By: C De Duve
275 pages, B/w illus, figs.
In narrative form the author, winner of the Nobel Prize, delineates the "blueprint" of life - the pattern of chemical events on which all life depends - and demonstrates unity in the diversity of life on earth. De Duve begins by defining the basic characteristics of life (the "blueprint") and explains the fundamental chemical strategies that allow cells to live. Next he tracks the evolutionary stages in the development of cells, describing his personal view of the very first cell, the precursor to all of life on earth. He then goes back to prebiotic times and traces the chemical and environmental processes that led to the origin of life and, eventually, to the first cell. De Duve, in his final chapter, rises above scientific detail to explore the philosophical question of whether life happened by chance or necessity. In de Duve's view, given the nature of the universe, no miracles are needed, and no luck either. Life is an intrinsic part of the universe - an inevitable manifestation of the combinatorial properties of matter. As de Duve himself says, "In spite of the advances of biology, many of us continue to be influenced in our thinking by the writings of certain physicists and cosmologists and to view the universe as an 'unfeeling immensity' and life as something separate, not included in the fundamental properties that cause elementary particles to coalesce into atomic nuclei, nuclei to surround themselves with electrons, and atoms and ions to join into a multitude of molecules, crystals, and other structures. This view in the view of the author is wrong, a remnant of vitalism. Life is an intrinsic part of the universe. Wherever and whenever conditions are favorable, as they were here on Earth, and probably were, are, or will be elsewhere, the universe cannot but blossom into life".
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