Origin of Life

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.

Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology

by David Darling
New York: Basic Books, 2002. 224 pages.

In Life Everywhere, Darling offers a highly readable introduction to the burgeoning science of astrobiology, lucidly explaining its purview, goals, and methods, and offering his own predictions about what is in store. Darling, who has a DSc in Physics and a PhD in astronomy, relies not only on his own knowledge but also on extensive interviews with the movers and shakers in astrobiology. He also exposes the creationist roots of the "Rare Earth" hypothesis.


by Monica Grady
Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2001. 96 pages.

In her brief but lavishly illustrated introduction to astrobiology, Grady starts at the very beginning: the Big Bang. She then lucidly discusses the conditions necessary for the emergence of life, considering both the early earth and the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system, as well as the search for life beyond the solar system.

The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview

by Iris Fry
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000. 344 pages.

Fry, a historian and philosopher of science, offers a unique scholarly perspective on the scientific issues involved in research on the origins of life. In addition to summarizing the history, all the way from Aristotle through Darwin and Pasteur to Oparin, Haldane, and Miller, she examines the contemporary issues and debates within the origin-of-life scientific research community.

Origin of Life

by A. I. Oparin
New York: Dover Publications, 2003. 304 pages.

Inspired by Darwin and Mendeleev, Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin (1894–1980) was one of the first scientists to propose that the origin of life on earth was preceded by a period of nonbiological molecular evolution.

The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup

by Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada
Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2001. 320 pages.

"Life as we know it is assertive, demanding, and unstoppable," Wills and Bada write in The Spark of Life. But how did it get started? The authors defend the "primeval soup" model against its competitors, extending it with suggestions of their own. The reviewer for Nature writes, "They entertain by not only giving a lively description of the 'spark of life', but also by conveying the sparkle of its investigators and the nature of the scientific process.