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How does life work? How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? How do our bodies produce the right numbers of cells in our organs and bloodstream?
In The Serengeti Rules, award-winning biologist and author Sean Carroll tells the stories of the pioneering scientists who sought the answers to such simple yet profoundly important questions, and shows how their discoveries matter for our health and the health of the planet we depend upon. One of the most important revelations about the natural world is that everything is regulated – there are rules that regulate the amount of every molecule in our bodies and rules that govern the numbers of every animal and plant in the wild. And the most surprising revelation about the rules that regulate life at such different scales is that they are remarkably similar – there is a common underlying logic of life.
Carroll recounts how our deep knowledge of the rules and logic of the human body has spurred the advent of revolutionary life-saving medicines, and makes the compelling case that it is now time to use the Serengeti rules to heal our ailing planet. A bold and inspiring synthesis by one of our most accomplished biologists and gifted storytellers, The Serengeti Rules is the first book to illuminate how life works at vastly different scales – read it and you will never look at the world the same way again.
The paperback edition features a new conversation with Sean Carroll, in which he discusses many of the questions raised by the book.
Watch a Royal Institute lecture on the book's topic by the author below:
Introduction: Miracles and Wonder 1
I EVERYTHING IS REGULATED 13
1 The Wisdom of the Body 15
2 The Economy of Nature 30
II THE LOGIC OF LIFE 47
3 General Rules of Regulation 51
4 Fat, Feedback, and a Miracle Fungus 73
5 Stuck Accelerators and Broken Brakes 89
III THE SERENGETI RULES 107
6 Some Animals Are More Equal than Others 111
7 Serengeti Logic 129
8 Another Kind of Cancer 155
9 Take 60 Million Walleye and Call Us in 10 Years 169
10 Resurrection 183
Afterword: Rules to Live By 202
Sean B. Carroll is an award-winning scientist, writer, educator, and executive producer. He is vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Brave Genius, and Remarkable Creatures, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction.
"In The Serengeti Rules, the author goes from E. coli to elephants to lay out the basic rules that shape so much of what's around us and inside us."
– Brian Switek, Wall Street Journal
"In this remarkably engaging book, Carroll [...] persuasively argues that life at all levels of complexity is self-regulated, from the inner workings of cells to the larger relationships governing the Serengeti ecosystem [...] Carroll superbly animates biological principles while providing important insights."
– Publishers Weekly
"A compelling read filled with big, bold ideas [...] Through compelling storytelling, key insights of distant, isolated biologists are brought to life [...] I suspect that many will find new insights and inspiration here [...] Carroll has made a strikingly clear case that ecology is a science on a par with molecular biology and genetics. In many ways, this book is an homage to Charles Elton [...] Building on his vision, Carroll provides a passionate motto for the twenty-first century: 'better living through ecology'. Are the Serengeti Rules a panacea? No, but Carroll convincingly reveals them to be a sturdy foundation for the future of biology, for human well-being, and for conservation and management."
– Brian J. Enquist, Nature
"A thought-provoking challenge to complacency."
"Carroll's book is fantastic, a success story in going form the specific to the general. It helps that Carroll is a gifted writer, captivating and thoughtful, and highly respectful of the reader. Carroll brings in the history of thought and research in the relevant areas of physiology, ecology etc. His messages are framed in the larger context of the Earth's overall health and important environmental issues. He links the subject matter to key central themes in biological theory (such as natural selection and evolution). And this is all done very well. You've seen the synthetic overviews of life and evolution framed in chaos theory, complexity theory, even quantum physics. This is better. This is a book to give to your favorite biology teacher (high school or college), and that teacher will take from it examples, connections, lessons, ways of telling, that will enrich their teaching immeasurably."
– Greg Laden, ScienceBlog's Greg Laden
"[A]s a subject for popular science, regulation seems to fail the thrill test; genetics and neuroscience appear more alluring. Now Sean B. Carroll [...] Has risen to the challenge with this wonderful book about the natural control of numbers in living systems. Carroll is one of the top storytellers in contemporary science, as his previous writings about evolutionary biology have shown. Here he uses his narrative skills to take us on a scientific journey through time and space – making his case through the work of researchers around the world who have built up rules of life over the past century [...] [The Serengeti Rules] is wholeheartedly recommended for its entertaining view of biology from an original perspective."
– Clive Cookson, Financial Times
"[A] deep journey into the rules of life on Earth [...] By introducing us to the great pioneers of molecular biology, like Jacques Monod (enzyme regulation), Akira Endo (lovastatin developer) and Janet Rowley (cancer and inheritance of genetic diseases), Carroll sets the reader up with a strong foundation in the natural processes that go on within our own bodies, and describes how breakthroughs happen, such as the discovery of 'repressors' and 'suppressors,' (which act, not by 'doing things,' but by preventing things), and double-negative regulatory logic. We also learn what happens when these mechanisms fail."
– Cathy Taibbi, Examiner.com
"Sean Carroll [...] [is] one of our great science writers [...] This is a visionary book."
– Peter Forbes, The Guardian
"A master storyteller, Carroll explores the unity of biology from the molecular level to the Serengeti, the rules that regulate life, and the consequences when regulation breaks down. A fascinating journey from beginning to end, this book will educate and entertain readers at all levels and leave them with a better understanding of how the biosphere works."
– Simon Levin, Princeton University, author of Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons
"The Serengeti Rules is a superb journey of a book written by a scientist of the first rank. Unfolding seamlessly from molecule to ecosystem, it explains with authority and grace why modern biology is central not just to human life but to that of the planet itself."
– Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
"As one of our leading biologists and communicators, Sean Carroll has merged a passion for scientific discovery with a flair for telling great stories of exploration. In The Serengeti Rules, Carroll has crafted a work of epic sweep that travels the globe in search of the logical rules that govern all of life, from tiny molecules to entire ecosystems. The Serengeti Rules both delights and enlightens – I was left marveling at the human achievement behind scientific breakthroughs and the sheer beauty of the working of living systems."
– Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
"Original, provocative, and beautifully crafted, Carroll's book provides a glimpse into the deeper laws of biology that govern the earth. With his inimitable style of storytelling combined with a deep knowledge of science, Carroll takes us on a rollicking adventure, reminding us that the rules that apply to ecosystems also apply to the human body. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of the planet."
– Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
"This is a rattling good read by one of the leading scientists of our time. The Serengeti Rules made me think differently about what we biologists do. This is a book that needs to be shouted from the rooftops."
– Andrew F. Read, Pennsylvania State University
"Masterful and compelling. The Serengeti Rules is a significant contribution, one that will be welcomed by professional biologists and a wide range of lay readers."
– Harry W. Greene, author of Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art