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The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  570 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sw ...more
Kindle Edition, 512 pages
Published April 30th 2014 by Cambridge University Press (first published February 28th 2014)
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A book that pretends to offer a global, “unifying” view on life and reality cannot be but very comprehensive. And in this respect Fritjof Capra lives up to all expectations: not only does he offer a thorough critique on classical sciences (its determinism and reductionism), but he also offers an alternative: a contextual, integrative and holistic approach. For Capra that alternative paradigm can be found through Systems Approach, a philosophical-scientific and technical current of thinking, that ...more
Chelsea Lawson
This book was informative and beautiful. The basic gist, using a quote from the book is that "there is a fundamental unity to life... Different living systems exhibit similar patterns of organization." The authors explore these patterns of organizations using biology, mathematics, sociology, and more. Towards the end of the book, the authors demonstrate how our economic and social systems are based on ideas of infinite growth and individualism that simply do not fit with the world that we live i ...more
Santiago Ortiz
suffice to say that this book is a total outlier in terms of number of tags I used; most of my books have 2-5 tags, this one has got 14!: anthropology, biology, business, cooperation, design, education, innovation, networks, philosophy, read, science, spiritual, technology, work
John Doyle
May 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
The Systems View of Life argues that Cartesian reductionism, which refers to attempts to describe reality by examining its constituent parts, distracts us from a true account of our world and the universe. Instead, Capra argues that focusing on patterns, processes, and underlying relationships offers more fertile ground for useful inferences about reality. I enjoyed the book until its head-snapping turn to superficial polemics on healthcare, business, and energy policy. These revealed the author ...more
Rob Kall
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it's been a long time since I've been so excited about reading a non-fiction book, let alone a text book. But this one has captivated my interest by pulling together so many ideas and threads of scientific knowledge and wisdom.

In a sense, this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts.

It starts walking us through the history of science—and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures. This is a wonderful sec
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi is an interdisciplinary book which presents ”a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life’s” different dimensions (p.xii). All living systems are ”highly nonlinear” networks where there are ”countless interconnections” (p.xii). Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusions.

Introduction (pp.1--16)
The systems view of life is ”a change from seeing the world as a machine to understanding i
Best place to dive into the shallow end of autopoesis and Varela's work on biosemiotics.
Very ambitious. I didn't know what to make of it when I first heard about Fritjof Capra's work. He and his co author are attempting to not only understand the systematic nature of everything, and I mean everything, they are also trying to find a way to harvest what they learn from how systems work so they can make suggestions about how to make life on Earth more sustainable.

While I enjoyed their explanation of systems in the emergence of organisms, I didn't really enjoy the sections on consciou
Silash Ruparell
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: silash-reviews
This also appears on my blog

My one-liner: Astounding breadth of coverage of philosophical, scientific and economic systems and processes guiding humanity towards a more sustainable existence

“[T]he Zeitgeist (“spirit of the age”) of the early twenty-first century is being shaped by a profound change of paradigms, characterized by a shift of metaphors from the world as a machine to the world as a network. The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the w
Bruno Lavos
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fundamental! Really! I'm serious!
I read my first piece of Capra's work in college a decade ago, the Tao of Physics, and was utterly inspired. Then a couple years back I read his book on DaVinci, which for the most part was phenomenal. Then I took on the challenge of reading this book.

This work attempts the herculean task of weaving together the stories of human biological, philosophical, spiritual, intellectual, and social evolution with the world's current sociopolitical and economic status, and how that is all tied to and emb
Kenny B.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
In my opinion, there should be a course that is taught along with this textbook that is prerequisite for every undergraduate degree. The book does a good job of explaining interdependent origination from an interdisciplinary scientific point of view. We desperately need to overcome our mechanistic, binary view of the world and our lived sense of separateness from it in order to ensure the longevity of our, along with every other, species on this planet. Education and inner reflection are keys to ...more
Daniel B-G
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, science
Deeply disappointing. After a promising start in its diagnosis of the problems this book totally fails to deliver on its solutions. By the end it declines into highly naive hippy nonsense. e.g. Medicine doesn't consider holistic care so let's use reiki and homeopathy. What!?! No, look into wellness centres and holistic care programs. Solve multiple food crises at once with locally grown produce. What an original thought, seems so obvious. Large scale monocultures exist because we need them. Subs ...more
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has taken me a while to put a review of this book online. I found that I have so much to say about it; it became rather daunting to try to lay it all out. My compromise is that I will not say much.

What I will say is that this book has had a powerfully transformative effect on my view of the world. I read it slowly. Over the course of nearly three years. During that time, I started to realize the foundational place systems thinking has in describing the complex and interconnected world we are
Jun Park
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great overview of complexity theory branching across a variety of disciplines. Excellent primer for those interested in complexity and systems thinking.
Joseph Espinosa
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a textbook- though maybe one of the most important ones you'll ever read.
This is one of the most demanding books I have read in a long time. The authors don't compromise on their expectations of the reader and there were times when I have to admit their expectations exceeded my abilities - particularly when explaining their understanding of nonlinearity, genetics and the origins of life. Nevertheless I persevered and by Section IV when they began to discuss issues with which I am more familiar - the ecological dimension of life; systems thinking and the state of the ...more
Mihai Pop
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel obliged to write a few words about the book, as the rating may deliver different to original expectations.

Firstly, the subject, that of unitary holistic thinking of life in non-linear systems, is a very good subject - 5 star, and it surely feels holistic in approach, but somehow widening too much the focus, so that some chapters are touching too thinly the subject, where others, specially around ecology go too deep - 2-4 stars, depending on how one know the subjects already. But where the
Vaughn Zeller
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a dense read as it contained a lot of information. As I believe was noted, this would be a good choice for someone being introduced to systems thinking. Most people are so enmeshed in linear thinking, this can seem overwhelming at first as it requires one to alter long held understanding of how the universe behaves. That said, this way of looking at the world strikes me, at least, as much more intuitive. Capra and Luisi do a good job of explaining why an understanding of patterns and re ...more
Gerhard Kessell-haak
I was promised an in-depth expository on the application of systems theory to assist with providing a holistic - and profound - view on life.

Instead it's an endless repeat of the same message, illustrated with scientific images and models that I doubt the authors truly understand, and an unfortunate appropriation of the mana of science.

Unnecessarily complex phrasing and ill-defined terms, typical of continental philosophy, that allow any one sentence to mean 10 different things, and consequently
Yanick Punter
Excellent book.
Well-written, nice overview of complexity theory and science. Describes the systems view of life and points to shortcomings in reductionistic and mechanistic views of life. At moments it felt a bit too optimistic but it did not downplay the issues at hand at all, and yet it maintained a positive outlook. It also overed several solutions to these problems in detail in the latter chapter.

Some chapters were more interesting to me as others. What I missed was a discussion about the J
Hao Ca Vien
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fritjof Capra et al. are uniting to help solve problems on a extraordinary scale. Their solutions, which may today seems drastic, or even necessary, will in the future most likely be normal. Ecology and the great movement for sustainability will be the puncture for a new stability as we grow toward our ecological and sustainable critical point.
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, favorites
Excellent compendium of systems theory. The central ideas of non-linear systems are clearly explained, then explored in the domains of economics, environmentalism, psychology. A detailed inventory of current organizations and initiatives on the forefront of helping to educate and implement this new paradigm of a sustainable world.
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing. Apparently this is used as a textbook. As such, it wouldn't be so bad. I expected more from Capra and Luisi. Mostly it is a rehash of things I already know combined with exhortations to do better. Although only a few years old, it is already dated.
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing

A very good way to refresh the green memories - 2020 is the target date for much of this work.
Kaustubh Agashe
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book! This book should be read slowly...not in haste. Read few pages, let them sink in; and then read next few.

Also, as far as possible read only this book - not with some other book in parallel. The book deserves undivided attention.

Mbogo J
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book takes all the stars mostly for the wealth of content covered. I do not think you can easily categorize this book, it can be sociology, anthropology, science, developmental economics... The other book I've ever come across that could rival this, is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, the latter being more interesting and this one more academic. I personally place more premium on content rather than prose.

This central idea of the book is paradigm shifting. It calls for an
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an ambitious textbook, so broad and encompassing, on the critical paradigm of systems thinking. I have read many parts and will return as a reference frequently. The approach is great and one is challenged to think critically about the parts that are fantastic lateral thinking and insight... versus areas where the authors went too far into poppycock over a chasm too far (not supported by facts). Nevertheless the type of thinking applied so broadly is essential to anyone educated for the 21s ...more
Michelle Merrill
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
collaborative review pending at Zygote Quarterly (volume 10)

I love what the book is trying to do overall. I did find some sections with major flaws. I wish the book had been written to be somewhat more broadly accessible, because I want these ideas to be widely considered and discussed.

I've started a more general discussion group for the theme of systems thinking (intending to emphasize discussion of this book).
Kathryn Ross
In you want to understand systems and how they work in the world, or at least how Capra sees them working, this is the book. It was written as a text book, and reads like one as well, so it's not a Saturday morning by the fire kind of book, but it introduces ideas that can keep you thinking and responding for a long time.
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Fritjof Capra (born February 1, 1939) is an Austrian-born American physicist. He is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and is on the faculty of Schumacher College. Capra is the author of several books, including The Tao of Physics (1975), The Turning Point (1982), Uncommon Wisdom (1988), The Web of Life (1996) and The Hidden Connections (2002).

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