Origin of Life

In Search of Cell History

by Franklin M. Harold

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 304 pages.

In Search of Cell History offers an ambitious, onestop overview of early cell evolution that covers all major theories related to the origin of life, the early evolution and diversification of cells, and the emergence of eukaryotic cells with their structural novelties, such as nuclei, mitochondria, and plastids,” writes reviewer David Baum.

Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction

by David C. Catling

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 142 pages.

“David Catling’s book provides a concise introduction to the field, aimed at a science-literate audience,” according to reviewer David Morrison. “It has no color illustrations, is small enough to fit in your pocket, and is less than 150 pages long … But don’t be fooled by its appearance: the type is small and the information content is large.” Praising the writing as “clear, compact, and elegant,” he adds that the book “is not an easy read … It is a book to be savored, not skimmed.”

Creation: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself

by Adam Rutherford

New York: Penguin, 2013. 288 pages.

Creation tells two stories, reviewer Frank Schmidt explains. “The first is a progress report on the origin of life,” which Schmidt mildly faults for not discussing the work of Carl Woese and the revolutions induced in chemistry itself by research on the origin of life. The second is a report on synthetic biology, including a fascinating discussion of biocomputation.

The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

by Jacob Berkowitz

Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2012. 376 pages.

“This is a terrific introduction to the science of astrobiology, written for the lay reader,” explains reviewer David Morrison. “Its structure, using the stories of individual scientists to illuminate the quest to understand our cosmic origin, is highly successful. This book can be read with profit and pleasure by anyone from a young student beginning her interest in science to an old astronomer, like this reviewer, who has trod many of these paths for the past half century.”

What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology

by Addy Pross

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 256 pages.

Reviewer David W Deamer writes of What is Life?, “I would recommend this book for readers who would like a clear introduction to the fundamental chemical concepts that must have been part of the story of the origin of life. For readers like me who have a research interest in this field, it was an enjoyable exercise to think along with Addy Pross as he considered how thermodynamic and kinetic theory of chemistry could help us to understand how life began.”

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.