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Showing 1-5 of 5 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 8 reviews
on November 6, 2016
This was a good book when it came out. Today it is hopelessly outdated. Yet it is not easy to find a book summing up our current 2016 knowlege. As far as I know none exists and one has to research all the original papers. Not an easy task.
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on July 20, 2017
Very good book. It gave me all of the information that I was looking for. :)
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on December 5, 2008
I have had this on my shelf for a while, and then in the stacks of good books to review for Amazon. J. William Schopf is not only a skilled scientist, but this book shows his skills as an editor and author. He assembled a distinguished group of origin of life researchers and each chapter takes on a key issue they were significant contributors to over decades. This can have some negatives. The most obvious is that the authors do tend to favor their contributions over those of others, and certainly not every important researcher is represented.

One example of the first problem is chapter 3, "Formation of the Building Blocks of Life" by Stanley Miller, and Antonio Lazcano. These long time collaborators are major proponents of an atmospheric origin of prebiotic organic molecules, Miller being the first ever to publish experimental results on this in 1953. However, their discussion of hydrothermal vent, and cosmogenic sources to early earth's environment is barely more than their objections to these ideas. The major papers by the senior proponents of these substantial hypotheses are barely mentioned.

The level of some chapters is about that of a college undergraduate with at least some course work in chemistry. This is a bit higher than a general reader's comfort zone. There is a very helpful glossary, and the finer details of chemical reactions can be skipped by most people.
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on February 16, 2009
In a word: disappointed. I came to this book expecting to see more of the excellent work displayed in Dr. Schopf's previous book, Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils (1999). Instead I found a rehashing of some of the standard, and in my view time-worn theories about the origin of life -- all of which end up rather indefinite, speculative and unsatisfying.

Some of the stuff isn't even accurate: it is not true that "Miller's experiment showed for the first time that amino acids can be produced under simulated 'primitive Earth conditions'." (p18) Never mind the fact that Miller's simulated conditions are a far cry from primitive conditions (see the discussion, pp67-68). Miller wasn't even the first to do these experiments: See Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and The Origin of Life, page 125ff; Miller's was a repeat of "experiments of Walther Löb et al in 1922."

Incidentally, I would think that the composition of the early earth environment would naturally come from a study of planet formation by accretion - a natural topic of astrophysics. I think the answer is: NOT an ammonia/methane environment!! for reasons that have to do with the chemistry that results from the cooling of a molten inner planet. One of my favorite books on this subject is Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. See also Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada, The Spark Of Life: Darwin And The Primeval Soup and Wallace S. Broecker, How to Build a Habitable Planet.

I assume that this book is a compilation of papers that he uses in his college courses. Nothing wrong with that, but I had anticipated something much better. I have great respect for his work in Cradle of Life, and his participation in the 1998 NRC Symposium, Size Limits of Very Small Microorganisms: Proceedings of a Workshop (Compass Series (Washington, D.C.).). I had hoped for some further insights that follow on from the implications of that symposium, in particular.

The most interesting chapter concerns the "Tree of Life" written by Dr. Schopf himself. Genetic research has constructed its own tree based on the recurrence of similar gene packages. Widely different animal species share the same "hox" gene packages for appendages (legs, antennae, etc.), eyes, etc. Some packages appear to have been in place and largely unchanged since (at least) the Cambrian Era, some 500 million years ago. Barely noted in his book is the ultimate "package" that is essentially the same for all plants and animals: the so-called "central dogma" that determines the genetic coding in the DNA, and the elaborate process by which this is transformed into the useful life chemicals.

If one insists on evolution by purely natural processes, this recurrence of similar gene packages is a powerful "proof" that these diverse species share a common ancestor, and in particular that all of life evolved from an original first living cell "[s]ince any complete biochemical system is far too elaborate to have evolved more than once in the history of life...." (p.163). This is of course no explanation of how the packages came to be in the first place -- and the book's probes into this issue (which is after all the subject of the entire book) come to singularly weak and unconvincing conclusions.

There will always, I think, be a chasm between Creationists and Naturalists, regarding life's origins. The Creationist sees natural descent as a possible but not necessary conclusion of the genetic tree of life: similar gene packages may just show that the Creator re-used them. Proof of a natural process is not just asserting "it must be so" but in showing such relatedness in the laboratory or in mathematical simulation based on demonstrable assumptions about physical or chemical processes. Otherwise, the claim is metaphysics or religion, but certainly not science.

In my view, the theory of evolution has made great advances exactly in proportion to the effort it has given to such experimentation. I love to discover (with the help of great authors) new things about the power of natural processes through laboratory experimentation, for example in Sean B. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo - a book that I recommend highly. I would similarly look forward to a demonstration of relatedness by simulation (at one time I conjectured that evolution of the trilobite phacops eye can be explained by simulation on the basis of a combination of arrested development and environmental pressure).

I look forward to another book by Schopf that will similarly expand my understanding of Life's Origins -- but without the tired "just so" stories found in this book.

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on April 17, 2004
This book just slayed me. A series of beautifully-written and well-supported essays covers, very quickly, the turn-of-the-millennium status of research on the subject of how life got started at the very, very beginning. How did 'pre-biotic' molecules ever get started replicating themselves, eventually turning into 'biotic' molecules? The answers aren't all in, but there's some really exciting work going on; scientists are relentlessly chipping away at the problem and they have made a surprising amoutn of progress. You know, these days the creationists are getting a lot of press. And they keeep hammering on the idea that the pre-biotic genesis of life is simply impossible; it had to require some sort of divine intervention. This is a lie. Take astronomer Fred Hoyle's famous simile -- that the accidental genesis of life would be like a tornado ripping through a junkyard and assembling a 747. While I read 'Life's Origin', I thought often of Hoyle and how much I'd like to throttle him. The origin of life requires NOTHING like the accidental assembly of a jet aircraft. It requires something much more like the lifting of two magnets into the air, so they can snap together, each magnet's noth pole snapping to the other's south. Molecules have natural affinities. They were 'born' to snap together. 99.9% of all the matter in the universe is either carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, or nitrogen: the stuff of life. Once the Earth had cooled down from its fiery birth, life couldn't wait to get started. And once it got started, it was by its very nature almost unstoppable. This is not an easy book. It's written for a lay audience (and there's a helpful glossary at the back), but there's a ton of orgo in it, so if you're not a chemist you had best be a quick study: the kind of layperson who, having once heard (for example) the word 'racemic' defined, can use it in a coherent sentence the following day. If you're that kind of smart, you will get a real kick out of this book. This crazy world is more beautiful -- life is more strange and fantastic and marvelous, than we ever suspected. Read and enjoy.
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