What is Life?

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Simon & Schuster, 1995 - Science - 207 pages
In their latest work, acclaimed authors Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan plunge into the very heart of living matter. Transcending both mechanistic and vitalistic concepts of life, this captivating book argues that the question "What is life?" is a linguistic trap. To answer according to the rules of grammar, we must supply a noun, the name of a thing. But life on Earth is more like a verb. It is a material process, surfing over matter like a strange, slow wave. It is a controlled artistic chaos, a set of chemical reactions so staggeringly complex that more than four billion years ago it began a sojourn that now, in human form, composes love letters and uses silicon-chip computers to calculate the temperature of matter at the birth of the universe. Life is existence's celebration. Complementing this absorbing account of the nature of life are eighty remarkable 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?, inviting readers to reconsider preconceptions not only about life itself but about their own personal part in it.

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User Review  - Kirkus

The authors of Mystery Dance: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991) return to the fundamental biological questions, this time taking on the slipperiest of all issues. Wisely, they avoid any ... Read full review

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User Review  - yapete - LibraryThing

Margulis is a first rate biologist, but this book falls far short of my expectations. It seems like she received an invitation to write book and put this one hastily together. It jumps from one thing ... Read full review

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About the author (1995)

Lynn Margulis was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 5, 1938. She graduated from the University of Chicago at the age of 18. She received a master's degree in genetics and zoology from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Berkeley. She taught for 22 years at Boston University before joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1988. She was best known for her theory of species evolution by symbiogensis. The manuscript in which she first presented her findings was published in 1967 by the Journal of Theoretical Biology. An expanded version, with additional evidence to support the theory, became her first book entitled Origin of Eukaryotic Cells. Her other works include Symbiosis in Cell Evolution, Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love, Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature, and Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time. She died five days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke on November 22, 2011 at the age of 73.

Eric D. Schneider served as senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of the National Marine Water Quality Laboratory of the Environmental Protection Agency. His work on thermodynamics--a topic he has pursued for more than twenty years--has been widely anthologized and cited. Dorion Sagan is coauthor of "Acquiring Genomes" and "Up from Dragons," Called an "unmissable modern master" of science writing by "New Scientist," Sagan has written for the "New York Times," "Natural History," and "Wired," among other publications.

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