What Is Life?

Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology

Ed Regis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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In 1944, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger published a groundbreaking little book called What Is Life? In fewer than one hundred pages, he argued that life was not a mysterious or inexplicable phenomenon, as many people believed, but a scientific process like any other, ultimately explainable by the laws of physics and chemistry.
 
Today, more than sixty years later, members of a new generation of scientists are attempting to create life from the ground up. Science has moved forward in leaps and bounds since Schrödinger’s time, but our understanding of what does and does not constitute life has only grown more complex. An era that has already seen computer chip–implanted human brains, genetically engineered organisms, genetically modified foods, cloned mammals, and brain-dead humans kept “alive” by machines is one that demands fresh thinking about the concept of life.
 
While a segment of our national debate remains stubbornly mired in moral quandaries over abortion, euthanasia, and other “right to life” issues, the science writer Ed Regis demonstrates how science can and does provide us with a detailed understanding of the nature of life. Written in a lively and accessible style, and synthesizing a wide range of contemporary research, What Is Life? is a brief and illuminating contribution to an age-old debate.

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  What Is Life?
OneBirth of a Cell
 
 MAY 2005. In a new industrial park at Porto Marghera, some four miles across the lagoon from Venice, an American physicist by the name of Norman Packard is staring at the enormous 30-inch-wide display screen of a Macintosh G5 computer. Floating around against a dark background is a dense assortment of red, green, and blue dots.“Blue is water, the greens are hydrophobic molecules, which means they don’t like water, and the reds are hydrophilic molecules, which do,” Packard says.

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Reviews

Praise for What Is Life?

“Ed Regis is always a careful researcher, always an independent thinker.  In this subversive little book, he shows that the biggest of big questions is still worth asking—more urgently now than ever.”   —David Quammen
 
“Elegant, simple, clear, beautifully written. Regis takes up where Erwin Schrödinger left off and tackles the ultimate mystery of biology. This book is a scrumptious gem.”   —Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone
 
“A comprehensive and elegant  analysis of the physical basis of life: an up-to-date successor to Schrodinger’s 1944 book.”  —Marvin Minsky, Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, M.I.T., and author of The Emotion Machine
 
Praise for The Biology of Doom:
 
“[An] engaging expose ... entertaining and informative ... the best account yet of U.S. research and efforts to produce biological weapons.”   —Washington Post Book World
 
“Ed Regis has dug around in the roots of bioweaponry and unearthed a fascinating tale.”   —Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone

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About the Author

Ed Regis

Ed Regis, who holds a PhD in philosophy from New York University, is a full-time science writer, contributing to Scientific American, Harper’s Magazine, Wired, Discover, and The New York Times, among other periodicals. He is the author of several books, including The Biology of Doom.

Ed Regis

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Available Formats and Book Details

What Is Life?
Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology
Ed Regis

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
April 2008
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429996280
ISBN10: 1429996285
208 pages
$7.99
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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