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Publisher's Summary

From a noted Cambridge zoologist, a wildly fun and scientifically sound exploration of what alien life must be like, using universal laws that govern life on Earth and in space.

Scientists are confident that life exists elsewhere in the universe. Yet rather than taking a realistic approach to what aliens might be like, we imagine that life on other planets is the stuff of science fiction. The time has come to abandon our fantasies of space invaders and movie monsters and place our expectations on solid scientific footing.

But short of aliens landing in New York City, how do we know what they are like? Using his own expert understanding of life on Earth and Darwin's theory of evolution - which applies throughout the universe - Cambridge zoologist Dr. Arik Kershenbaum explains what alien life must be like: how these creatures will move, socialize, and communicate. For example, by observing fish whose electrical pulses indicate social status, we can see that other planets might allow for communication by electricity. As there was evolutionary pressure to wriggle along a sea floor, Earthling animals tend to have left/right symmetry; on planets where creatures evolved in midair or in soupy tar, they might be lacking any symmetry at all.

Might there be an alien planet with supersonic animals? A moon where creatures have a language composed of smells? Will aliens scream with fear, act honestly, or have technology? The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy answers these questions using the latest science to tell the story of how life really works, on Earth and in space.

©2021 Arik Kershenbaum (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"'Are we alone?’ In his book The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arik Kershenbaum takes a novel and rewarding approach to this question.... A wonderful mix of science-based speculation and entertaining whimsy.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Helpful definitions and explanations guide the reader through concepts such as chaos theory, natural selection, form versus function and convergent evolution.... Through these examples, which he mixes with humor and even references to science fiction books and films, Kershenbaum relays fascinating scientific concepts in layman’s terms. The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy will appeal to anyone who ponders what life is like among the stars.” (BookPage

“In his entertaining and thought provoking The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Cambridge University zoologist and mathematical biologist Arik Kershenbaum provides readers with a tentative sketch of the nature of potential alien life on other potentially habitable planets.” (Science

What listeners say about The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy

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A zoologist looks at what aliens we might meet

Arik Kershenbaum is a zoologist, and College Lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge. In this book, he uses his deep knowledge of zoology on this planet to work out what alien life might be like, if and when we find it.

He starts from the assumption that both the same physical laws will apply everywhere, and that evolution is the only reasonable mechanism to govern the development of life. We can't say exactly what alien life forms will be like, but we can make reasonable projections of how life forms might move, communicate, and socialize in environments we can plausibly envision existing on other worlds.

Kershenbaum takes us through some of the ways evolution has created animals to populate what are from the human perspective truly bizarre and alien environments right here on Earth, including the deep ocean--and the ways very different types of organisms have evolved essentially the same solution to similar problems. An obvious example is birds and bats, both of which have arms, or forelegs if you prefer, evolved into wings. They're not even the only two groups of animals that have evolved that very similar solution, but they're the two most similar that we're all familiar with.

He goes on to examine ways in which aliens in a variety of types of environments might move, get energy, and communicate with each other--and perhaps, eventually, communicate with us. He also examines whether we would, if the opportunity arises, consider intelligent aliens as people, or even human. I'm not persuaded by his argument for the usefulness of extending the word "human" to include intelligent aliens; I think it's more reasonable to stick with "people," since I'm not sure these hypothetical intelligent aliens would necessarily be flattered by us deciding we're all the same species. But who knows, we haven't met them yet. It's all speculation, and Kershenbaum's argument is interesting.

He's got some really fascinating speculation about what kind of life we might find in the interior oceans of worlds like Saturn's moon, Enceladus, which are potentially capable of supporting life, or whether there may be aliens who, like some of Earth's cephalopods, use the ability to control their displays of color to convey impressively complex communication. These are just specific examples; this is a fascinating and delightful book.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

8 people found this helpful

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Good information on the status of evolution

Interesting read. However, I have trouble hearing the reader when he often drastically lowers the volume at the end of long sentences (as he runs out of breath?). I wonder why the editors allow that.

3 people found this helpful

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I felt tricked, in a good way

I came to this book for the aliens but stayed for the Zoology lesson. The author shows his professorial skills as he engages the reader, captures our attention, turns it into an interest, and then teaches us something. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as entertainment while learning about both the diversity and sameness within the Earth’s life forms. I recommend this especially for non-science types who want to get a good introduction to Zoology.

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Interesting but overly simplistic at times

The book is interesting and has a decent premise, but at times it waxes overly simplistic or even naive. For example, it states that in a society of clones, there would be no selfish need to perpetuate one's own DNA and carries this to the point of effacement of self interest. But all the author needed to do is look at parthenogenic species here on earth to see real-life examples of how an individual is so much more than just DNA wanting to perpetuate itself. Mourning geckos are parthenogenic clones, but they still cannibalize their young.

1 person found this helpful

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Great Concept

Excellent book if you're interested in evolution. A bit reiterative, and can be intimidating to people with no background knowledge of biological concepts, but well worth it.

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Not what I expected, but better

This book takes a scientific look at life on Earth and what it predicts about life or elsewhere in the universe. I enjoyed it immensely and found it very thought-provoking

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Makes a good case for commonalities of all life

No matter what it looks like, or how it goes about living, aliens will have things in common with life on Earth. It just may take some time to see it.

This book does a great job of getting you to analyze Earth creatures so you can see the behaviors that could be universal.

The narrator is great, and reads the book as if he wrote it. And I never felt lost, even during concepts that could be difficult. Very interesting read.

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Earth Like?

Professor Arik Kershenbaum takes you on an epic tour of life here on Earth and possibly life on Exoplanets. This is a fun listen, and the narrator Samuel West does a superb job of sharing the author's vision through his expressions and attitude towards the topics. By comparing the seemingly unending variety of life forms here on Earth in every type of physical locations, Arik then creates a pattern of life that could exist elsewhere in the universe. I give this audible selection 5 stars all the way for its concepts, narration and vision. The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy will have you thinking in new ways that could open doors into places yet reached.

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Meh.

A bit tedious and repetitive, many of the examples were not insightful… I found myself increasing the playback speed to slog through.

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Comprehensive, engaging, concise and clear.

I enjoyed it very much .
Kershenbaum poses the questions: What might complex alien life look like, and is it possible to use tools and clues available on Earth to guess.