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First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began

by David Deamer

Berkeley (CA): University of California Press, 2011. 288 pages.

Reviewer Antonio Lazcano writes, “Deamer has written a well-argued, deeply researched, and thought-provoking book on the origin of life. … First Life is neither dismayingly narrow nor unduly technical; its approach is engaging, accessible, and interdisciplinary. Based on his understanding of cell biology, the prebiotic environment, and the significance of Darwin’s intellectual inheritance, in this book he advocates an evolutionary approach as the key for understanding the essence of biological phenomena.

Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within

by Michael Yarus
Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2010. 208 pages.

“Yarus takes on an ambitious task,” reviewer Arthur G. Hunt explains, “to summarize the excitement and curiosity of RNA research for a broad audience that includes the informed lay public as well as life scientists. On top of this, he is faced with the unenviable but inescapable task of explaining some of the fastest-moving and -changing areas in science.

The Origin and Early Evolution of Life

by Tom Fenchel
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. 192 pages.

"This book," Tom Fenchel explains, "is about the development of life from its origin and until multicellular plants, fungi, and animals arose — corresponding approximately to the time period from 4 to 0.6 billion years ago." The reviewer for BioEssays writes, "The classical, recurrent themes are treated in a clear and interesting style of writing.

Life on a Young Planet

by Andrew H. Knoll
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. 304 pages.

From the origin of life to the Cambrian explosion, Knoll draws not only on paleontology but also on the latest insights from molecular biology, ecology, and the earth sciences to produce a broad understanding of the emergence of biological diversity. Sean Carroll (the author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful) writes, "This is a truly great book. It is a remarkably readable synthesis of many diverse ideas selected from a breathaking array of disciplines.

Seven Clues to the Origin of Life: A Scientific Detective Story

by A. G. Cairns-Smith
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 114 pages.

In Genetic Takeover (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), Cairns-Smith argued, in full technical detail, that life was originally based on self-replicating inorganic crystals. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, originally published in 1985, presents his hypothesis at the popular level, engagingly written with ubiquitous references to the methodology of Sherlock Holmes.

Origins of Life

by Freeman Dyson
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 110 pages.

In Origins of Life, the renowned theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, turns his attention to the origins of life, proposing (as the plural in the title suggests) a dual account: "life began twice, with two separate kinds of creatures, one kind capable of metabolism without exact replication and the other kind capable of replication without metabolism." The reviewer for Scientific American writes, "Dyson builds his argument with characteristic skill and clarity." Originally published in 1985, Or

Biogenesis: Theories of Life's Origin

by Noam Lahav
New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 368 pages.

From the publisher, Oxford University Press: "Biogenesis provides an up-to-date and detailed discussion of the interdisciplinary study of the origin of life, including in-depth investigations into its history, assumptions, experimental strategies, theories, models, and controversies.

Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution

edited by J. William Schopf
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002. 208 pages.

Containing essays by leading figures — John Oró, Alan W. Schwartz and Sherwood Chang, Stanley L. Miller and Antonio Lazcano, James P. Ferris, Leslie E Orgel, and J. William Schopf himself — Life's Origin provides a lively look at the state-of-the-art in the scientific study of the origin of life.

Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative

by Christian de Duve
New York: Basic Books, 1996. 384 pages.

Dedicated simply to life, Vital Dust "seeks to retrace the four-billion-year history of life on Earth, from the first biomolecules to the human mind and beyond" in a wholly naturalistic framework, eschewing vitalism, finalism or teleology, and creationism. The first three parts of the book ("The age of chemistry", "The age of information", and "The age of the protocell") constitute a beautifully written introduction to research on the origin of life and the earliest forms of life.

Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

by J. William Schopf
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. 392 pages.

"This book chronicles an amazing breakthrough in biologic and geologic science," Schopf writes, "the discovery of a vast, ancient, missing fossil record that extends life's roots to the most remote reaches of the geologic past. At long last, after a century of unrewarded search, the earliest 85% of the history of life on Earth has been uncovered to forever change our understanding of how evolution works." Writes the reviewer for Scientific American, "Schopf ... has a good deal to say about scientists and the way science is done.


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