336 pages, 15 illustrations
How did life begin?
It is perhaps the most important question science has ever asked. Over the centuries, the search for an answer has been entwined with some of science's most revolutionary advances including van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, Darwin's theory of evolution, and Crick and Watson's unveiling of DNA. Now, in an age of genetic engineering and space exploration, some scientists believe they are on the verge of creating life from nonliving elements and that our knowledge of the potential for life on other planets is ever-expanding. In the midst of these exciting developments, A Brief History of Creation provides an essential and illuminating history of Western science, tracing the trials and triumphs of the iconoclastic scientists who have sought to uncover the mystery of how life first came to be.
Authors Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II examine historical discoveries in the context of philosophical debates, political change, and our evolving understanding of the complexity of biology. The story they tell is rooted in metaphysical arguments, in a changing understanding of the age of the Earth, and even in the politics of the Cold War. It has involved exploration into the inner recesses of our cells and scientific journeys to the farthest reaches of outer space. This elegantly written narrative culminates in an analysis of modern models for life's genesis, such as the possibility that some of the earliest life was composed of little more than RNA, and that life arose around deep-sea hydrothermal vents or even on other planets, only to be carried to the Earth on meteorites.
Can we ever conclusively prove how life began? A Brief History of Creation is a fascinating exploration not only of the origin-of-life question but of the very nature of scientific objectivity and the process of scientific discovery.
"Readers find themselves positioned to share in the intellectual excitement."
– Bryce Christentsen, Booklist, Starred review
"A lively, highly readable jaunt through the world of science."
– Kirkus Reviews
"This lively, accessible book is recommended for science enthusiasts interested in origin of life issues and the history of science."
– Library Journal, Starred review
"Engaging [...] . The last chapters take readers on a tour of current research that will both educate and entertain."
– Publishers Weekly
"A fascinating, fast-paced tour through the ages of how some of the greatest minds and characters in history have pondered one of the greatest questions in science [...] [A] rich, masterfully woven tale of our still-evolving ideas about life and how it came to be."
– Sean B. Carroll, author of Brave Genius and Remarkable Creatures
"A well-written and lively account of the science and history behind one of the most fascinating questions in science – how animate matter emerged from inanimate matter – enriched by engaging portraits of the scientists involved and a feel for the very human scientific enterprise at work."
– Alan Lightman, professor of the humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Einstein's Dreams
"A joyous and infinitely readable history of our ongoing quest to know how we came to be. Mesler and Cleaves elegantly narrate the evolution of philosophical and scientific inquiry, infusing the subject with all the dramatic intrigue it deserves and bringing historical figures to life as vividly as characters in a novel. A thrilling read."
– Nina Siegal, author of The Anatomy Lesson
"With fully accessible and engaging prose, artfully weaving history, philosophy, and science, Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II tell what is perhaps the greatest of all scientific stories, the quest to understand the origin of life."
– Marcelo Gleiser, Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Dartmouth College, and author of The Island of Knowledge
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Bill Mesler is a journalist who lives in Washington, DC. H. James Cleaves II is vice president of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, a professor at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo, and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He lives in Washington, DC.