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The Fifth Miracle


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In 1966, NASA scientists announced that they had detected evidence of microbial life in a Martian meteorite. In 1977, researchers discovered bizarre biological organisms living near hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean. What do these two events have in common? Possibly, they offer an explanation for the origin of life on Earth and even elsewhere in the universe. This subject is somewhat of a departure for Davies, who has written several books popularizing physics, astronomy, and the philosophy of science. Still, nobody is better at the simple art of explanation, and this skill serves Davies well in tying together so many diverse strands of theory. Other books have dealt with aspects of this subject (see Joseph Cone's Fire Under the Sea, LJ 7/91, and Amir Aczel's Probability 1, Harcourt, 1998), but Davies connects them admirably. For all public and academic libraries.‘Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL

YA-In recent years, scientists have made huge strides in understanding the origin and scientific nature of life. New discoveries have been made about its persistence in places previously believed impossible-deep inside the Earth's crust, inside volcanic vents, under extremely high and low temperatures, in radioactive environments, in space, and perhaps even in meteorites from Mars. These discoveries have overturned many past assumptions and offer future scientists a whole new set of challenges and possibilities. Touching upon the variety of approaches it is possible to take to this new information, Davies shows how the philosophical debates of past generations are still being played out by physicists, chemists, and biologists. Although much of the material here is highly technical-especially in the first chapters, which deal with the mysteries and complexities of genetic information-the author writes with a clarity that makes it possible to grasp the outlines even when all of the details might not be fully understood. In an approachable style, using logic, analogy, and fascinating fact, he poses ideas in terms that teens should find reader-friendly. Those reading at a high comprehension level who are interested in philosophy, pure science, computer science, space science, or science fiction will be brought up to speed regarding recent developments in the field, and gain a broad perspective on these important questions.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

With ease and charm, and without dumbing down the pertinent technical and philosophical issues, popular-science writer Davies (Are We Alone?: The Philosophical Basis of the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, etc.) combines research results from disparate fields to explore possible approaches to the question of biogenesis. Although he was trained as a physicist, Davies skillfully draws together insights from hot areas in microbiologyÄsuch as the study of extremophiles (bacteria that thrive in dangerous levels of acidity, cold, heat, radioactivity), the discovery of a third domain of life and the controversy over whether traces of carbon on Martian meteorites are actually fossilized bacteriaÄin his pursuit of a fundamental question: What is the origin of biological (and thus genetic) information? He is skeptical that purely biochemical forces could spark the leap from nonlife to life. At stake is another question: Is the universe bio-friendly? Davies believes that the answers to these questions involve identifying a new "law" of nature, which may come from advances in information and complexity theory. He contends it is possible that quantum mechanics also may be found to play a role in the relationship between life and the universe at large. This book is sure to engage and provoke readers curious about the raging controversies over the origin of life, on Earth or elsewhere. Seven line drawings. (Mar.)

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