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The Planet-Girded Suns: The Long History of Belief in Exoplanets

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Length: 363 pages5 hours

Summary

Interest in extrasolar worlds is not new. From the late 17th century until the end of the 19th, almost all educated people believed that the stars are suns surrounded by inhabited planets--a belief that was expressed not in science fiction, but in serious speculation, both scientific and religious, as well as in poetry. Only during the first half of the 20th century was it thought that life-bearing extrasolar planets are rare.

This is not a science book--rather, it belongs to the category known as History of Ideas. First published by Atheneum in 1974, it tells the story of the rise, fall, and eventual renewal of widespread conviction that we are not alone in the universe. In this updated edition the chapters dealing with modern views have been revised to reflect the progress science has made during the past 40 years, including the actual detection of planets orbiting other stars.

More poetry from past centuries, source notes, and an extensive bibliography have been added to this edition. In addition it contains a new Afterword, "Confronting the Universe in the Twenty-First Century," discussing the relevance of past upheavals in human thought to an understanding of the hiatus in space exploration that has followed the Apollo moon landings.

From the published reviews:

"Engdahl has marshalled an impressive and fascinating selection of primary sources--including a roster of believers that includes Newton, Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, and rocket pioneer Robert Goddard; and . . . reminded us that our ancestors entertained a view of the universe that was larger and more imaginative than the history books lead us to believe. Challenging and original." --Kirkus Reviews

"In a brisk, engrossing account Engdahl traces the theories and speculations concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life throughout history. . . . This [book] is based on original research in primary sources and smoothly incorporates many quotations from scientists, philosophers, poets and theologians." --ALA Booklist

"The Planet-Girded Suns is a beautiful example of what the disciplined imagination can do. . . . It is a fine, carefully done history of the ideas about other worlds--nicely balanced in its presentation of the informational and mystical elements of the subject." --Horn Book

"The substantial treatment of the history of the idea of other solar systems, based largely on research in primary documents, should make it of use to scholars." --Isis One Hundred Second Critical Bibliography of the History of Science and Its Cultural Implications

"Easy to read and on a timely subject approached from an original point of view, this also serves as a model to show how an idea is researched and documented." --School Library Journal

"By carefully reconstructing her story from voluminous notes on many writers, both well-known and obscure, Engdahl has given vitality and dimension to the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence." --Cosmic Search

"This is an important and interesting book. . . . The author's thought-provoking presentation on the subject should provide some fascinating reading." --National Space Society, 2012

"Engdahl has crated a well-crafted, well-researched and unique view on exoplanets, and is a must-read for those who want a different view on space than the usual technical one." --Readers’ Favorites, 2012

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