Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: What is Life?

Interestingly enough I acquired my copy of What is Life? by a regular at the pub I used to work behind the bar at in Cambridge. He had become quite frustrated and knowing I was an avid reader of popular science, he gave the book to me. The only other option was for it to go in the bin. It then took me a couple of years to get around to reading it (as I had misplaced it) and so when I did finally get around to reading it, I was rather sympathetic for that particular pub patron.

First off, some background. Over seventy years ago, Erwin Schrödinger posed the most profound question at a series of lectures in regards to the origins of life. These were later published (I still need to read them too) but the main topic was that of abiogenesis. How did life emerge from something that was once non-living? This is obviously a complex question and one that Schrödinger had trouble answering, has anyone since. No one has directly been able to demonstrate how chemistry gives rise to biology. I was hopeful that Pross was about to break that chain but instead I was left confused.

I’m not questioning Pross’ academic standing or intelligence but I feel that his book answers neither of two concepts that are outlined in the title. At one stage, it even seems like Pross is advocating the existence of a divine creator but he miraculously managed to swing the argument back around again. As you’re probably aware, I’m not a chemist. As a popular science book I do not feel it would be suitable for everyone as it left even me scratching my head. There are some great examples throughout the book that all link together but nowhere are these strings tied up. I feel that perhaps the book was rushed as the argument falls flat in a few areas. Please read it yourself and tell me if I’m wrong, it’s important to note that you can’t please everybody. I’m tempted to read Nick Lane’s The Vital Question soon to see how the two books compare so stay tuned.


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