This book presents key documents from the pre-1915 history of the extraterrestrial life debate. Introductions and commentaries accompany each source document, some of which are published here for the first time or in a new translation. Authors included are Aristotle, Lucretius, Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Fontenelle, Huygens, Newton, Pope, Voltaire, Kant, Paine, Chalmers, Darwin, Wallace, Dostoevski, Lowell, and Antoniadi, among others. Michael J. Crowe has compiled an extensive bibliography not available in other sources.
These materials reveal that the extraterrestrial life debate, rather than being a relatively modern phenomenon, has extended throughout nearly all Western history and has involved many of its leading intellectuals. The readings also demonstrate that belief in extraterrestrial life has had major effects on science and society, and that metaphysical and religious views have permeated the debate throughout much of its history.
"This is a valuable book that is not available anywhere else. . . . Crowe's purpose is to let the reader see the original words of the authors who discussed other worlds. Crowe puts these documents in context by his substantial introduction and commentary. . . . Such a source book serves an important purpose, and is ideal for teaching and generating discussion in class. The subject is of increasing importance as we find more and more about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life through current disciplines such as astrobiology, bioastronomy, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." —Steven J. Dick, Director, NASA History Division, NASA
"Having established himself as the world’s authority on the history of the debates about extraterrestrial life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Michael Crowe is perfectly positioned to produce this source book. The introductory commentaries on the excerpts from primary sources he has so judiciously selected reveal again and again that no one else knows this subject as well as he does." —Frederick Gregory, University of Florida
"The Extraterrestrial Life Debate gives new meaning to the word 'treasury.' Michael Crowe offers us more than 2000 years of golden materials—wrought by the astonishing alchemy of science, religion, philosophy, and sheer imagination—about a topic as alive today as it ever was: ET, with all his cousins and ancestors. The range of authors the book showcases, and the depth of context Crowe provides, will make his monumental anthology the starting point for future explorations of this rich vein of human thought." —Dennis Danielson, University of British Columbia
“There are loads of books on ET, but only a small number of them take a historical approach . . . Anyone interested in the history of the extraterrestrial life debate will be interested in this book; it does complete in a certain way previous historical work done by Steven Dick and Michael Crowe by providing large portions of original texts rather than merely short quotations from them. . . . All the various perspectives, religious, literary, astronomical, philosophical, seem adequately represented. The multidisciplinary aspect of the debate comes across well from the authors selected.” —Marie I. George, St. John’s University
“Extraterrestrials may not have invaded the Earth physically but for centuries they have done so mentally. In many a guise they have appeared not only in works of fiction but also in serious astronomical, philosophical and theological debate. It is impossible to open Michael Crowe's handsome and fastidiously prepared anthology of primary sources without being drawn into endlessly fascinating disputes concerning the possibility and character of extraterrestrial life. Savoring the many twists and turns in controversies that have extended far beyond the confines of popular astronomy, Professor Crowe has provided students and experts alike with a generous and indispensable resource. It is difficult to resist his invitation to investigate for ourselves the innumerable, and often surprising, ways in which the idea of intelligent life on other worlds has shaped and been shaped by perennial Earthly concerns.” —John Hedley Brooke, Andreas Idreos Professor Emeritus of Science and Religion, University of Oxford