Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

I know I said I would do books two at a time, but this one took me about 20 days to read (due to circumstances out of my control), and so I am going to do it standalone.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology.

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Price (As of writing): £13.60 in Amazon (reduced from £20)

Publishers Synopsis: 

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

Like Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of life's dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience of science at the cutting edge with unparalleled gifts of exposition and explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal the hitherto missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, they show how photosynthesis relies on subatomic particles existing in many places at once, while inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another.

Each chapter in Life on the Edge opens with an engaging example that illustrates one of life’s puzzles – How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes manage to copy themselves with such precision? – and then reveals how quantum mechanics delivers its answer. Guiding the reader through the maze of rapidly unfolding discovery, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate vividly the excitement of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and also offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.

Thoughts: 

This is possibly one of the best written books I have ever read. It is written in a nice easy to read manner that still pushes across the complexity of the topic. It is a relatively large book (not as long as some, but certainly longer than The Sixth Extinction and Nothing) but I felt a sort of conciseness while reading it - it never appeared to drag on any longer than it needed to. The chapter on photosynthesis and others had nice analogies and anecdotes to go along with them such as the anecdote about the MIT Researchers trying to make a Quantum Computer. This book really opened my mind to biology and the interlinking of the sciences. It also explains the Quantum stuff very well to someone who may not have read about it before. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys biology or physics.

The Sixth Extinction - An Unnatural History & Nothing

Apparently I am far too lazy to keep this up to date, and therefore I will probably be coupling books up. Coulomb is slightly delayed, largely because I got bored with it - I will post the source code on github in a few days should anyone wish to look. S.E.R.O. is coming along well and I am tying it into Elora, which is basically Hermoine reinvented - it learns from me and the internet.

In the mean time I have been reading a bunch of books, namely 'The Sixth Extinction' by Elizabeth Kolbert and 'Nothing' by the NewScientist people. I am moving on to now read 'Life on the Edge - The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology' by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden. Onto the reviews I suppose;

The Sixth Extinction

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Price (As of writing): £8.99 on Waterstones.

Publishers Synopsis: 

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species - including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino - some already gone, others at the point of vanishing. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Thoughts: 

A very nice book. Covers some very interesting topics in very accessible ways and the author has a nice way of moving between topics - it all seems very fluid. Would prefer it if it went a bit more indepth into some areas, and some sections drag on a bit, but both are easily solvable - you can google for more information if necessary and the sections aren't so long that it gets unbearable if you aren't so interested in one. My favourite section was probably 'The Original Penguin'. I would recommend this book to anyone interested about biology, extinction, and ecology.

Nothing (2013 edition)

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Price: £6.39

Publisher's Synopsis

Zero, zip, nada, zilch. It's all too easy to ignore the fascinating possibilities of emptiness and non-existence, and we may well wonder what there is to say about nothing. But scientists have known for centuries that nothing is the key to understanding absolutely everything, from why particles have mass to the expansion of the universe - so without nothing we'd be precisely nowhere.

Absolute zero (the coldest cold that can exist) and the astonishing power of placebos, light bulbs, superconductors, vacuums, dark energy, 'bed rest' and the birth of time - all are different aspects of the concept of nothing. The closer we look, the bigger the subject gets. Why do some animals spend all day doing nothing? What happens in our brains when we try to think about nothing?

With chapters by 20 science writers, including top names such as Ian Stewart, Marcus Chown, Helen Pilcher, Nigel Henbest, Michael Brooks, Linda Geddes, Paul Davies, Jo Marchant and David Fisher, this fascinating and intriguing book revels in a subject that has tantalised the finest minds for centuries, and shows there's more to nothing than meets the eye.

Thoughts: 

The book covers a lot - from the physical concepts such as the vacuum (and energy stored within) to animals doing nothing. It covers each in a nice amount of detail, and due to the multitude of authors writing it ends up being a very nice reading experience - you never have to 'put up' with the same author for too long. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get into any sort of science.