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On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth by [Tyrrell, Toby]
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Editorial Reviews


"Tyrrell's story is very informative and the reader will learn many fascinating stories of an organism's adaptation to an environment (rather than an environment conforming to an organism's need)."--Jonathan DuHamel, Arizona Daily Independent

"A systematic, dispassionate, retrospective examination of Gaia. . . . Tyrrell makes it very clear where he stands on Gaia, but the path of his journey is well reasoned--not a diatribe."--William Schlesinger, Nature Climate Change

"It is timely to present a systematic review of how Gaia theory looks in the light of . . . new information. Not too well is Toby Tyrrell's conclusion in this clear summary of the evidence to date. . . . Persuasive."--Jon Turney, Times Higher Education

"In On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth, Dr. Toby Tyrrell, for the first time, conducts a lengthy analysis of the scientific data for and against the Gaia Hypothesis. He concludes that the Gaia Hypothesis does not have enough scientific data to support it. He write eloquently, clearly, and succinctly describing how the Gaia Hypothesis lacks sufficient scientific evidence. . . . A fair and reflective analysis."--Gabriel Thoumi,

"Tyrrell examines alternative arguments about the long-term characteristics of the Earth, considering geological and coevolutionary effects. He provides a detailed examination of how and why the environment cannot be affected by natural selection and how diverse physical factors affect living things. . . . Overall, a useful examination of the changing nature of Earth and the biologic/physical factors that affect the planet's organisms."--Choice

"His theory is not as grandiose as Gaia, but it is far more compelling. The conclusion is worth reading by itself if you are pushed for time, but for those who really want a good insight into Gaia in the context of natural systems, I would recommend reading the whole book."--Gillian Gibson, Environmentalist

"If you've had your curiosity piqued by the Gaia Hypothesis before, you'll appreciate this well-organized and comprehensive assessment of it. Tyrrell doesn't have an axe to grind, and his discussion is fair and focused on the evidence. If you want to grapple with Gaia, this book is a good way to do it."--Scott K. Johnson, ArsTechnica

"One third of this well argued book consists of end notes, many of which are as readable as the main text. By questioning the arguments for and against the Gaia hypothesis, Tyrrell has done a great service to enriching the ongoing discourse on making our planet hospitable for all life forms, now and in the future."--Sudhirendar Sharma, Cover Drive

"On Gaia is a rewarding read for the knowledgeable reader. The book is an easy read and accessible to a broad audience. Unlike some science books intended for popular audiences, the book is sophisticated enough to keep the interest of graduate students."--GeoQ

"It is . . . Valuable for a variety of reasons: as a good natural history brief; as a good introduction to modern ecology (the one that considers the biota as a whole); and as a cautious reflection on what makes a theory gain or lose respectability. Therefore, it will be useful at different academic levels, from teaching at secondary school (it is an excellent starting point for serious debate) to highly specialized climate scientists."-- Chemical Engineer

From the Back Cover

"A handful of scientists have become crusaders for the Gaia hypothesis, while the rest have dismissed it without a second thought. Toby Tyrrell, on the other hand, is one of the very few scientists to have considered the evidence at length and in detail. In summarizing nearly forty years of arguments for and against the Gaia hypothesis, he has done a great service for anyone who is curious about Gaia, or about this fascinating planet that we all call home."--James Kirchner, University of California, Berkeley

"Toby Tyrrell unravels the various formulations of Gaia and explains how recent scientific developments bring the hypothesis into question. His criticisms are insightful, profound, and convincing, but fair. On Gaia is wonderfully informative and a pleasure to read."--Francisco J. Ayala, author of Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution

"At last, a beautifully written and clear-eyed analysis of the interplay of life and the Earth system. On Gaia provides the understanding for moving forward in the quest for sustainability, and is essential reading if our planet is to remain habitable for humanity."--Thomas E. Lovejoy, George Mason University

"On Gaia makes a wonderful addition to the literature. It is scholarly, well-written, and well-reasoned."--Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

Product Details

  • File Size: 8745 KB
  • Print Length: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 21, 2013)
  • Publication Date: July 21, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00D8W7LWM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,673,063 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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For starters, Toby Tyrrell's book misstates Gaia Theory. Consequently, much with which he finds fault are "straw men", older statements of the hypothesis that were revised by Lovelock and Margulis in response to legitimate criticism. Secondly, Tyrrell's arguments are informed by the reductionist rules and assumptions of the 70-year old Modern Synthesis (neodarwinism) that have been replaced by the New Symbiotic Biology. The New Symbiotic Biology (e.g., the Human Microbiome) is based in the research and ideas of Lynn Margulis, Lovelock's principle collaborator on Gaia Theory. Modern molecular- and microbiology have shown that nearly all of the tenets of the Modern Synthesis have been broken. This requires a radical shift in evolutionary thinking that Tyrrell is missing. Tyrrell states that "nitrogen starvation", the death of organisms as the result of fixed nitrogen shortages, "is one of the strongest arguments against the Gaian idea that the biosphere is kept comfortable for the benefit of the life inhabiting it." Tyrrell points to the abundant nitrogen in the atmosphere that could be fixed (converted to ammonium, the form used by organisms) and concludes that if the biosphere were organized for the benefit of the biota, bacteria would fix enough nitrogen for all life. There are two critical flaws in Tyrrell's logic. The first is the anthropocentric notion that death is bad. The second flaw is that if enough nitrogen were fixed, organisms would not die. Natural selection is a necessary part of the Earth system. The Earth cannot support the prodigious reproduction of even a single species of organism, much less the offspring of the estimated 30 million species that inhabit the biosphere.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Tyrrell has taken on a big job in a critical examination of the three Gaia assertions and the two alternate hypotheses. The book is a tour de force that presents physical and philosophical evidence for and against the Gaia hypothesis, which, Tyrrell points out, has some similarities with Intelligent Design. Fortunately, the book is written in plain language and each of the 10 chapters has introductory paragraphs dealing with what the chapter will cover and a concluding section providing a summary. Many of the endnotes referenced within the chapters are interesting stories in themselves and provide amplifying evidence for the main points.

Tyrrell ultimately concludes that "Gaia is a fascinating but a flawed hypothesis. It is not a correct characterization of planetary maintenance and life's role therein. Some of Lovelock's claims...are seen to be dubious when probed more deeply. Some of the key lines of argument advanced in support of Gaia are insecure, or else give support in equal measure to other hypotheses as well as to Gaia. There is nothing that can be explained only by Gaia."

How he gets to his conclusions is a fascinating story illustrated by many interesting examples. The book is well-written and easy to read. Some of his perceptions may give you a different perspective on things. I particularly like a sentence in Chapter Two: "Nature is a mixture of apparent cruelty and kindness, of economy and waste, of competition and cooperation." (That's so Dickensian: It was the best of times....) That sets the tone of Tyrrell's critical analysis. Tyrrell's story is very informative and the reader will learn many fascinating things along the way.
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Format: Hardcover
Just on 30 years ago I came across an intriguing book, the then relatively unknown Gaia: A new look at life on Earth (OUP 1979) by an 'independent scientist', J.E. Lovelock. My earliest impression of it may seem surprising to many people now. I was infuriated. I was infuriated not by Lovelock's hypothesis per se, but by what I impugned was his underlying purpose behind proposing this model.

Gaia was presented by Lovelock as a fifteen year quest to substantiate the model:

"in which the Earth's living matter, air, oceans, and land surfaces form a complex which can be seen as a single organism and which has the capacity to keep our planet a fit place for life."

That was an intriguing hypothesis. The infuriating part I found was the implication that thanks to Gaia our fears of pollution-extermination may be unfounded. In particular I found the logic of chapter 7 (Gaia and Man: the problem of pollution) to be pernicious. On the untested assumption that Gaia did exist, and in the form suggested by Lovelock, he proposed the idea "there is indeed ample evidence that pollution is as natural to Gaia as is breathing to ourselves and most other animals." The philosopher in me took umbrage at his glib jibes at the various current environmental perspectives - chiding them for their naive perspectives.

It took at least another careful read of Gaia before I appreciated Lovelock's perspective, which his follow-on books left the reader in no doubt.
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