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Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos
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Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  339 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
The cells in our bodies consist of molecules, made up of the same carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms found in air and rocks. But molecules, such as water and sugar, are not alive. So how do our cells--assemblies of otherwise "dead" molecules--come to life, and together constitute a living being?
In "Life's Ratchet," physicist Peter M. Hoffmann locates the answer to this a
ebook, 288 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by Basic Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Greg Nigh
Dec 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
Hoffmann, in Life's Rachet, sets out for himself a substantial task: to explain the emergence of life, along with its relentlessly growing complexity over time. He does neither, and gloriously. Or as the brilliant Wolfgang Pauli would say of his students' poor answers, "It's not even wrong."

Hoffmann is a physicist. It is that bag of talents that he brings to bear on the perennial questions of evolutionary biology. He sees his background in material sciences as an asset in the problem of life, a
Curtis Abbott
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a popularization in the sense of intended for non-scientists, but it's fairly complex in a couple of ways so that it's not a simple read. First, it covers a lot of ground that you might or might not be interested in, from history of science to creationism to lots of technical detail -- piconewtons, equivalent temperature gains from the chemical reaction of single molecules, and much more. I personally found the breadth to be too much, though only by a little. Second, some of the technica ...more
Erçağ Pinçe
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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Well, this is the first popular book which I have read about molecular machines. It is well written and joy to read. I admired clear style of Hoffmann throughout the book while conveying important and complex ideas on chance and necessity in emerging life. As a physicist, I liked the chapters on Entropy and Maxwell's Demon the most where a basic statistical and thermodynamical picture of life process was sketched.

Maybe only caveat was the long introduction of vital forces and lengthy debates be
Sheng Peng
Feb 03, 2016 marked it as no
I gave up after about 10%.

Big excitement/discovery of the millennium is pronounced at the very beginning. And then the author bores you to tears with Aristotle's birth year, death year and his arguments with his contemporaries.

Seriously, any popular science book starting with a history chapter should be banned! It reflects a lazy habit of the author carried from their academic publishing career. A writer needs to spend at least 5 minutes on the organization and structure of a book before typing
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you only read one book concerning the significance of the second law of thermodynamics to life itself, this would be a good one.
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Carl Sagan opened our minds to the vastness of the universe, Peter Hoffmann helps us peer into the incredibly small.
Tejas Kulkarni
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
- Great book highlighting one of the biggest success stories of reductionism.

- A few key takeaways:

(1) It is only at the nanoscale that different forms of energy (electrical, chemical, mechanical) can be easily interchanged and utilized effectively. This means that most of life in the physical Universe likely follows a similar evolutionary path. At least in terms of deploying a large/varied factory of molecular machines to build life.

(2) If reductionism can be brought upon such an ambitious qu
Tadas Talaikis
Mar 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Hm... don't even know what to think. It was interesting, but without clearly expressed one subject. Or rather expression of it in just a few sentences wasn't enough for me. OK, I clearly understand the concept that people are rarely interested in complex things and as a consequence don't see how evolution (or anything) works (as I'm saying in these cases =you can't get the information [edge] when being in the game), but explaining it in one sentence "if you thought about it..." does nothing. On ...more
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Peter Hoffman is one of the many physicists who straddles the line between physics and microbiology. In this book, he does that quite successfully. His aim is to show that what we see and call life can be identified by the actions of certain molecules that in aggregate drive the activity of cells. The overriding principle governing the emergence of these molecules is chaos and necessity. The author admonishes those who claim that the complexity of life requires an autonomous life force, a divine ...more
Alex Morgan
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a modern day equivalent to Schrödinger's "What is Life?", although it substantiates on how life originated and obviously has more solid science. This is a book, about a physicist's journey through the history of how we defined life in antiquity, to how we define life in modern day science. This book is chalk full of information on how this definition has changed throughout the ages at first. Although, I felt like this book started out strong, that momentum slowly decreases overtime. I do ...more
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  • What Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology
  • The Machinery of Life
  • Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell
  • The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars
  • The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution
  • March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen
  • Life's Engines: How Microbes made the Earth Habitable
  • Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin
  • An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms
  • What Is Life?
  • Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity
  • The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance
  • Introduction to Bioinformatics
  • The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged
  • Physics in Mind: A Quantum View of the Brain
  • Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself
  • Ontogeny and Phylogeny
  • Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science
“A nanometer is so small, you would need to slice the width of a human hair one hundred thousand times to reach a nanometer.” 1 likes
“you can easily see a nanometer-size machine, like a little two-legged creature, wait, then suddenly do a quick step, then wait again, step again, and so on. Is this molecule alive? No, not in the full sense of the word. But watching it stride by, you can see how many such machines, interacting in some regulated way, can make a living being. This surely is where life begins.” 0 likes
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