What Is Life? / Edition 1

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Overview

Half a century ago, before the discovery of DNA, the Austrian physicist and philosopher Erwin Schrödinger inspired a generation of scientists by rephrasing the fascinating philosophical question: What is life? Using their expansive understanding of recent science to wonderful effect, acclaimed authors Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan revisit this timeless question in a fast-moving, wide-ranging narrative that combines rigorous science with philosophy, history, and poetry. The authors move deftly across a dazzling array of topics—from the dynamics of the bacterial realm, to the connection between sex and death, to theories of spirit and matter. They delve into the origins of life, offering the startling suggestion that life—not just human life—is free to act and has played an unexpectedly large part in its own evolution. Transcending the various formal concepts of life, this captivating book offers a unique overview of life’s history, essences, and future.

Supplementing the text are stunning illustrations that range from the smallest known organism (Mycoplasma bacteria) to the largest (the biosphere itself). Creatures both strange and familiar enhance the pages of What Is Life? Their existence prompts readers to reconsider preconceptions not only about life but also about their own part in it.

Deftly spanning diciplines--from astronomy, microbiology, and physical anthropology to the history of science itself--one of the world's foremost biologists and a gifted science writer explore what it means to be alive. Their awesome and intrepid journey encompasses germs and geometry, as well as the birds and the bees. 80 color photos. 15 charts.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
To the question, what is life?, world renowned biologist Margulis and science writer Sagan (her coauthor on Mystery Dance, LJ 7/91, and her son) respond: Life is matter that chooses. Mammalian cells are descended from the amalgamation of different strains of ancient bacteria. All life is connected to us through time and space. Species of organisms diverge into new kinds, yet earlier patterns never entirely disappear. Every species of plant, animal, and fungus perishes, and similar new taxa evolve from them or their kind. The human species may eventually disappear, but something else will evolve from our kind. We learn that we are not the only creative and original creatures but part of a global aggregation. Yet while we are not the only species to make evolutionary choices, we are the ones whose choices will make a difference as to what type of planetary ecosystem we leave for those species that follow. Beautifully executed with numerous photos and illustrations, this thought-provoking work is recommended for general readers and informed lay readers.-Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., Kan.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520220218
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 303
  • Sales rank: 1,402,433
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Margulis is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of more than one hundred articles and ten books, including Symbiosis and Cell Evolution (second edition 1993). Dorion Sagan, general partner of Sciencewriters, is the author of Biospheres (1990). Together they are the authors of Microcosmos (California, 1996), What Is Sex? (1990), Garden of Microbial Delights (1995), and Mystery Dance (1991).

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