How did life begin? Did it start here, by blind chance or by necessity, or was Earth seeded by extraterrestrial visitors? (And, if so, how did they
arise?) Physicist and science writer Paul Davies tackles these heavy questions and more in The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life
, a wide-ranging survey of the field of biogenesis. From the "Martian meteorite" ALH84001 to the hardy microorganisms living on--and under!--our sea beds, Davies looks for evidence pointing toward our first ancestor. His willingness to consider any possibility makes for a fun, fascinating journey through our solar system and beyond.
The Fifth Miracle provides convincing arguments that life flourishes, and may indeed have begun, deep within the earth's crust, and not in Darwin's "warm little pond." And if in our planet's crust, why not in others'? Indeed, he shows that it is not just possible but likely that living organisms have passed between Earth and Mars embedded within meteorites. Davies's command of the data and his facility with explaining it to nonprofessionals give the lie to his self-description as "a simple-minded physicist" intruding in another's domain. The best scientists hate to see questions finally answered and love to see new ones raised; by that standard (and by any other), The Fifth Miracle is a first-rate book of scientific speculation. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
With ease and charm, and without dumbing down the pertinent technical and philosophical issues, popular-science writer Davies (Are We Alone?: The Philosophical Basis of the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, etc.) combines research results from disparate fields to explore possible approaches to the question of biogenesis. Although he was trained as a physicist, Davies skillfully draws together insights from hot areas in microbiologyAsuch as the study of extremophiles (bacteria that thrive in dangerous levels of acidity, cold, heat, radioactivity), the discovery of a third domain of life and the controversy over whether traces of carbon on Martian meteorites are actually fossilized bacteriaAin his pursuit of a fundamental question: What is the origin of biological (and thus genetic) information? He is skeptical that purely biochemical forces could spark the leap from nonlife to life. At stake is another question: Is the universe bio-friendly? Davies believes that the answers to these questions involve identifying a new "law" of nature, which may come from advances in information and complexity theory. He contends it is possible that quantum mechanics also may be found to play a role in the relationship between life and the universe at large. This book is sure to engage and provoke readers curious about the raging controversies over the origin of life, on Earth or elsewhere. Seven line drawings.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.