The Aliens are Coming by Ben Miller

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The Aliens are Coming by Ben Miller

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: Ben Miller writes and narrates this audio book that takes some high concept scientific ideas and simplifies them in a way that even we mere mortals can understand.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304/7h41m Date: February 2016
Publisher: Hachette Audio
ISBN: 9781847445025

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Next time that you are away from the towns and cities, wait until it gets dark and then look into the night sky. If you are lucky enough for it not to be raining, you will likely see hundreds of stars in the sky. Each one of these could be a Sun just like our own and each of these Suns could have planets orbiting it. Now times this number a million fold and you can start to fathom the number of stars and planets out there – surely the human race is not a complete fluke and there are aliens out there?

Ben Miller may be best known as a comedian, but his first passion was science. He went as far as to almost get his PhD in solid state physics from Cambridge – choosing comedy instead. What this entails is a man who has a scientific mind, but is also very personable and can make people laugh. With this in mind, the title The Aliens are Coming is a little disingenuous – are you expecting a slightly flaky title about UFOs and little green men? Prepare to be surprised then as Miller takes a scientific approach to the idea that alien life does exist and ponders topics as diverse as evolution on Earth, the big bang theory and intergalactic diplomacy.

For the audio version of the book Miller reads his own words and this instantly makes it an inviting listen. This is a man who knows his own material and is able to lay the correct emphasis on in-jokes and sarcasm that a hired narrator may have missed. Chapters one and two start by tackling the idea of aliens in the mainstream sense – what is the likelihood of UFOs? Being a scientist, Miller is unwilling to dismiss something just because it appears daft on the surface. He believes in evidence to prove a theory and seeing as there is very little to support UFOs, they are scientifically unlikely.

Once the initial conversation about Martians is over the book becomes far more true science based and interesting. Miller's everyman approach to writing and narrating makes some of the heady concepts he discusses far more accessible than they should be. The mathematical concept of how many potential planets are beaming out audio waves is succinctly shown by comparing it to looking out over a crowd at a rock concert as they hold their lighters aloft. Miller takes all these hard concepts throughout the book and gently invites the reader in, allowing them to visualise them in a way that makes sense.

This book is popular science, so scientists themselves, or regular readers of Science will probably be very familiar with most of what Miller says, but for the average person it is eye opening. Those curious of mind and with a thirst for understanding will feel like they have learnt something as the audio book progresses. What I particularly liked was that science fiction fans will get a lot out of the book. Miller gives you an understanding of concepts that are staple in fiction – in fact about three of his ideas turned up on the new X Files this month! The Aliens are Coming is a great audiobook that has a pleasant narration that makes it fun to learn about some rather tricky concepts (although some of them will remain confusing!).

There are great popular science books around, some of them aim to debunk the more out there concepts such as Skeptoid 2: More Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena by Brian Dunning, whilst others pock fun at dubious science, Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.

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