How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind


Since its first publication more than twenty-five years ago, How to Build a Habitable Planet has established a legendary reputation as an accessible yet scientifically impeccable introduction to the origin and evolution of Earth, from the Big Bang through the rise of human civilization. This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now this great book has been made even better. Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir has worked closely with the original author, Wally Broecker, one of the world's leading Earth scientists, to revise and expand the book for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.

Interweaving physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology, this sweeping account tells Earth's complete story, from the synthesis of chemical elements in stars, to the formation of the Solar System, to the evolution of a habitable climate on Earth, to the origin of life and humankind. The book also addresses the search for other habitable worlds in the Milky Way and contemplates whether Earth will remain habitable as our influence on global climate grows. It concludes by considering the ways in which humankind can sustain Earth's habitability and perhaps even participate in further planetary evolution.

Like no other book, How to Build a Habitable Planet provides an understanding of Earth in its broadest context, as well as a greater appreciation of its possibly rare ability to sustain life over geologic time.


This book is a revised and expanded version of the popular first edition of How to Build a Habitable Planet by W. S. Broecker, published by Eldigo Press in 1984. Many new discoveries have emerged in the last twenty-eight years. As of 1984, dark energy and dark matter were not yet discovered, the ocean ridges were barely mapped, hydrothermal vents on the sea floor were barely known, the Antarctic ice core had not been drilled, the “snowball Earth” hypothesis had not been fully formulated, global warming was not yet an urgent topic, and no extrasolar planet had been discovered. The first edition also did not have any discussion of life or Earth history, the rise of oxygen, and little discussion of volcanism and the role of the solid Earth in habitability. This edition includes the new discoveries and underrepresented topics of the original edition, while striving to maintain the conversational style of the original book, and attempting to be clear about what is known and what is unknown. We also emphasize a “systems” approach to the history and understanding of our planet, and emphasize the linkages of all parts of the Earth system, as well as the relationship of those parts to the solar system and universe. If there is one theme that we hope comes through in the book, it is of a connected universe in which human beings are an outgrowth and integral part.

The growth of knowledge and new topics have the unfortunate consequence of more than doubling the length of the book. We attempted to develop each topic from the ground up so that the material would be accessible to the interested reader who is not a scientist. Chapter 4 deals with basic chemistry and would be a rapid read for those with basic knowledge of that field. Other topics, such as short-lived radionuclides, isochron dating, phase diagrams, and the oxidation/reduction reactions that are so central to life and its planetary consequences, are more challenging.

The writing process has benefited from countless interactions with friends and colleagues, not all of whom can be thanked adequately here, and some of whom are no doubt forgotten over the nine-year gestation of this edition. James Kasting provided a formal review of the entire . . .

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