Author: Tullis C. Onstott

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 978-0-691-09644-5

Professor Tullis C. Onstott’s work, Deep Life: The Hunt for the Hidden Biology of Earth, Mars, and Beyond, reads at the pace of a well-written adventure story, but is, in fact, the true tale of the discovery of microbial life hundreds of meters underground―life that, although on a somewhat larger scale, up until only a few decades ago, was only dreamed of and treated as the theme of such science fiction as Jules Verne’s 1864 subterranean novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The earth-shattering implications that such discoveries hold for the future of humankind have a multitude of wide-ranging implications that are not only scientific in nature but also economic, political and theological, especially when it is thought that there is the possibility of the existence of such life on other planets, including Mars.

As an internationally renowned geoscientist of high ranking at the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, Onstott writes in a remarkably accessible way of his involvement with sundry projects exploring the ability of bacteria and other microorganisms not only to survive beneath the surface of the Earth and other planets, but also to impact in a significant way on the geochemical and mineralogical components of such essentially unfriendly environments. The much-stated imperative that is incumbent on any academic to “publish or perish”, in Deep Life, can be seen to be surmounted by the urgent need to “attend, and reveal your latest findings at, meetings or remain without essential financial backing for further studies and research”, as Onstott describes the multiple gatherings and workshops at which he and his colleagues have felt compelled to be present during the course of his investigation into microbial subterranean life in places as far afield as the deepest South African gold mines and the Arctic Circle in Canada. Making such an account both highly informative and intriguing is no mean feat, but that is exactly what Onstott manages to achieve. His feet are clearly very firmly grounded in the real world, with his narrative being treated as a kind of safari into the heretofore unknown. As he so succinctly states, “mostly in this book, you and I will actively support the limits of life beneath the surface of other planets, especially Mars.”

The clarity of Deep Life is not only exemplified in Onstott’s writing, but also in the many black-and-white photos that he uses to illustrate his journey beyond previously unknown horizons, as well as in the multiple diagrams and charts that he employs to explain the more complex aspects of his work. His accounts of his relationships with his colleagues, and the simplicity with which he relates even everyday occurrences that have a bearing on the advances that they make in their investigations vouch for the tangible realities of his work environment. Deep Life is both gripping and powerful in its immediacy, so much so that no matter your background, if you have any concern for the future of this planet and its place in the universe, it is well worth spending some time considering the bearing that Onstott’s propositions and implications might have on your own future.