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Why do gazelles have legs and not wheels? Why is all life based on carbon rather than silicon? Why do humans have eyes on the front of their heads? And beyond earth, would life – if it should exist – look like our own?
The puzzles of life astound and confuse us like no other mystery. An astrophysicist once conceded that even the smallest insect is far more complex than either an atom or a star. But in this groundbreaking new account of the process of evolution, Professor Charles Cockell reveals how nature is far more understandable and predictable than we would think.
Refining Darwin's theory of natural selection, Cockell puts forward a remarkable and elegant account of why evolution has taken the paths it has. The key is understanding how fundamental physical laws constrain nature's direction and form at every turn. From the animal kingdom to the atomic realm, he shows how physics is the true touchstone for understanding life in all its extraordinary forms. Provocative and captivating, The Equations of Life will fundamentally change how you view the world.
Charles Cockell is professor of Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology. He is a former NASA scientist and Open University professor.
"Fascinating. A profound exploration of the deep nexus between physics and biology."
– Andreas Wagner, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich and author of Arrival of the Fittest
"Enlightening and entertaining [...] Whether on this third rock from the Sun or another planet in a far-distant galaxy, creatures should share forms and behaviours shaped by the forces of natural selection and the fundamental laws of physics that reign throughout the universe."
– Lee Billings, author of Five Billion Years of Solitude
"An invaluable guide [...] Life is generally described as a matter of contingency: what we find in nature is the result of countless historical accidents. In The Equations of Life, Charles Cockell provides an important counterbalance to that picture."
– Philip Ball, author of Critical Mass
"A lucid, provocative argument that the dazzling variety of organisms produced by 4 billion years of evolution may seem unbounded, but all follow universal laws."
"Fascinating [...] Cockell offers surprising insights"
– Sean Carroll, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe
"Magisterial and collegial, this may be the biology book of the year"
"An intriguing and enthralling adventure into the physics of life that is all around us and inside us. Cockell provides a reminder of the seeming rarity of all this beauty but also an invitation to look up to the skies and ask 'where else might something like this be?"
– Robin Ince – Presenter of BBC Radio 4's Infinite Monkey Cage
"Riveting [...] Cockell is not only a fine scientist but a fine writer too."
– Sir Martin Rees – Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society