- Paperback: 429 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; 1st edition (June 4, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520230086
- ISBN-13: 978-0520230088
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water 1st Edition
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Billed as "A Biography of Water," Life's Matrix would seem to have taken on a nearly insurmountable challenge. Yet author Philip Ball, science writer and consulting editor for Nature, covers the very interesting chemistry and physics of the substance and our species' long relationship with it without losing the reader--after all, each of us is mostly made of the wet stuff. From the ancients' conception of water as an element, recognizing its importance and primacy among terrestrial matter, to our current understanding of the intricate dance of hydrogen bonds that give water its unique, life-giving properties, Ball always finds the right angle to keep the story compelling. Chapters covering the nuts and bolts of water, which the reader might reasonably expect to be a bit dry, consistently remind us of its crucial role in so many aspects of our lives, from ocean currents to irrigation to tears. Some of the cutting-edge scientific reports are weirdly fascinating--the discovery of several different conformations of liquid and solid water and their odd behavior will provoke plenty of brow-furrowing, even if none of us will ever find ice-nine cubes in our cocktails at happy hour. The book closes with the now-obligatory look at what a mess we've made of the book's subject when seen as a natural resource, and offers potential short- and long-term solutions. Facing these issues is vital if we want to remember "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink" as great poetry rather than apocalyptic prophecy. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Water, water everywhere: from cell nuclei to the morning dew and the polar icecaps, water matters in every biological and almost every physical process we can observe on earth. Ball (Designing the Molecular World) has therefore written a very ambitious book: physics and chemistry of many varieties, cell biology, geology, volcanology, climatology, the history of science, gardening, near-earth astronomy and even urban planning and Middle East politics enter into his fact-packed and pleasurably long flume ride of a book. Ball moves swimmingly from the Big Bang to the discovery of hydrogen, oxygen and molecular structure and then into the workings of rivers, groundwater flow, oceanic currents and evapotranspiration, which together make up the all-important hydrological cycle. That cycle in turn depends on properties that make water exceptionalDamong them its "ability to exist in more than one physical stateDsolid, liquid or gasD... at the surface of the planet." Frozen water in glaciers, advancing or retreating as earth cooled or warmed, created much of our present landscape. Atmospheric water interacts constantly with air currents to keep California's vineyards fertile or to flatten Bangladesh with frequent cyclones. Ball covers the early investigators who tried to figure out how liquids behave. He considers how ions in water work, and what this means for solar power. And he looks at the brouhaha over "polywater," a sort of '70s prequel to cold fusion. "Water's inner nature, the physics and chemistry of its unique personality" might have flummoxed a lesser writer, but Ball has composed for the serious reader a definitive account of rain, sleet, snow, vapor and other forms of H2OD"why it is so remarkable a substance, and why as a result it is the matrix of life." (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The special conditions that make our planet a blue planet sparkled with some white areas (clouds and ice) are explained, as well as the hydrological cycle and the greenhouse effect together with their implications on global climate, warming and glaciations. Some space is devoted to the discovery of water's constituents and their names (oxygen and hydrogen) as well as to the decomposition of water by electrolysis and to the formation of water by ignition of hydrogen.
Special physical and chemical properties of water are explained like the fact that water is heavier than ice, meaning that ice has a lower density (the molecules are more separated than in water), because of water's hydrogen bonds. A better explanation of phase transitions can be found in Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. The polarity of water (which accounts for hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules that help shape proteins and therefore cells - for more on this I strongly recommend Life Itself: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell), its dissolution capacity (which makes water the universal solvent) and its calorific capacity make water the "matrix of life". Learn how life could have emerged and also how organisms cope with dehydration (freezing means ultimately also dehydration). Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution is an excellent complement to this book and Investigations deals with the chemistry of the formation of life but in an extremely difficult way.
The biography would not be complete if it would not mention the present day threats to our magic liquid (salinization and contamination) as well as its uneven distribution on the globe. Another five star hit from Mr. Ball! (Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another is one of my favorite books).