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The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,812 ratings  ·  114 reviews
In his international bestsellers The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, Fritjof Capra juxtaposed physics and mysticism to define a new vision of reality. Now, in The Web of Life, he takes yet another giant step forward, offering a brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, and chaos theory. 25 line drawings.
Paperback, 347 pages
Published October 1996 by Anchor Books (first published 1996)
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Rian Nejar An opinion...as in my review, it is an enlightening work, a must-read for everyone. Some insights are timeless, almost universal, and his (Fritjof Cap…moreAn opinion...as in my review, it is an enlightening work, a must-read for everyone. Some insights are timeless, almost universal, and his (Fritjof Capra's) integration of ideas from numerous sources approaches such quality. He clarifies and networks ideas most effectively...creating a growing consciousness, a virtual life, much like the pattern, structure, and process that Maturana and Varela have offered the world.

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May 26, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, school
Pseudo-scientific mysticism. Just enough science (quite a bit, actually; Capra hasn't exactly shirked his research) to make people buy the completely unfounded ludicrous speculation the book spends its length careening towards. I almost shelved this as "fantasy". ...more
Bob Nichols
Capra presents an anti-reductionist, and anti-deterministic (molecular v. integrative, holistic v. mechanistic) view of life. Life is not about atoms only, but patterns of organization and networks of mutually beneficial parts. He uses the term autopoiesis (self-organization) to describe a process whereby life makes iteself, continuously. Life is closed to the world in the sense that it self-creates and self-orders, but life is also open because it necessarily interacts with its environment and ...more
Jan 17, 2021 rated it liked it
The content of this was a really interesting fusion of philosophy, history, and science that is unlike anything I've read before. I did struggle, however, with the flow of the writing itself. I've read books with denser content or even a more elaborate prose style that were easier to get into the flow of, but that may just be my own style preferences ...more
Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book, one of the best ones I have read in over a year, with new ideas and stimulated imagination. I learned a great deal about cybernetics, learned to view evolution from a different perspective, and see how all of "life" can be broken down into cohesive sequence of chemical unfoldings. Theories tie well into chaos theory, emergence and systems analysis.

Not everything he says though I agree with, but this is largely understandable since my world-view is quite fringe even am
Kity Požek
a real brain candy :D
May 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A huge project diving into the world of biology, physics, chemistry and ecology - dissecting and sharing about different schools of thoughts yet bringing out the core fundamental principles of the web of life.
Not an easy read I must say, but deep and inspiring!
Marc Buckley
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book covering several different areas like physics, ecology, biology, economy. It all ties together to the Systems View of Life. You will dive in and learn from science history and move from a mechanical to a holistic worldview. I love it! It opens up a better way to understand and embrace complexity. I'm also an Alumni from https://www.capracourse.net/ and I can highly recommend this 12 weeks online course.
In my podcast Inside Ideas, we talk about the course, this book, evo
Glynda-lee Hoffmann
Sep 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Dense and complicated, but illuminating.
Paco Nathan
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: green
Well written. Tour de force for many complex points, with excellent storytelling and vital issues. Good intro for autopoiesis and systems theory from Green perspectives.
Jitin Singla
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-loved
I can't recommend it enough. ...more
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was ok
I was hesitant to read this 15-year old book offering a "new" scientific understanding, and while the ideas aren't really that outdated, it didn't really pay off too much for me. One great shock to this humanist was the idea of Analysis not being the be-all-and-end-all, since system thinking is basically its opposite: the context of the larger whole is more important than breaking it down into its parts. I appreciated some hopefully insights too, like the idea that we shouldn't apply Entropy to ...more
Andrew Carr
Jan 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
An excellent introduction to systems thinking, albeit as it stood in 1996.

The core idea is that where Cartesian world views saw objects, this new approach focuses on relationships. Where the old approach emphasises mechanics and causal linear paths, the new highlights processes, patterns, non-linearity and self-organization/self-regulation.

So for instance, rather than seeing the mind and brain as distinct objects, and akin to a computer that represents what's out there, in here, we get a view o
Christopher Miller
Jun 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
One good thing from this book, at least I know I'm getting better at recognizing bullshit right off the bat. I would have eaten this right up with no questions back in college.
Capra keeps making assertions that I might agree with, or at least want to be true, but with no evidence to back them up. Where he does cite a source, about half of them appear to be referring to his earlier works. Is there a separate term for 'argument from authority' when you yourself are the authority?
I want to find an
Dave Franklin
May 22, 2022 rated it it was ok
Fritjof Capra’s book explores the relationship between biology, scientific thought, and society; in this essay, he examines the status of a number of biological theories. Capra emphasizes the “ecological” as having particular significance to the way the field of science is shifting away from reductionist thinking toward a more holistic approach.

Interestingly, Capra- who supports the idea of emergent orders- maligns capitalism, a paradigm case of emergent order, and seems to suggest that "cooper
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful exposition of the theories variously referred to as systems/ecological thinking; the Gaia hypothesis; life-mind continuity thesis, etc. and a must-read for anybody interested in overcoming the false Cartesian mind-matter dichotomy. Full of references that will keep you spiralling merrily down the rabbit hole and with plenty of practical, implementable suggestions for what a holistic, cooperation-heavy worldview would look like. 11/10
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quite interesting. Delightful read which contains many interesting facts and propositions. Sections dealing with non linear systems, evolution of life, catalytic systems, hyperloops are simply amazing. One of the few books which seeks the origin of life in non living world and does a fine job of it!
Jessica Cockburn
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant synthesis of systems thinking from a biological and social perspective. As timely as ever!
Brian Swain
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An extremely important and timely book that provides a unique systems approach to understanding the world and its inhabitants. Highly recommended.
عدنان عوض
Feb 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Another read in systems thinking and theory, and this time with living systems, ecology and how this new paradigm can enrich our understanding of ourselves and the world.
Saravana Sastha Kumar
A wonderful book at its time. it explains how the concept of live evolved over ages, the assumptions philospohers took, the discoveries made, the clash of the cartesian and modern scientific view of life, the coming together of physicists, bilologists and mathematicians to explain 'life', 'the paradigm shifts', the microbiology and the quantum physics.... and finally in chapter 10 onwards explaining the many phases of evolution of life. Brilliant. ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting enough, but I think it was trying to cover too much ground for its size so it couldn't get into anything quite deeply enough, and the overall thesis felt tacked-on. Still, worth reading. ...more
Jade Aslain
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
Capra notes that Bateson did not feel compelled to provide evidence that life process is always already cognitive process. Nevertheless, neither Maturana, nor Capra himself provide evidence, or even a substantial argument for why this is the case. Capra himself notes that "mental processes are a necessary and inevitable consequence of a certain complexity that begins long before organisms develop brains and higher nervous systems," (end of Ch.7) but isn't this statement precisely a concession th ...more
Nate Gaylinn
Feb 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
An overview of many theories relevant to the systems view of life.

Web of Life describes an emerging picture in science that conceptualizes all living things as part of an integrated, dynamic system that continually maintains itself, both adapting to the environment and reshaping it as it does. The focus of this book is the history, central figures, and essential ideas of several different domains of research (from fields as diverse as thermodynamics, computation, and biology) which have found a
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
The 280 pages that begin on page 17 and end on page 297 are fantastic. Their predecessor and successor pages do not appear to have even the same author.

After exploring possibilities of an invented, not perceived, reality, a nonlinear loop in which the perceiver and the perceived adapt to one another in a complex interaction of variables and variable rates, the author quite suddenly introduces the concept of "optimization" in his epilogue, as if there were a constant state to pursue in an ecology
Rian Nejar
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An enlightening, coherent integration of a multitude of perspectives that offer deeper comprehension of the essence of all life. Fritjof Capra brings in everything from history, philosophy, systems thinking, mathematics, computing, anthropology, and biology to describe an interconnection, a synthesis of deep ecology, an inseparable melding of pattern, structure, and process that can be seen to constitute all life. He does so fluidly, seamlessly, albeit with minor errors such as in the number and ...more
Ian Felton
May 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Having read many of the primary sources of this book made it a fairly easy read but will be a more challenging read if encountering these concepts for the first time. Some reviews, of course, are politically motivated and have said this book is pseudoscience and without references other than Capra himself. These statements are false. There are about 10 pages of references and only 8 references are to Capra's works. Most of the book is centered on the enactive cognitive science of Humberto Matura ...more
Mark Love
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book that claims to offer a new scientific understanding of life at all levels of living systems, is almost certainly bound to disappoint. To hope to answer the questions "what is life?", "what is consciousness?" and to provide a new ecological paradigm along the way is almost certainly setting yourself up for failure. And yet in this remarkable book Capra does exactly that.

I first read this book about 5yrs ago and the concepts and principles it contained have largely stayed with me since. But
The Capital Institute
Capra’s book, like many of his earlier works, explores the relationship between the environment and society; in this book he focuses on the biological aspects of this theory. Capra emphasizes the “ecological” as having particular significance to the way the field of science is shifting away from a physics-heavy focus.
The book also creates what journalist Scott London calls a “coherent” conceptual framework for understanding the theories of this scientific ‘revolution.’ Capra argues that there m
Erik Akre
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: ecology, science
An excellent book; one that I looked forward to reading. All the scientific ins-and-outs of systems thinking here. There is also an extensive section on the mathematical operations of systems thinking, which, while it was a little above my elementary-teacher head, taught me thoroughly about chaos theory. After this book, I have a strong grasp of what constitutes an ecological organism (be it individual or ecosystem), and how the organism grows, changes, evolves in its process.

Another important
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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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