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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. De Duve shared the 1974 Nobel Prize for Biology or Medicine with Albert Claude and George Palade for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.