Harvard geochemist Charlie Langmuir and our new revised and expanded HOW TO BUILD A HABITABLE PLANET in the Harvard Gazette

There is a terrific feature on Harvard University geochemistry professor Charles Langmuir and our newly revised and expanded book HOW TO BUILD A HABITABLE PLANET: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind in the September issue of the Harvard Gazette.

From the article:

If there’s one thing Charles Langmuir wants to give people, it’s a sense of scale. The scale of their lives in human history, of human history in the lifetime of the Earth, and of the Earth in the long, broad span of the universe.

In other words, he wants to give them a little humility.

“You realize how small we are and that we are [just] a particle of the whole,” said Langmuir, Higgins Professor of Geochemistry and director of Harvard’s Mineralogical and Geological Museum.

A better sense of proportion might influence behavior, he said, so that people act as a part of nature rather than just users of it.

“It’s really what’s needed for the environmental problems we face,” Langmuir said.

Langmuir is in a somewhat privileged position to size up humanity. For the past 10 years, he worked to update “How to Build a Habitable Planet” (1985), a legendary textbook in the geosciences known for its accessibility and for the comprehensive view it takes of the Earth and its place in the universe. Earlier this month he discussed the book in a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Langmuir, who came to Harvard in 2002, spent 20 years at Columbia University as a colleague of famed geoscientist Wallace Broecker, author of the original book. Broecker, who coined the term “global warming,” said he wrote “How to Build a Habitable Planet” because he wanted people to think more broadly about the Earth, its origins, and our impact on the planet.

The second edition, released this summer, has been greatly revised. As co-author, Broecker reviewed changes and revised some of the original chapters, but Langmuir did the bulk of the research and writing.

The original book’s nine chapters have been expanded to 21, and the page count more than doubled, to 720 from 300. That expansion was partly because Langmuir increased the book’s scope. The original didn’t include a discussion of biology, a central aspect in the Earth’s habitability, and today considered a powerful force in transforming its physical environment. Also fresh is a discussion of exoplanets, which weren’t discovered until the 1990s; recent research on the origins of life; findings on dark matter and dark energy, now known to be enormous forces in the universe; and insights on ocean floor thermal vents — Langmuir’s specialty….

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