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Book Reviews


I am clearly interested to see how word about the optical approach to SETI gradually gets written up in general publications about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  Where appropriate, I will add brief comments to the right indicating whether the author(s) have given a reasonable account of OSETI or have been blind-sided by the high priests of Microwave SETI to either completely avoiding the mention of the approach or giving it short shrift.  Would-be authors of future SETI-related books and articles are counseled that the research for their books and articles should encompass a broad range of authorities, and not assume or be too readily persuaded that those with established scientific reputations in the Microwave SETI field have got this right.   To obtain more expert and open-minded professional scientific and engineering opinions of the efficacy of the optical approach to SETI, authors are recommended to speak to laser and fiber-optics specialists.  Just don't take the word of radio astronomers but go to the real laser experts.  The basic arguments for and against Optical SETI, which are discussed all over this web site, are really quite straight forward.  To excuse a pun, "they don't take a rocket scientist to be understood".

My comments below are not to be taken as a book review, for better or for worse, only as factual account of the attention given to the optical approach to SETI.  Where possible, the page numbers will be given where OSETI or lasers are mentioned.  If there is a full book review on this web site an internal link will be provided.  Over the new few years I expect greater attention to be given to OSETI as the technique becomes better known and more scientists and amateurs set up their own observatories.   However, until Project Phoenix broadens its approach to take in OSETI, which is expected by yours truly to occur early next decade (The SETI Institute probably doesn't know this yet!), Optical SETI will continue to be the poor step-sister of Microwave SETI.   Make no mistake, there are vested interests in trying to keep discussion of OSETI to a minimum (the politics of SETI), for fear that funding for Microwave SETI will be affected.  Bias has many ways of manifesting itself. Very few of us can rise to the occasion and be very objective if our source of income and livelihood is threatened or our professional scientific activities over several decades called into question.  I am aware that some would want to disparage my technical credibility, but you only have to search this web site for information on my professional qualifications and photonics skills (resume) to become aware that I surely do know something about optoelectronics - it is my full-time job!

Stuart Kingsley
May 3, 1998


Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Author: Jean Heidmann
Cambridge University Press, 1995
ISBN 0-521-45340-2


Are We Alone?

Author: Paul Davies
Penguin Books, 1995


The UFO Phenomena

Author: Edward Ashpole
Headline Book Publishing, 1995
ISBN 0-7472-4745-5


Big Ear Two - Listening for Other-Worlds

Author: John Kraus
Cygnus-Quaser Books, 1995
ISBN 1-882484-12-6


Planet Quest - The Epic Discovery of Alien Solar Systems

Author: Ken Croswell
The Free Press, NY, 1997
ISBN 0-684-83252-6


After Contact - The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life

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Author: Albert A. Harrison
Plenum Trade, NY, 1997

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ISBN 0-306-45621-4


Telescope Control

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Authors: Mark Trueblood & Russell Merle Genet
Second English Edition
Willmann-Bell, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1997

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ISBN 0-943396-53-0


Optical Communication Receiver Design

Author: Stephen B. Alexander
SPIE, 1997
ISBN 0-8194-2023-9
IEE Telecommunication Series Vol. 37
ISBN 0-85296-900-7


Handbook of Laser Wavelengths

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Author: Marvin J. Weber
CRC Press, 1999
ISBN 0-8493-3508-6


Worlds Unnumbered - The Search For Extrasolar Planets

Author: Donald Goldsmith
University Science Books, 1997
ISBN 0-935702-97-0


Sharing the Universe - Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life

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Book Review by Larry Klaes
Author: Seth Shostak
Berkeley Hills Books, 1998
ISBN 0-9653774-3-1


Strangers in the Night

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This is the first book, as far as I am aware, that mentions the COSETI Observatory by giving the URL.

On page 325, as a note to page 175 in Chapter 6 it says:

"tune in to join the party".  Not everyone agrees on this choice of wavelength [the Cosmic Water Hole at 1420 MHz].  Stuart A. Kingsley, at Ohio State University*, thinks we may find success at optical wavelengths.  See http://www.coseti.org.  On page 338 the URL is given again.

*Note that I have no affiliation with OSU, just an OSU SETI Group volunteer email address.

Authors: David E. Fisher & Marshall Jon Fisher
Counterpoint, 1998
ISBN 1887178872


Other Worlds - The Search For Life In The Universe

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The hard copy version of this book consists of 13 chapters and 272 pages.

Chapter 13, page 232 contains a paragraph with a brief reference to the fact that "Maybe lasers will turn out to be better".   Charles Townes is mentioned in the same chapter, on page 226, but only with reference to the fact that he has been involved in SETI and was "the inventor of the laser".  Actually it was its microwave precursor - the maser - that Dr. Townes co-invented with Dr. Arthur L. Schawlow, then both working at Bell Telephone Laboratories at Murray Hill, New Jersey.  Townes shared a Nobel Prize in physics for this work on "the maser/laser principle" in 1964 with Nikolai Basov and Aleksander Prokhorov, four years after the first laser was invented.  Indeed, the first lasers were called "optical masers".  See Schawlow and Townes classic paper "Infrared and Optical Masers", Physical Review, Vol. 112, pp. 1940-1949, December 15, 1958.  The first laser was the ruby laser and was invented by Dr. T. H. Maiman in 1960.  In 1961, Townes was the first to suggest the use of lasers for SETI with his colleague Dr. Schwartz.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Schawlow in the early 70's when I was a postgraduate student at University College London.  I did not meet Professor Townes until the First Optical SETI Conference in 1993.  His papers on "optical heterodyne detection" were some of the first papers I read during my Ph.D. research on coherent fiber optic data highways.  Since I had spent so much of my photonics career working with coherent laser systems, it was natural that I would apply those techniques to Optical SETI when I first got really involved in the subject in the summer of 1990.  The second time I met Townes was immediately after the Second Optical SETI Conference in 1996, on what turned out not to be a particularly good day for me - but that is another story.

Author: Michael D. Lemonick
Simon & Schuster, 1998
ISBN 0-684-83294-1


Alien Life: The Search for Extraterrestrials and Beyond

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On page 170, the author says the following about OSETI:

"If we look at  the various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum we soon see that the radio region is the one best suited for communication.  Visible light is a possibility; we could, for example, communicate with lasers.  But lasers have severe restrictions compared to radio waves; they are useless if it is overcast, and laser communication is expensive; furthermore, a laser beam would be difficult to detect (the universe is already full of light beams).  Infrared is a region that may become increasingly important in the future, but for now the radio/microwave region is our best bet."

Author: Barry R. Parker
Plenum Pr, 1998
ISBN 0306457954


The Science of Aliens

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Author: Clifford A. Pickover
Basic Books, 1998
ISBN 046507314X


Looking for Earths

Author: Alan Boss
John Wiley & Sons, 1998
ISBN 0471184217 


Worlds without End

Author: John S. Lewis
Perseus Books, 1998
ISBN 0738200115 


How the Laser Happened

Author: Charles H. Townes
Oxford University Press, 1999
ISBN 0195122682 



Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe

Book Reviews
Authors: Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee
Copernicus, 2000
ISBN 0387987010


When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-Information Contact

Book Reviews
Editor: Allen Tough
The Foundation For the Future, 2000
ISBN 0-9677252-2-4


Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Worlds

Book Reviews
Author: Brian McConnell
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 2001
ISBN 0-596-00037-5 


Telecosm - How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World 

Author: George Gilder
The Free Press, 2000
ISBN 0 684 80930-3


The Story of Light 

Source Books
Author: Ben Bova
Source Books, Inc., 2001
ISBN 1-57071-785-0


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