352 pages, 42 illustrations
A World From Dust describes how a set of chemical rules combined with the principles of evolution in order to create an environment in which life as we know it could unfold. Beginning with simple mathematics, these predictable rules led to the advent of the planet itself, as well as cells, organs and organelles, ecosystems, and increasingly complex life forms. McFarland provides an accessible discussion of a geological history as well, describing how the inorganic matter on Earth underwent chemical reactions with air and water, allowing for life to emerge from the world's first rocks. He traces the history of life all the way to modern neuroscience, and shows how the bioelectric signals that make up the human brain were formed. Most popular science books on the topic present either the physics of how the universe formed, or the biology of how complex life came about; A World From Dust's approach would be novel in that it condenses in an engaging way the chemistry that links the two fields. A World From Dust is an accessible and multidisciplinary look at how life on our planet came to be, and how it continues to develop and change even today.
"The author makes a decent argument for the chemical predictability of evolution as a bridge between biology and physics. The book's chronological structure and colloquial writing style make the book easy to read. The contents manage to walk the edge between technical and popular."
– Rosie Cawkwell, Rosie Writes
"McFarland's unique way of looking at things gives new insights to the reader on the topic established in the subtitle: how the periodic table shaped life."
– Brian Clegg, Popular Science
"Like all good works of science for the general public, McFarland's is full of fascinating examples, a dash of humor, and just plain cool facts."
– Publishers Weekly
Chapter 1: Arsenic Life?
Chapter 2: A Tapestry from Three Threads
Chapter 3: Unfolding the Periodic Table
Chapter 4: The Triple-Point Planet
Chapter 5: Seven Clues for Quickening the Rocks
Chapter 6: Wheels Within Wheels
Chapter 7: The Colorful Path to Oxygen
Chapter 8: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Chapter 9: Cracked Open and Knit Together by Oxygen
Chapter 10: The End of (Chemical) Evolution
Chapter 11: How Chemistry Shaped History, Through Words
Chapter 12: Cosmos and Chaos
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Ben McFarland teaches biochemistry and chemistry at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle WA. He received a dual B.S. in Chemistry and Technical Writing from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in Biomolecular Structure and Design from the University of Washington. His research uses the rules of chemistry to redesign immune system proteins.