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76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Though the author may be a controversial individual to some, he remains one of the top scientific achievers in a world of very controversial areas of new research. This book demonstrates why his knowledge and contributions to the cutting edge sciences of genetics, microbiology and computer science have made him one of the towering forces in these fields. This book's subject is certain to draw critics from all sides considering the unknown territory it may lead humanity toward. I make no personal judgments ... it is for us to each individually, then collectively decide. For those of you who have a deep curiosity of what potentially lies ahead for mankind in the near-term future through the fusion of advanced technologies, this book is an eye-opener. It is short, concise and well written, with snappy prose and not an overabundance of technical terms to bog the reader down. Oddly enough, my only small criticism of the book is the "title" - life at the speed of light ... Through remarkable new discoveries in quantum physics regarding "entangled" particles, Venter should be describing future potentials at "faster-than-the -speed-of-light" or "instantaneous." Instantaneous response and information dispersal over vast distances is no longer science fiction from a Star Trek episode, it is now established science fact. Admittedly some of this is discussed in the book and somewhat further out on the horizon of engineering capability. Get this book. When we stop learning we start dying.
Intelligent Intervention
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The positive:
Lots of up-to-date information on our current understanding of how the code of life, DNA, shapes our destiny. Venter describes is great detail the creation of man-made life in the form of Mycoplasma, "the first living self-replicating species to have a computer as a parent". This was pure science fiction only 20 years ago.
Lots of very-readable historical background information, from Erwin Schroedinger's "What is Life" through many of the key scientific experiments that got us to where we are today.
The (slightly) negative:
Venter's ego sometimes makes him seem somewhat immodest, in my humble opinion.
My recommendation is to read this book in combination with Venter's biography, "A Life Decoded", which in my opinion gives great insight into Craig Venter's thinking. Both of these books are a pleasure to read for anyone curious about the way life works. Science at its best.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The fact that Dr. Venter is writing another book is cause for me to drop everything, download and read it same day. And that excitement carried all the way through. This is a profound and incredible book on life and what makes it happen. He lays everything out transparently, all his ideas and reasonings and methods. He's just really smart and hardworking and those two things are at the root of his success, and success far beyond his time is what he has already accomplished. 'Some people see chaos, others see patterns' describes Dr. Venter's own mentality. I was astounded at how comprehensively he sees life, the cell and dna synthesis.

Someone floated a rumor (a chief rival?) in the past about Dr. Venter's ego and hubris and all that. When, where? I've never seen that from him and this book is further a credit to all those he works with. When he creates something he just says 'I did this' and I think he's allowed. Dr. Venter has been, like many in his field, one of the great assets to humankind. This book was conversational, like a fireside chat and I consumed it in a day. I couldn't get too much of his brilliance.

One thing I will note about this book, it closes the door on religion, vitalism and mysticism.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
A better title for this book would be "Hype at the Speed of Light". Venter may have the largest ego on the planet, which he celebrates with unceasing self-congratulation. Venter has, indeed, made significant strides in DNA technology; his assembly (not synthesis) of the entire chromosome of a bacterium and his insertion of this very fragile molecule into a living bacterial cell is a technological tour de force but is by no stretch of the imagination the creation of "synthetic life" as Venter would have us believe. And his expenditure of millions of dollars and the time and efforts of a large team of helpers and colleagues during seven full years, can have been undertaken only with the hope of winning a Nobel Prize - which this work assuredly does not deserve. Nevertheless, Venter extolls with some clarity a bright future for genetic engineering and the book is worth reading for anyone interested in this area - though considerable familiarity with molecular genetics is unfortunately necessary. For my full review, see The Times Literary Supplement for May 9, 2014.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
well narrated by the expert in the field. It is a fascinating story, and actually Venter underplays it as he does not delve into the multiple applications that can be derived from "new" cells. I am sure he is aware of what can be done with new cells, but somehow he does not spell it out, leaving it mostly to the reader's imagination. But Venter has been the first in other things, and it does not surprise me that he wanted to the first in replacing a "useless" nucleus with one made to order. Good luck to him; he deserves it.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Biology has gone digital. DNA can be read by robots, metabolism can be simulated in software, and now, with genome-scale DNA printing becoming technically and economically feasible, life can now be programmed. This ability to translate between the chemical information bits of DNA to the electronic bits of digital computers and back again creates incredible possibilities - including teleporting life from one location (or world) to another as email attachments. Dr. Venter shares the story of the fundamental work in digital biology that he and his team has done that is easy to read and thoroughly referenced. He describes how this work has already changed the way vaccines are made and how Mars and other planets will be explored. Few books offer such an intimate account of modern genetic science or profound preview into our biological future. Reading this book, it is clear that digital biology can, is, and will continue to change our world as significantly as the digital computer. This is big stuff - unfolding in real time - and likely to earn Venter a Nobel Prize in the near future. Even if DNA isn't your thing, perhaps consider getting a copy for that tech-savvy young man or woman you know that is mulling over what to do with their life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Another Home run by J. Craig Venter. Science on the edge of our understanding, History the way it should be told, and a future of creation that we will witness in our life times. Read this book, and open your mind to the possibilities and it's realities. The author is not just telling a story, he is telling his story of his life's pursuit of what most considered impossible at the time. For those who have not read his prior book, "Cracking the Genome" Mr. Venter has been and continues to be one of the few people on the planet that has discovered all the genes in our and other species. He is the primary reason that in in the spring of 2000 that President Clinton could make the public announcement that our Human genome had been sequenced nearly 5 years ahead of schedule. I highly recommend both of these books.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Even though I understand only about a third of what the author describes, what I do understand is a riviting portrayal of real scientific work--the challenges that have to be overcome, the years of hard work, the endless problems that have to be solved. Venter describes how he and his team has worked on creating new life forms. I can't think of a scientific and engineering achievement that could be as profound as this, complete with it's implications about what life really is. It is a terrific account written by one of the most influential persons of our times. Really, really worth reading--even if you only understand a third of it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. It's not great writing but it is a recount of a tour de force in synthetic biology. Venter's group has paved bold routes before and this book recounts its next big challenges. We would all do well to better understand the Brave New World Venter's group, and similar, are doing in the 'biology as information' domains.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of J. Craig Venter's 'Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life'

The main argument: Ever since the structure of DNA was deciphered by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, the field of biology has advanced at a lightning-quick pace. In this time, we have learned how DNA codes for the manufacture of proteins of which every living thing is made, and thus acts as the blueprint of life. We have also learned to read this blueprint; to splice it (to transfer genes, and hence features, from one organism to another--and even one species to another); to synthesize it from its component parts; and we have even learned to rewrite DNA to yield wholly new biological products, features and organisms. Thus recent advances have not only allowed us to gain a better understanding of what life is and how it works, but have also allowed us to take control of life and to manipulate it to help advance our ends--and in fields as wide-ranging as food production, medicine, energy, environmental protection etc. And this is just the beginning, for biologists still have much to learn about which genes code for what features, and how to manipulate DNA to achieve the best results--and thus we can expect that some of the greatest applications to come out of biology are yet to come.

The biologist J. Craig Venter has been at the forefront of biological research for the past 35 years, and has played a pivotal role in some of its most important advances (including everything from sequencing the human genome, to creating the first synthetic life form), and in his new book Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, Venter takes us through the major advances that have occurred since the time of Watson and Crick--and also touches on what is likely to come next.

After taking us through the basics of DNA, Venter touches on the advances that led up to his effort to sequence the entire 3-billion-letter human genome. This story includes all of the major advances in biologists' ability to read DNA, and culminates with the success of the human genome project.

From here we are taken through biologists' efforts to move from reading DNA to synthesizing it in the lab. Once again, Venter and his collaborators have played a central role in these advances, including being responsible for the latest and greatest accomplishment here--which involved synthesizing a modified version of the genome of a single-celled organism, booting it up inside a recipient cell, and having it survive, thrive and reproduce. Venter gives a detailed account of this accomplishment, and thus we are given an inside view into the scientific process--with all its trials, tribulations, and glorious successes.

Finally, Venter details where biology is headed now, and next--including where his own research is taking him. Here we learn about the cutting-edge of synthetic biology, which is the attempt to transform biology into an engineering science. Specifically, we learn how biologists are continuing to perfect the art of manipulating DNA, and how this is leading to exciting new applications across many fields. To give just one example, take Venter's work with influenza vaccines. Venter is in the process of using synthetic biology to design, manufacture, and deliver influenza vaccines in a fraction of the time that it now takes--work that promises to save millions of lives in the event of future influenza outbreaks.

On the more speculative side of things, Venter ventures into how new advances might be used to probe for life in other parts of the universe--and how the genomes of any such life might be read, and sent back to earth on the back of electromagnetic waves to be synthesized and recreated in the lab. Life at the speed of light indeed!

It was a delight to read about the recent history and latest advances in biology from one of its most accomplished and renowned practitioners. Some might find Venter's level of detail regarding his own work to be somewhat tedious at times, but I found this to be one of the strong points of the book. The only short-coming of the book, I thought, is that it does jump around somewhat, and the details are occasionally difficult to follow (so be prepared to read through it VERY carefully). All in all, though, a very good popular science book. A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of J. Craig Venter's 'Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life'
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