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Vital Dust: Life As A Cosmic Imperative First Edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0465090440
ISBN-10: 0465090443
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a work of majestic sweep and bold speculation, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist de Duve presents an awesome panorama of life on Earth, from the first biomolecules to the emergence of the human mind and our species' future. Professor emeritus at Manhattan's Rockefeller University, de Duve rejects the view that life arose through a series of accidents, nor does he invoke God, goal-directed causes or vitalism, which regards living beings as matter animated by vital spirit. Instead, in a remarkable synthesis of biochemistry, paleontology, evolutionary biology, genetics and ecology, he argues for a meaningful universe in which life and mind emerged, inevitably and deterministically, because of prevailing conditions. Starting with a single-celled organism, resembling modern bacteria, which appeared 3.8 billion years ago and gave rise to all forms of life on earth today, de Duve delineates seven successive ages corresponding to increasing levels of complexity. He predicts that our species may evolve into a "human hive" or planetary superorganism, a society in which individuals would abandon some of their freedom for the benefit of all; alternately, if Homo sapiens disappears, he envisages our replacement by another intelligent species.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Around four billion years ago, natural chemical reactions led to the formation of organic molecules in the Earth's waters. From these, nucleic acids emerged, then cells, then multicellular organisms, and, ultimately, the astonishing biodiversity on Earth today. De Duve, a cell biologist and Nobel laureate, invokes a grand scope in this exposition of the origin and future of life. He examines seven successive life "ages," beginning with the "Age of Chemistry," when biomolecules first emerged, and ending with "The Age of the Unknown," our possible biological futures. The first four parts, which report on topics from the author's field of expertise and include information on his original theories, have a rather high technical content. The pace and readability pick up in later chapters, in which de Duve discusses higher plant and animal evolution. For general readers with no background on the subject, there are more accessible books on the origin of life on Earth (e.g., A.G. Cairns-Smith's Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1990), but this ambitious, authoritative work can be highly recommended for nonspecialist readers who possess basic science literacy.
Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (January 3, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465090443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465090440
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,074,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Christian René, viscount de Duve (1917 -2013) was a Nobel Prize-winning Belgian cytologist and biochemist, who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine in 1974; he wrote other books such as Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning, A Guided Tour Of The Living Cell, Singularities: Landmarks on the Pathways of Life, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1995 book, "I feel that the attempt must be made ... to understand our universe and our place in it. Life is the most complex phenomenon known to us, and we are the most complex beings so far produced by life. This book represents my attempt to look at the 'bigger picture.' ... All through this book, I have tried to conform to the overriding rule that life be treated as a natural process, its origin, evolution, and manifestations, up to and including the human species as governed by the same laws as nonliving processes. I exclude three 'isms': vitalism, which views living beings as made of matter animated by some vital spirit; finalism, or teleology, which assumes goal-directed causes in biological processes; and creationism, which invokes a literal acceptance of the biblical account. My approach demands that every step in the origin and development of life on Earth be explained in terms of its antecedent and immediate physical-chemical causes, not of any outcome known to us today but hidden in the future at the time the events took place." (Pg.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Barrett on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book blew my mind in how de Duve explores chemical evolution as no accident yet 'cosmically' driven. I am a biochemist so have studied much of what this book is about. I've even written and taught glimpses of cell and molecular function. De Duve shares the science almost as magic. He puts the wonder back in how did the genetic code develop. After all, how did 4 chemicals 'decide' to encrypt building blocks of life?

This book makes you think by its posing how life was built from dry dust of Earth. It is truly a gift for the biologist who knows there's more to life than only chemicals and cells. It's a gift for the theologian for it leaves room for G-d in the picture.

Finding this book has made my day especially since I'm writing my own Cell book - Cells and the Sacred. Nobel prize winning de Duve EXPANDS the view of life. There are certainly very dense parts that you can skip of details of protein synthesis etc. Just skip ahead. I did - well worth the trip to become what de Duve calls a 'cytonaut.'
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By Richard L. Lewis on April 21, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
thoughtful overview of science's view of man's place in the universe.
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