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

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,700 ratings  ·  99 reviews
Paperback, 347 pages
Published October 1996 by Anchor Books
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Rian Nejar An in my review, it is an enlightening work, a must-read for everyone. Some insights are timeless, almost universal, and his (Fritjof Cap…moreAn 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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Nate D
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".
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ecology, non-fiction
In The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra attempts to present a synthesis of systems models as a new (and improved) way of looking at life. While scientists will often speak of paradigm shifts within a field -- for instance from Newtonian to relativistic physics, or Lamarckian evolution to the Darwinian kind -- it is rare that they attempt to link these individual shifts to a wider movement. It is probably rarer still that they attempt to create the ove ...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
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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
Recommends it for: educators or workers in sustainability (for sound theory)
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
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Billy by: Ariel, thank you
This is one of my favorite science books for the general reader. The material is in depth without being too technical. It addresses living systems, interconnectedness and touches on the idea of cognizance of all life down to bacteria. I have talked to a few humans who find this a little abrasive for their intellectual egos, but for the better, intellect should be abraded.

Coming from a physicist, his ideas are not the woo-woo musings of a new age mystic, but rather herald the necessary change in
Bold Bookworm
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
... This book has relatively high expectations of the reader. It delves into subjects like fractal waves and the generalities of cellular biology. A reader not conversational on those topics will be challenged and enlightened. Much of the book details the history of ideas. The practical application of the knowledge imparted through exploration of those ideas is packaged in the epilogue. One ultimately wishes the recommendations for practical applications of the conclusions drawn were presented e ...more
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Capra is a stunningly clear and conscious scientific writer. His enthusiasm for science pours through in his writings. In the Web of Life, he yet again destroys the rigid and outmoded mechanistic paradigm and offers here a new vision of reality and scientific scope.

Capra is quite unique in his sometimes journalistic, sometimes historical approach to science. He explains the holistic breakthroughs in various branches of science from quantum theory through biology up to cybernetics. In the Web of
Stephanie Hallmark
This book changed by life. I don't remember a lot of details at this point...other than it gave me a framework to hold the relationship of order to chaos...and how life evolves at that border, and continually evolves to higher orders of complexity until chaos intervenes and disrupts the system...the pieces of which eventually re-form into different patterns, which then begin to evolve to ever higher orders of complexity....
It made me consider the possibility that human systems...institutions, s
fascinating take on the Rhizome (see A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari), through the lens of the scientific history behind dynamical systems thinking. some of the claims may sound a bit... overenthusiastic, especially w/ regard to cognition, and it would have been nice to have had a bit more explication of systems dynamics in the social realm, but wonderful nonetheless. lots of good leads in the bibliography.

makes me wish there were a way to give a book two ratings, one for form/style,
Annie Frame
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the depth of life. Not a one for anyone wanting to know if their numbers will come up on the bingo/lottery or if Mr/Mrs Right/Wrong is on the horizon. The Web of Life effortlessly educates the reader, thanks to an author with natural insight and plenty brain juice. Not only did I re-read parts, because of the magnetic dialogue used, I tucked them in my mind for future reference. Capra is an author with lots to say and what he does say to his read ...more
Annie Frame
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the depth of life. Not a one for anyone wanting to know if their numbers will come up on the bingo/lottery or if Mr/Mrs Right/Wrong is on the horizon. The Web of Life effortlessly educates the reader, thanks to an author with natural insight and plenty brain juice. Not only did I re-read parts, because of the magnetic dialogue used, I tucked them in my mind for future reference. Capra is an author with lots to say and what he does say to his read ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012

It was a bit of a letdown. After having read The Tao of Physic, I was expecting something as crisp and rejuvenating. Nonetheless, The materials and language had substance and quality to it, it wasn't too watered-down. I didn't get the chill and tears of profound understanding as I've had reading Plato or quantum theory, but it does provide some synaptic clarity to previous ideas I've encounter.
Jonagain Offagain
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book! Connections made in the holistic analysis of life are called "externalities" in conventional economics. Ecosystem services (e.g. carbon dioxide sequestration, oxygen production, water purification, topsoil creation, biodiversity) are left out of the equation because clearing land for the short term profit of a few wealthy elitists always leaves a net deficit to society overall.
Joey Dominguez
I was done with this book after the author said immunology system needs to be changed to "network" because otherwise lymphocytes would attack anything. The author has a style of explain science well, suggest a rename because of a small detail, and having it fit into his theory. There is no reason to change the 7-10 characteristics of life into three. Finally, I would have picked up a philosophical book if I wanted to hear his opinions and perceptions.
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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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