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Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin Hardcover – International Edition, September 9, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

What is the meaning of life? Hazen (co-author, Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy) can't answer that, but he may be able to shed light on how life started. We're all familiar with the "primordial soup" theory: organic building blocks floating around in Earth's ocean four billion years ago combined to form the first primitive organisms. Hazen explains the many rival theories vying for public attention. The discovery of life near hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean have led some scientists to propose that life started there, while recent studies of microbes living in rock miles below Earth's surface point to even more radical genesis stories. The origin of life is a hotly contested scientific field, of which Hazen provides a balanced view, airing all the controversies, and only slightly favoring his own pet theory. He spends just as much time on the tools of the trade: the study of molecular fossils and even how we might search for life on other planets. His writing is clear and entertaining, giving a delightful look into his unpredictable experimental work without shying away from the complexity of the science. (Sept. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"...few authors are more capable than Robert Hazen of providing a guided tour through this exciting and complex field." -- James Trefil, Clarence J. Robinson professor of physics, George Mason University, author of Human Nature, and co-author of The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

"A lively insider account of the various ongoing scientific investigations into the origin of life… (An) evenhanded and compelling read." -- Library Journal, August, 30, 2005

"Come be an armchair activist, unimpeded by academic apartheid, join Robert Hazen in his exhilarating scientific search for life's origin." -- Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor, University of Massachusetts, and 1999 recipient of the National Medal of Science

"Robert Hazen provides a gripping and up-close account of this greatest-of-all scientific frontiers..." -- Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History, and co-author of Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Joseph Henry Press (September 9, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0309094321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309094320
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hazen's book "Gen-e-sis" is much like Ward's new one, "Life as We do Not Know It," which I read at the same time. In fact, the two authors are so similar in their interests and goals I was surprised that neither mentioned the other by name. Hazen's style is more direct, while Ward's is a little more playful. While Ward's emphasis is definitely the search for extraterrestrial life and discusses planetary potentials, Hazen's has a greater focus on what it took to have developed it here in the first place and discusses the details of origin research.

"Gen-e-sis" is a good source for the who, what, when, where, why and how of origin science. It is an up to date compendium of what is known about modern microscopic life and the systems that it uses. More importantly for the student interested in the topic, he provides a very good description of the equipment, techniques, and personal characteristics of the researchers doing this type of work. The book would be a very good addition to a high school library, not only in its capacity as a reference on origin of life research, but for the information on the occupation of bioscience researcher.

The author approaches his topic by examining the issues of how life arose from non-life and which of several issues was solved first: cellular segregation of "outside" from "inside," metabolism, or replication. These points are not necessarily clear to most of us. We are ourselves and live with other organisms of great complexity, not only with respect to internal organization but with respect to inter-species organization in the natural ecology of our environment. In short life on the planet has become so elaborate that it almost seems impossible that it could ever have been simpler even at the level of single cells.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Life on Earth appeared nearly 4 billion years ago, an emergent consequence of properties and processes enabled by chemistry and physics - bursting forth from air, water, rock and the thermodynamics of nonequilibrium systems. The origins of life pose a mystery as deep as any question facing contemporary science. Intrepid researchers are taking increasingly bold steps in an ultimate adventure to understand how prebiotic chemical systems self-organized and crossed the threshold separating life from non-life on our barren young planet. Abiogenesis, the scientific quest for life's origin, is profoundly moving and brilliantly presented in this superb book.

Author Robert Hazen exemplifies the intellect, insight, determination, and sense of adventure that scientists around the world utilize when seeking answers to life's most basic riddles. As a researcher in the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth History at George Mason University, Hazen has spent many years researching the fundamental mechanisms nature utilized to realize life's genesis. His impressive laboratory research has choreographed the spellbinding sequence of events that synthesized many of the essential carbon-based macromolecules that acted as the components and scaffolding from which life emerged.

By subjecting simple and abundant chemicals to the high temperatures and crushing pressures encountered near deep ocean vents, Hazen hypothesis that life may well have begun in such an environment - facilitated and nourished by a teeming mixture of catalytic minerals and organic compounds energized by abundant geotectonic forces.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a fine overview of the scientific “origins” puzzle. It is not a biology book, but a book about how biology might come to be. Hazen provides a theoretical framework and covers the emergence of organic molecules, biological polymers and replicating systems while telling the friendly, personal stories of his own research. Hazen does a good job of presenting the facts while making it clear that there is much that is speculative about the field. An excellent book for most of us who are not familiar with the science; well-referenced enough, including references to primary scientific journals, to provide a gateway for those who want to learn more. Not intended for those who know a lot about the issues already, and perhaps a little too chatty for my personal taste, but an easy and enjoyable read.
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Format: Hardcover

This book, by scientist Dr. Robert Hazen, in a nutshell explores the concept of emergence and the origin of life in a way that has never before been attempted. (Emergence is the opposite of reductionism, the view that any system can be explained by understanding its parts.) Or to put the aim of this book in question format:

How did non-living chemicals become alive? What happened in 100 million years that led to the origin of life?

Hazen explains a major objective of his book:

"To describe our present imperfect state of understanding--and to offer a conceptually simple scenario [or theory] for life's chemical origins. This theory synthesizes two fundamental frontier efforts: the mind-expanding theoretical field of emergence and the astonishing experimental discoveries in prebiotic [that is, before life] chemistry [some made by Hazen himself]."

Thus the parts or sections that make up this well-written, easy-to-read, and somewhat personal book are presented in the following logical sequence:

(1) Emergence and the origin of life. (Answers, among other things, the question: "How does one begin to tackle the chemical complexity of life?")
(2) The emergence of biomolecules (such as amino acids, sugars, hydrocarbons, and nucleic acids).
(3) The emergence of macromolecules (such as carbohydrates, proteins, DNA, and RNA).
(4) The emergence of self-replicating systems. ("For origin-of-life researchers, creating a self-replicating molecular system in a test tube has become the experimental Holy Grail.")

Don't worry! The science presented in this book is presented well and Hazen explains any unfamiliar terms.
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