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What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology
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What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  86 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
In 1944, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schr dinger published a groundbreaking little book called "What Is Life? "In fewer than one hundred pages, he argued that life was not a mysterious or inexplicable phenomenon, as many people believed, but a scientific process like any other, ultimately explainable by the laws of physics and chemistry. Today, more than sixty ...more
Hardcover, 198 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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Sep 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Despite the enormous fund of information that [biologists] have provided," wrote Carl Sagan in 1970, "it is a remarkable fact that...there is no generally accepted definition of life." This book provides a gripping, (very) brief tour of the present "enormous fund of information" we now have on living functions:

1) Replication (the discovery of DNA in 1954; the breaking of the nucleotide/amino-acid Genetic Code in the 1960s--on through the Recombinant DNA revolution of the 1970s through "synthet
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The main topic, as you are led to believe by the title of the book, is just that: What is life? It is a controversial issue that has been debated since the dawn of science itself. Over the ages, countless theories as to what the answer of this question might be have birthed, evolved, and died as quickly as new discoveries can be made. Originally thought to be a simple question, requiring only a simple answer, the question “What is Life?” has spun out of control. Torn apart by the many aspects of ...more
Bob Nichols
Regis begins this book by describing current efforts to create a cell. This leads to a multi-chapter discussion of, "What is life?" Surprisingly, the answer is not so clear, although in the end Regis narrows the range of answers down to metabolism: Life draws energy from the outside to "make something: new structures, new proteins, energy. Metabolism means synthesis...." In other words, life builds self-sustaining structures and systems.

In thinking about this definition, a few things seem to be
Aug 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book explores some fairly arcane subjects, including the efforts of scientists to create or manufacture an artificial cell that would perform basic biologic functions, putting genes from one species into another, making genes in the laboratory from published genome sequences, and artificial genes. Central to the book is the question of what life is, and how scientists and philosophers have struggled to answer what at first blush seems to be such a simple question, but which has so far elude ...more
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Not a bad read, though not what I had expected. Perhaps I was looking for something more definitive, something that would come closer to answering the big question. Synthetic biology doesn't play as a large a part in the text as I thought it would from the title.

Instead, it's a summary of how different scientists have approached the beginning of life and have attempted to define life. The writing is very easy to follow and is done in such a way that people with no biology or chemistry background
Jason Furman
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Not the most original book, but then again you might have guessed that from a book that repeats the title of a classic 60 year old book and has chapters that repeat the titles of some classic papers (e.g., The Spandrels of Saint Marco).

But it is a thoughtful, excellent, enjoyable, if occasionally journalist, overview of the title question. And most important it is completely up-to-date, having been published this year (2008) and including substantial reflections motivated by recent progress in s
Fraser Kinnear
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, history
A rather short book, that doesn't go into much more than a few pages of detail for any one topic. Annoyingly, synthetic biology isn't even mentioned before the last 30 or so pages of the book.

Worth the (quick) read for a cursory review of the history of big milestones in evolutionary biology, but that's all.
Peter Kelly
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book, attempted to answer a difficult question and did a pretty good job. Contains some interesting biochemistry history and provides some interesting ideas about what the future might hold. Definitely worth the read.
Todd Martin
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
OK introduction to the theories of life's beginning and somewhat more thorough review of work being done to re-create life in the lab. Also discusses, as the title suggests, different views on the definition of life. The best answer? Though I hate to be a spoiler ..... "metabolism"!
Eric Wurm
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An abbreviated but thorough look into the emergence of synthetic biology and genetic engineering as well as some foresight into the search for abiogenesis. If you love the histories and mysteries of biology as much as I do, this book is for you.
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Ed Regis holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from New York University and taught for many years at Howard University. He is now a full-time science writer, contributing to Scientific American, Harper's Magazine, Wired, Discover, and The New York Times, among other periodicals.
More about Ed Regis...