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Hardcover What is Life? Book

ISBN: 0684810875

ISBN13: 9780684810874

What is Life?

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Format: Hardcover

Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

Transcending the various formal concepts of life, this captivating book offers a unique overview of life's history, essences, and future. "A masterpiece of scientific writing. You will cherish "What Is Life?" because it is so rich in poetry and science in the service of profound philosophical questions".--Mitchell Thomashow, "Orion". 9 photos. 11 line illustrations.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

extremely thought provoking

Other reviewers have given detailed reviews, I thought this book was excellent. The authors ask such an interesting and complex question, read this book, you'll learn a lot.

If you can Only Read One

If you can Only Read One trade "science" book in your life, this should be the one. It is a slow-motion whirlwind trip into the depths of time and life on planet Earth.

Beyond biology

I was as enthralled as other reviewers with the amazing facts in this book. My favorite: bacteria don't age; they can die from accidental causes but "programmed death" started with eukaryotes. The authors show that death is necessary for organisms (like us) that practice meiotic cell division.But this book is far more than a random collection of facts. Margulis and her collaborators do an amazing job of assembling an understandable model of life using parts carefully selected from a vast body of biological knowledge. While a one-sentence definition is still elusive, the reader builds up a picture of life's most pertinent characteristics, as exhibited by the truly astounding diversity of living things on this planet. By the time I finished, I was satisfied that the authors had answered the question.You don't need to be a biologist to understand and enjoy this book. Its beauty is that the greatest scientific thinking on the most complex topics has been presented in common english, with necessary scientific terms explained as they are introduced. If you are intrigued by the question of life, I doubt there's a more complete, accurate, understandable, and enjoyable answer available than this book.

What a Great Book

This book is written with great intelligence and subtlety. I'm an engineer, and it has been about thirty years since my last biology class. I'm not even sure what compelled me to update my knowledge in this field. I suppose the title "What is Life?", got my attention, as I found this title to be somewhat audacious. Let's face it, "What is Life?", is the supreme question, and any author who ventures in this direction is walking a tight-rope of controversy.I can honestly say I learned a lot from this book, as I've underlined just about every page. It has so many fascinating insights about the evolution of bacteria into living organisms. As the authors acknowledge, scientists today do not yet understand all the fundamental biological questions - but it sure seems they are headed in the right direction. Quoting from p. 218, "The facts of life, the stories of evolution, have the power to unite all people". Although I doubt that we can ever "unite all people", I believe that this book will be appreciated by readers who are looking for modern and rational explanations to some existential questions, within the context of biology.

This is a luscious book.

The two reviews of "What Is Life" by Kirkus Reviews and Gerard Le Blond were disappointing in their negative tone. Having just read "What Is Life", I found myself wondering what these reviewers brought to the book they so casually dismissed. The author of the Kirkus review is a professional reviewer of books, probably with little appreciation of biology or evolution. His dismay that viruses were not included in the discussion is without merit. Viruses are parasites that cannot reproduce without a living host. They are marginal at best to the question at hand. An author writing on the nature of computers would not find it necessary to spend time on computer viruses. The further criticism that only two vertebrates were included among the pictures reflects the author's parochial viewpoint. This decision should be applauded so that more pictures of a wider variety of life could be included. The pen and ink renderings by Christie Lyons were exceptional. Anyone who wants to look at bushbabys and cheetahs can consult National Geographic or any children's animal encyclopedia. The quote "knock up against each other and work things out." is used by the reviewer to knock down Margulis and Sagan's book. This line is taken from the last half of the first sentence in a five sentence summary of chapter six. These chapter summaries are intended to be playful and poetic, not dry and lifeless remarks. The implication that tough-minded biologists would laugh at this book is nonsense and should be completely dispelled by Niles Eldrege's forward. The Gaia theory does permeate the book at many levels. The theory is controversial, but Margulis has not been one to shrink from biological controversies. Her symbiotic theories of the origins of mitochondria and chloroplasts were also controversial when she put them forward, however, she was right then and she may be right now. I would not find much fault with her support of the Gaia theory even if it is not elevated to textbook status. To take a specific example, the suggestion that coccolithophorid algal blooms generate dimethyl sulfide and this causes cloud cover to form and cool the planet has not been supported by satellite observations reported this year. Yet, the Gaia hypothesis is greater than this one example, and there is something to be said for backing an idea if you think it is worthy. The final blow in the Kirkus review is that few readers would persevere through the whole text. This is hardly relevant to the quality of the book, but more to the quality of the reader. There are many books that are highly praised, yet are seldom read from cover to cover. One that comes to mind is Godel, Escher, Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid, winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. How many of us have started that book, only to become stalled part way through? As a biochemist with an interest in evolution, I found this book to be fascinating. The ex
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