that I wanted to see what they’d written next. And I am so glad I did. Where Are They? shows what happens when writers gain confidence in what they are doing. This book soars to the heights – both in its subject matter and literally, as a masterpiece in conveying information.
The title comes from physicist Enrico Fermi who said, about theories that Earth should already have received extraterrestrial visitors and yet no convincing evidence of a visit existed, “Where is everybody?” The universe should be teeming with civilisations at one level of development or another – so where are they?
The book examines all the current theories that have been developed to answer this question. It takes no sides. It simply sets out the present state of knowledge. But it does so in the most brilliant, beautiful prose. So brilliant that I would recommend this book even to readers with no interest in the search for alien intelligence, simply because they will enjoy the limpid prose and the humour with which the arguments are presented.
Here is an example:
‘Imagine that you are in the same position as one of those alien astronauts being tapped up for a journey to Earth from the galaxy MACS0647-JD. It’s 13.3 billion light years away, so – if your civilisation has developed a form of transportation that will travel at the speed of light – the time spent on the journey is unimaginable. Would you want to do it? Leave the kids, your husband and your book club knowing that at the end of your journey you would encounter a civilisation a few hundred millennia less developed than yours? And that you couldn’t get home for nearly 27 billion years at the earliest, by which time your planet would in all possibility have come to the end of its life? And that, when you arrived on Earth, your body would have been renewed some eighty times, so you wouldn’t really still be you at all?’
Not a single prominent theory about the evolution of life forms has been left out. It’s also clear that the authors take a dim (they would probably say “realistic”) view of humanity’s fitness to receive visitors from another civilisation.
I’ll say it again: this could be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Do yourself the most amazing favour and READ IT.
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Review by David Ben Efraim of Quick Review Books
Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger take the Logical Route
Our society has most recently developed its tremendous fascination with outer space, largely due to the fact our observational and communicative technologies have advanced by nigh-incalculable leaps in the past decades. However, the allure of the stars always captured the imagination of our ancestors, even as primitive as cavemen if we are to judge by the paintings they left behind. We have been striving for countless years to gain a few more grains of knowledge on what lies beyond our Earthly realms, and if we take a look at the progress we have made in its totality, we would find it is both extremely significant and insignificant at the same time. We might know a lot more than we once did, but it still remains virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger have decided to compress this sum of human knowledge into a book titled Where Are They?.
The first thing I should mention, this is a non-fiction book and its aim is to explore as profoundly as possible both sides of the argument debating on the existence of aliens and our likelihood of ever meeting them. In order to do so, it begins with hypothetical explorations of the many different scenarios which might result from us encountering aliens in the future. Following that, they take a more grounded approach as they examine the various efforts we've made in an attempt to find alien life forms as well as the theories we have developed over time. The book then expands into evolutionary theories which might account for both the existence or inexistence of aliens. For the final stretch, the authors focus on where they believe the road ahead might lead us and what we ought to expect based on what we have witnessed on Earth.
A Light Read on a Heavy Topic
It should go without saying the science of space exploration is extremely complicated, involving various fields such as cosmology, physics, biology, and probably many more with names I could never hope to remember. Somehow, the authors have managed to do away with the overwhelming majority of complicated stuff and have laid things out in layman's terms. Even the more complex theories, calculations and philosophies are explained in a very simple and intuitive manner, and I believe this is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much. As much as I would love to know all the intricacies behind the calculations at the SETI Project or the profound implications of isolationism, I accept they are more than a tad beyond me, unless of course I have countless hours to dedicate to their study... which I don't.
In my previous non-fictional readings on the subject of aliens, I often found the authors either kept things far too simple and surface-level, or they dove so deeply into the technical details they were never seen again. This book feels like it strikes the perfect middle ground between the two, as I never had any problems progressing or felt the need to re-read what I just went through for comprehension purposes. I always had a good understanding of what the authors were trying to depict, and what's more, I really felt like I was learning from one page to the next. Perhaps it has to do with the authors' slightly humorous and easy-going style, but the information never had any problems sticking in my mind.
The Unbiased Perspective
Authors who write on the subject of aliens generally have their minds set on a certain theory or scenario they believe to be the likeliest... and are thus biased in their dissection of the subject. While I wouldn't say the authors here have achieved complete and utter neutrality (their passion for the possibility of alien life existing briefly manifests itself from time to time), they have come closer than most. I never got the sense they were trying to push something down my throat or guide me along a specific path to shape my beliefs. They do a fantastic job of setting their own notions aside for the most part, simply delivering the cold, hard facts and renowned published theories.
I felt this even held true for the more philosophical parts of the book where the authors explore the various possible implications of first contact, technology exchange, or us being alone in the universe, just to name a few. Would the elite seek to hoard knowledge and technology from the aliens? Developmentally-speaking, are we prepared for the moral responsibilities of incredible advancements? They raise some very interesting points which I found pushed me to do further research, rather than jump to any conclusions. Ultimately, I feel the authors truly want to educate their readers, providing them with the resources and curiosity necessary to delve deeper into the subject and perhaps even develop their own theories on the matter. After all, while we might know more than we once did, we still know virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things... a thing Lazaroff and Rodger always keep in mind.
The Final Verdict
All in all, Where Are They? by Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger is probably the most engaging and reader-friendly nonfiction book on aliens I have had the pleasure of reviewing, at least in recent memory. It's written in a slightly humours and easy style and covers all the bases of our search for alien life without going in too deep but still providing a big enough wealth of information. If you are even remotely interested in aliens what humanity has accomplished in its search for them, then I strongly recommend you give this book a shot.
The term “scam” is really a new word in the English lexicon and has come to supersede its older and more distinguished original cousin, “the confidence game” or “con game”, as it became popularly known at the time. One constant in human history is the tendency to want to shorten and simplify some of the most descriptive concepts we have, to anything that can be mumbled as a single syllable mouthful.
Throughout history, there have always been fraudsters and tricksters ready and willing to part people from their money with smooth talking and tall tales, but the first formally recorded “confidence trick” was uniquely American in its origins and set the bar for both simplicity and sheer guts, both hallmarks of the most successful frauds ever perpetrated.
In the late 1840’s the east coast of the United States was awash with the nouveau riche, and men wearing top hats to look important. Good manners and polite society were everything unless you were a slave in which case the top hat was entirely optional. It was the age of Jane Austen, white gloves, carriages and over-the-top manners. It was also the time of pocket watches, dangling from gold chains. Victorian sensibilities dictated that the bigger and shinier the watch, the bigger and shinier the man.
Enter one William Thompson, arguably the originator of the term “confidence man”, a genius operator and a personal hero to the career grifter. Little is known about where he came from, but what is certain is that he had his finger on the pulse of well-heeled suckers strolling the walkways and avenues of Manhattan in the mid-nineteenth century.
Meeting someone was a rigid, formal affair with protocol and procedures; the handshake, tip of the hat and bow were rigidly choreographed. Failure to introduce oneself properly or be introduced according to accepted custom was seen as an embarrassment to both parties – and embarrassment was worse than a bleeding head wound, to be avoided at all costs. Operating in New York in the 1840s, William was a keen observer of human behaviour. He realized that, with such pomp and ceremony surrounding every introduction, it was considered the ultimate in bad manners not to remember people that one might have been acquainted with – he calculated that when confronted with a stranger that said he was a friend, most men would likely act as though they remembered a meeting that had never happened.
William thought he might be able to leverage this, and so would often stroll along the city streets, until he spotted an upper-class sucker, at which time he would approach and pretend to know them and be a past acquaintance, someone that they had met before. Rather than be embarrassed, the mark would usually smile, nod and pretend that he knew who William was – better that than risk dishonour, or a pistol duel – which was how some matters of honour were settled at the time.
After some friendly chatting, and a little trust-gaining, Thompson would throw out his hook, asking “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” He wasn’t all about watches – sometimes he would ask for money. It’s good to diversify. More often than not, the mark would part with the watch or the money (or sometimes both) and William would depart, promising to meet the next day to return the property. Naturally, he didn’t keep the next day’s appointment and would often stroll away, laughing to himself.
He repeated this game dozens of times until he had the bad luck to happen across a former victim, who promptly summoned a roving policeman who gave chase. After a frantic foot pursuit through Manhattan and a dramatic struggle, William was bodily subdued and arrested. Perhaps he was slowed down by the weight of all those pocket watches; it was reported that he had several on him at the time he was caught.
His arrest and the subsequent article in the New York Herald called “Arrest of the Confidence Man” made headlines across the country; he was headed to trial in 1849. The press noted his specific appeals to victims’ “confidence” and thereafter he was known in the press as “The Confidence Man”. And so the term was born, and “confidence game” or “con” became part of our vocabulary, and spawned an endless series of quick-buck fraudster copycats that said, “me too”!
This is the story of some of the greatest.
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