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Life Explained (An Editions Odile Jacob Book) [Paperback]

Michel Morange , Matthew Cobb , Malcolm DeBevoise
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 24, 2009 0300158505 978-0300158502

Fifty years ago Francis Crick and James D. Watson proposed the double helix model for the DNA molecule. They believed they had, as Crick put it, discovered the “secret of life,” and many agreed. But in the intervening years, science has marched—sometimes leaped—forward, and now the question “What is life?” must be posed once again.


In this accessible and fascinating book, Michel Morange draws on recent advances in molecular genetics, evolutionary biology, astrobiology, and other disciplines to find today’s answers to the question of life. He begins by discussing the various answers that have been formulated in the past, setting contemporary definitions of life within a rich philosophical and scientific tradition that reaches back to ancient Greece. Then, with impeccable logic and a wealth of appropriate detail, Morange proceeds to lay out the fundamental characteristics that define life. The road to an understanding of life remains incompletely charted, he concludes, but the nature of its final destination is no longer an enigma.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this seamless translation, author and French biology professor Morange (The Misunderstood Gene) addresses the question "What is life?" by looking at answers from Aristotle to the atomic age and "bringing out the various points of agreement and contradiction hidden among them." After addressing definitions of life proposed by others, Morange outlines "three essential characteristics" of life: reproductive ability, complex molecular structures and the metabolic replication of those structures. From there, Morange discusses a range of current inquiries, among them astrobiology research, genome studies and adaptation in extreme conditions. An informative and engaging tour of life, and our understanding of it, as a process "perpetually being transformed," this title should appeal to the more serious of armchair philosopher-scientists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Morange approaches the question ‘what is life’ thoughtfully and with an open mind. He accepts what seems sensible and rejects that which is overblown or confusing.”—William C. Summers, Yale University
(William C. Summers)

“This book is remarkable for the clarity and soundness of its arguments, the fair and balanced way in which it presents controversial positions, and its unique capacity to map out unresolved questions.”—Bruno J. Strasser, Yale University
(Bruno J. Strasser)

"I won't give away Morange's thoughtful and persuasive payoff, but his demand that children undergo compulsory education in philosophy of science is energising."—The Guardian
(The Guardian 2009-01-03)

Winner of the French-American Foundation Translation Prize in the category of non-fiction, given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation.
(French-American Foundation Annual Translation Prize French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation 2009-04-27)

"This translation from the 2003 French release outlines in an easy-to-read style the deep issue of the nature of life. . . . Morange is at ease in getting across the historical, philosophical, and biological nuances of the long search for essential features that allow us to define life or living. . . . Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, technical program students, and general readers."—Choice
(Choice 2009-04-01)

Product Details

  • Series: An Editions Odile Jacob Book
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300158505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300158502
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,253,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.5 out of 5 stars
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book July 1, 2009
This is an excellent book. It asks why the issue of life has recently once again become useful to biology and it pokes holes in the myriad ways in which biologists have thought they have solved the problem of life. It is crisply written and fairly easy to understand even to the non-specialist.
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2 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dissappointing June 28, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was premed. Majored in Chemistry. Appreciate all related topics, and have read extensively. Couldn't appreciate this. Boring. Never finished it.
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