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The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems Hardcover – September 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his bestsellers, The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, physicist Capra charted a paradigm shift from a mechanistic to an ecological worldview. In his new book, a rewarding synthesis that will challenge serious readers, he claims that a comprehensive theory of living systems is now emerging. Applicable to cells, chemical structures, people, ecosystems and social systems, such a theory flows from deep ecology (which assumes humanity's embeddedness in nature's processes), systems thinking and the new mathematics of complexity. Capra identifies a pattern of organization common to all living systems, characterized by internal feedback loops and self-organizing behavior. His own theorizing builds upon the work of important scientists, including American microbiologist Lynn Margulis and British atmospheric chemist James Lovelock, the co-founders of the Gaia hypothesis, who see planet Earth as a living, self-regulating organism. Capra also draws from the work of Chilean neuroscientists Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, whose theory of autopoiesis ("self-making") defines organisms as "network patterns" whose components continually transform one another. Extrapolating from ecosystems research, he sets forth guidelines for building sustainable human communities based on interdependence, cyclical flow of resources, partnership and conflict resolution. Illustrated.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In previous books (The Tao of Physics, Shambhala, 1991; Belonging to the Universe, LJ 2/1/92), Capra was never timid about expounding grand, scientific/philosophical theories of the physical universe. Now, he offers this sweeping discourse on the life sciences. Incorporating elements from such contemporary schools of thought as the Gaia hypothesis, deep ecology, complexity theory, systems theory, and even eco-feminism, Capra herein pronounces a new synthesis that integrates all into a single conceptual context. Many of these ideas are still being developed, though, and many disputes remain unresolved. Advocates will find Capra's theories intellectually and spiritually satisfying. Others will quibble; some will rage. For this to become a true synthesis, it must gain consensus, which will be difficult. Regardless, this book is breathtakingly ambitious and certain to generate response. Public and academic libraries will need it.?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, Fla.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 347 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books/Doubleday; 1st edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385476752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385476751
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
The difference between a mechanistic and a holistic view of the Universe is even greater than the difference between a flat and a round Earth. The problem is, the vast majority of us are still stuck with a perception of the world that is based on fundamentally flawed theories passed down to us by Newton and Descartes. In other words, everything you know is wrong.
We do not so much live in a universe of space filled with objects as our senses imply or as the classical physicists postulated, as we are all part of an interconnected and self-organizing universe of changing patterns and flowing energy.
This holistic worldview recognizes the connections and interdependencies in the world rather than merely separating the world into parts and attempting to reconstruct it like a child playing with blocks. By trying to understand the world merely in terms of its parts we obscure the properties that emerge from the interplay between the parts. The Universe is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Capra's outstanding achievement in "The Web of Life" is to communicate so plainly, effectively and compellingly the outline of the holistic paradigm and the impending shift. "The Web of Life" is THE primer for the dynamical systems theory that you will need to compete (and to integrate) in the 21st Century.
Deep Ecology, Gaia Theory, and an incredible new theory of cognition are among the many ideas explored in the book as well as feedback loops, complexity and chaos theory, dissipative structures and autopoietic, or self-organizing, systems.
This is a moving and transforming book that will inform and inspire. I refer to it constantly and give it the highest recommendation.
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77 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Ruth Henriquez Lyon VINE VOICE on August 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Web of Life has been a revelation to me: I have always been struck by the beauty to be uncovered in the study of biology; however, I have found too many books on biology to be dry and reductionist, completely ignoring the metaphysical, aesthetic aspect of the life sciences.
This book is the first of many more I hope to read on this deeper aspect of biology and ecology. Capra looks at the life sciences through the lens of systems theory, and thus provides a very good introduction to systems theory for those (like me) who are novices. He also gives an account of life, from its earliest origins on up to the beginnings of human consciousness, working with the ideas of the main developers of systems theory over the past several decades.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this theory (or perhaps I should say set of theories) for me is how it describes and works out in more detail a basic intuition that many of us have even as children (and that many spiritual traditions have always recognized): that all things are connected in a giant web-work (wheels within wheels within wheels....). Anyone responding to this intuition knows that no being can be understood without looking at both the patterns it comprises, as well as the greater patterns it is a part of.
Another provocative aspect of these theories is how they push the definition of life out farther and farther, for in many ways all dissapative systems (economies, cultures, hurricanes) can be seen as having living qualities.
I disagree with the criticisms of the reviewers who complain that this book is derivative and contains too few original ideas. The author's intent here was to present a synthesis of teachings on a subject which is still new to many people, whilst arguing for a more appreciative and reverent attitude towards the world we live in. The result is a book which is not only fascinating but inspiring as well.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By R. Griffiths on November 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is an excellent synthesis of those intriguing and sexy scientific terms you'd like to understand but don't know where to begin. Systems theory, complexity, chaos, cognition, autopoeisis, symbiosis, gaia theory. For these and more the answer is to start reading here.
Those who already have half a clue about what these terms may refer to will notice that Capra's overview is emphatically cross-disciplinary. His bringing together of work in different fields of inquiry makes him well worth reading to see something of the 'bigger picture'. There is also likely to be something here you didn't already know. For instance, I was intrigued by Capra's description of the work of Candace Pert on the role of peptides, and her conclusion: 'I can no longer make a strong distinction between the brain and the body' (p. 276). Time after time I was filled with the strong desire to know more about the wonderful world Capra is describing, and to chase up the references on each page.
Capra's approach, along with his conclusions, are controversial and all the more stimulating for that. Even if you don't swallow the whole story, his vision of life in which everything is connected to everything else will make you question many preconceived ideas about the nature of nature. Despite what might be claimed for a book such as this, Capra hasn't quite reached the 'holy grail' of a complete, holistic account of life. In fact, it is exciting to consider how much there is that we still don't know and can't agree on. I give 'The Web of Life' four stars. I felt is petered out somewhat toward the end. If there had been a more dynamic conclusion to the book, it would be worth five.
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