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What Is Life Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684813262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684813264
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By dnelson@utmem1.utmem.edu (David R. Nelson) on Aug. 27 1997
Format: Hardcover
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.
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By nborson on Jan. 7 2003
Format: Paperback
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.
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By Karl Hanson on March 16 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
"What Is Life?" is an illuminating & expansive reconstruction of the bacterial evolution of life on Earth. Combining rigorous science, mythology, history, poetry, stories, sketches, wit, captivating writing, & arresting photography, Margulis & Sagan examine Professor Margulis' theory of endosymbiosis.
Needless to say, Dr. Margulis has left me speechless. I cannot post here an adequate review of this book because I can't find the words to express what this book has done to my beliefs.
Others have done it much better. For the best review, read Piero Scaruffi's 1999 review titled "Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan: What is Life? (Simon & Schuster, 1995)." Scaruffi does Dr. Margulis justice. Like many other readers, on the other hand, he is unfair to Dorion Sagan as his mother's co-writer. Nothing conveys to the ordinary reader the wonder & vast scope of the world of science better than stimulating prose. With it, I am able to "get" very quickly otherwise confounding stuff. Thanks to Sagan, I am able to learn all over again long-forgotten facts like the structure & function of DNA & RNA. I like Sagan's off-hand style & acidic wit. His eccentricity makes his science books fun to read.
Dr. Lynn Margulis - Maverick Microbiologist Extraordinaire!
Dorion Sagan - You Rock!
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