Books  Physical Sciences  Earth & Planetary Sciences  Geophysics & Geochemistry 

The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere

  • The only book that combines high-level perspectives from geochemistry, biochemistry, microbiology and physics to form an inclusive picture of the origin of life
  • Offers a view of the nature of the living state that is radically different from the traditional scientific view of life as a property of organisms
  • Includes the only conceptually modern treatment of thermodynamic ideas directed towards the origin of life and provides a free standing introduction to these ideas

By: Eric Smith(Author), Harold J Morowitz(Author)

677 pages, 64 colour & b/w illustrations, 4 b/w maps, 5 tables

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Mar 2016 | #225007 | ISBN-13: 9781107121881
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.99 $39/€33 approx

About this book

Uniting the conceptual foundations of the physical sciences and biology, this groundbreaking multidisciplinary book explores the origin of life as a planetary process. Combining geology, geochemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, evolution and statistical physics to create an inclusive picture of the living state, the authors develop the argument that the emergence of life was a necessary cascade of non-equilibrium phase transitions that opened new channels for chemical energy flow on Earth. This full colour and logically structured book introduces the main areas of significance and provides a well-ordered and accessible introduction to multiple literatures outside the confines of disciplinary specializations, as well as including an extensive bibliography to provide context and further reading. For researchers, professionals entering the field or specialists looking for a coherent overview, this text brings together diverse perspectives to form a unified picture of the origin of life and the ongoing organization of the biosphere.

"[...] the most significant book on the origin of life hitherto written."
– Walter Fontana, Harvard Medical School

"This is a truly unusual work of scholarship, which offers both novel perspectives on a huge range of disciplines and a model of scientific synthesis. This is a remarkable, and remarkably impressive, book."
– Cosma Shalizi, Carnegie Mellon University

"[...] an exceptionally important, highly original, unique scientific contribution [...]"
– Elbert Branscomb, University of Illinois



1. The planetary scope of biogenesis
2. Life on Earth today
3. The geochemical context for the biosphere
4. The architecture of metabolism
5. Higher-level structures
6. Emergence of the biosphere
7. The phase transition paradigm for emergence
8. The nature of the living state


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Eric Smith is External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, Research Professor at George Mason University and Principle Investigator at the Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology. He is a physicist specializing in the origin of life, non-equilibrium systems, economics and the evolution of human languages.

Harold J. Morowitz is Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy at George Mason University. He was founding director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, and is Chairman Emeritus of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute.

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