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The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth (Commonwealth Fund Book Program) Paperback – March 17, 1995

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“This book describes a set of observations about the life of our planet which may, one day, be recognized as one of the major discontinuities in human thought. If Lovelock turns out to be as right in his view of things as I believe he is, we will be viewing the Earth as a coherent system of life, self-regulating and self-changing, a sort of immense living organism.” (Lewis Thomas)

From the Back Cover

The Earth, James Lovelock proposes, behaves as if it were a superorganism, made up from all the living things and from their material environment. When he first sketched out his brilliant Gaia theory in the 1970s, people around the world embraced it; within a short time Gaia has moved from the margins of scientific research to the mainstream. James Lovelock argues that such things as the level of oxygen, the formation of clouds, and the saltiness of the oceans may all be controlled by interacting physical, chemical, and biological processes. He believes that "the self-regulation of climate and chemical composition is a process that emerges from the tightly coupled evolution of rocks, air, and ocean - in addition to that of organisms. Such interlocking self-regulation, while rarely optimal - consider the cold and hot places of the earth, the wet and the dry - nevertheless keeps the Earth a fit place for life". The New York Times Book Review has called his arguments in favor of Gaia "plausible and above all illuminating". Now, in an updated paperback edition, fully revised, the author amplifies his account of how Gaia works with descriptions of new fields of research that have been opened by this pathbreaking concept.
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Product Details

  • Series: Commonwealth Fund Book Program
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Rev Upd Su edition (March 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312393
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Imagine living in Europe during the Dark Ages, when everyone thought the world was flat, and having someone demonstrate to you that the world is a sphere. In our modern version of the Dark Ages of the environment we are under the delusion that our Earth is lump of rock inhabited by life. Lovelock shows that the Earth is a living, self-regulating system comprised of all of life tightly coupled with its environment. He traces the 3.5 billion year life of the Earth as a living entity in an easy and enjoyable to read fashion. If we as a species are fortunate enough to survive the next 1000 years it will be because this book was recognized as the most important ever written in the 20th century. For you Gaia theory buffs out there: The Gaia theory dawned on Lovelock when he was having a conversation with Carl Sagan and some other colleagues.
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Format: Paperback
Outside of some rudimentary internet research, this is the first I've read of Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis. Despite the name (which I initially thought sounded like some kind of pop eco-philosophy a neohippy type might come up with), I was surprised at the professional, technical nature of his writing.

Lovelock hypothesizes that the planet Earth is essentially a living being, whose complex biosphere regulates such things as the chemical makeup of the atmosphere (affecting, in turn, the global climate). He compares the Earth -- with its atmosphere largely comprised of nitrogen and oxygen -- to the carbon-heavy atmospheres of "dead" Venus and at least mostly "dead" Mars.

Since Darwin's time, we've known that the environment causes organisms to evolve. Lovelock argues that the opposite is also true, and he cites many examples to support this idea. Previous mass extinctions, he says, have been the result of calamities (such as asteroids and meteorites) that temporarily threw the biosphere out of control. The current mass extinction event is an anomaly -- an individual species run amok. (Homo sapiens, therefore, are something akin to cancer cells on this giant creature.)

Lovelock's background in chemistry gives him an interesting perspective for the author of a book about ecology. He goes beyond the "this is the food chain" level and delves into the chemical nature of the biosphere and the regulatory effects these chemical changes have on the planet as a whole. Furthermore, Lovelock labels himself a "planetary physician," and urges others to become the same.
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Format: Paperback
James Lovelock's The Ages of Gaia, a Biography of the Living Earth, fleshes out his idea that all of life on Earth--including the rocks--is in fact one living self-regulating organism.
Is this even possible? To illustrate how it might work, Lovelock postulates a simple model of light and dark colored daisies, called Daisyworld, where populations of daisies increase and decrease according to how much sunlight the planet receives. His argument moves back to the Archean age approximately 3.6 billion years ago where the first bacteria-like rudiments of life appeared. In an explanation which is heavy on the chemistry, and somewhat beyond me, Lovelock explains how our present self-sustaining world balancing oxygen and carbon dioxide used and expelled by plants and animals could develop and adapt to changes in the sun's intensity.
The Ages of Gaia contains a subtle but firm warning that we humans are changing the fabric of life on our planet, and setting the stage for what may well be (for humans and animals of our ilk) a stark uninhabitable world.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Ages of Gaia is not just the story of Gaia and how she was discovered, but also the adventures of an individual scientist vs. the scientific establishment and the adventures of a British land-lover vs. the political establishment. It also is a gentle warning to the passengers on spaceship Earth, a.k.a. Gaia, that the spaceship is not in danger, the passengers are!

Gaia is not a living creature. Gaia is a self regulating habitat that favors denizens that manage to get along harmoniously and hinders those that don't. There are no reasons or theologies given for this behavior. As Ayn Rand might have said: it is the nature of Gaia to be like she is. Gaia is what our senses perceive and what our reason understands. Gaia does not play favorites.

The only chapter that put me to sleep was the one about god and Gaia. Maybe you'll find it interesting. I tried twice to read it but to no avail.
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I was introduced to Lovelock's Gaia theory many years ago, and although I went on to thinking about many other theories of life on earth, I never forgot Gaia. So, when doing research for writing my next novel, I went back to studying further the writings of James Lovelock's many books. Beginning with The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth, I felt that this would be the place to begin. I was not disappointed. Lovelock tells us what is known and what is not known, and why we need not concern ourselves with the origin of life on earth. Although scientists can determine some facts about the earliest times of our planet, much is speculation based on mathematical and other models of what might have happened. As a reader of Scientific American and other such publications, I know that much has been discovered since 1988 when The Ages of Gaia was published, Nevertheless since James Lovelock does not hesitate to separate speculation from modeling from facts, this is an excellent primer for those readers just beginning their quest to discover whether the earth may, itself, be a living organism capable of changing and evolving to keep itself alive. Clearly, this planet has gone through massive changes during its lifetime, and in spite of the current over-population of humans, the destruction of natural habitats, and the rise of agriculture, the depletion of fresh water sources, and so much more, the earth may be adjusting itself once again.
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