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Vital Dust: The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth Revised ed. Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
De Duve's narrative is highly detailed in the opening sections. The conditions and operations he describes are fundamental to life's development. How carbon-based molecules interact in ways that led to replication, then selection, are carefully explained. While many of the early steps were random, perhaps even chaotic, "superior" [because they survived and replicated better] molecular structures became more common. While he notes there are preferred environments for this process, they aren't tightly limited. Change of environment formed selection pressures which even early life could respond to without difficulty. While at first glance this description may appear an account of many chance events, De Duve points out that life started on a "deterministic" path almost from the beginning. The rules of chemical reactions limit what chance can impose. Yet, once the start has been made, similar rules force the process of life forward.Read more ›
The best part of the book is early on, when Duve exercises his expertise in biochemistry and discusses how life must have come into existence and made the first moves toward complexity. This is difficult but rewarding reading, and a section I think I will be returning to.
The final chapters, discussing the future of mankind, environmental issues, and the nature of consciousness, are almost entirely derivative, consisting of rehashed thoughts of others rather than original concepts or explanations.
Still the book is well worth it just for the understanding of how life might have come to be and how it developed into what it is today. Recommended.
While he up front denies a creative intelligence at the beginning, he invokes far too much chance (in my opinion) in the bringing about of conditions conducive to life's genesis.
His introduction admits his method is inductive, rather than deductive.
He uses much conjecture, and fills many blanks lacking in hard scientific support with it. This itself didn't bother me as much as did the logical liberties he took in his reasoning (too frequently he went from using possibility words such as "perhaps," "seems to," "in all likelihood," "chances are" to jumping to absolute conclusion words like "obviously," "impossible" - I found that the hasty result of an apparent aim to substantiate with language what was beyond substantiation with science itself).
He demands that all life is a product of the same natural biological processes, as understandable as any other, "including man," yet at the same time he considers "mind" to be beyond comprehension, wholly unlike any other.
He recognizes the problems that his biological necessity platform presents in the discussion of morality, meaning, free will.
But, good reading, with a balance of technical biology and layman-readability.
I wanted to know how we 'learned' to 'make' mitochondria, and other very important symbionts. His chapter Oxygen Crisis in combination with The Guests Who Stayed explained it. His chapter on Membranes gave me a whole new view of the importance of membranes, another huge body of knowledge that I must study-up.
Please do pay attention to his wonderfully helpful "end matter," bibliography, glossary and Further Reading. Do read carefully his comments about Further Reading: it ranges from books on cosmology (another of my enthusiasms), through biochem, molecular bio, cell structures, evolution... all the way to Philosophy. It shows the common thread through all these fields of science. The suggested reading includes his own illustrated book, "A Guided Tour of the Living Cell," ISBN: 0716750023. It's a Scientific American product so you can rely on excellent illustrations.
"Vital Dust" is comprehensive in scope without being superficial (unlike so many trade books on science), and written by a real scientist (not journalist) and Nobel Prize winner "for [his]discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell." A pdf of his Nobel lecture is downloadable from the Nobel [...]
This book has plenty of detail as well being thought provoking and well-written, but an undergrad bio, or biochem background would help you get more out of it. Even so, it warrants several readings.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It would be helpful to have a degree in microbiology or at least in biology or chemistry to meaningfully read and understand this book. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Walter
a little bit plodding, but will reward the reader with many great tidbits and quotes.Published on July 23, 2014 by Malcoln_Rodgers
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... Read morePublished on May 28, 2014 by Steven H Propp
One of the top five books on the subject. De Duve's presentation is clear and easy to follow. He covers many steps not addressed by other authors. Read morePublished on February 13, 2012 by Chris
Contemplating the past, analyzing the present, and predicting the future. These are the things that are done in Nobel Laureate Christian de Duve's book, Vital Dust: The Origin and... Read morePublished on May 3, 2010 by Courtney J. McCormick
Excellent writer. Describes technical subjects very well to the layman. I just felt as though the leaps and bounds made to get from a world of primal soups containing only... Read morePublished on October 19, 2007 by J. Pratt
A brilliant compilation.
My personal tendency is to consider the systems of creation in the light and abyss of concepts which cannot ever be fully explained by creatures such... Read more
I found this book to be quite informative and well written. The one small complaint I have about "Vital Dust" is its sparse use of diagrams and illustrations, hence the 4... Read morePublished on January 2, 2001
Easy to read overview of the evolution of life on Earth over the past four billion years. Emphasis on the importance of the cell in evolution.Published on November 26, 2000 by Howard Schneider