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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,774 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Paperback, 347 pages
Published October 1996 by Anchor Books (first published 1996)
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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: school, non-fiction
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
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, ecology
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
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!
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
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!
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
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
Recommends it for: educators or workers in sustainability (for sound theory)
Shelves: science, ecology
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
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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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“Patterns cannot be weighed or measured. Patterns must be mapped.” 7 likes
“The paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building-blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and - last, not least - the belief that a society in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature.” 1 likes
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