Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own
by David Toomey
W. W. Norton, 2013 ($25.95)
Life, researchers have learned, can sometimes thrive in places that would kill most organisms. The strangest life bathes in acid (multihued bacteria growing in Yellowstone National Park), floats through clouds (microbial algae, fungi and bacteria), and flourishes around boiling hydrothermal vents (giant clams and tube worms sustained by heat-loving bacteria). As English professor Toomey tracks the work of scientists who hunt for such extreme examples, he explores the very definition of life. He also envisions the truly weird life-forms that might exist elsewhere in the universe—such as bacteria that ride on icy comets or even “living” networks of charged dust grains that circle black holes and communicate with one another electromagnetically.