The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language

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9780198504931: The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language

When John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary published The Major Transitions in Evolution, it was seen as a major work in biology. Nature hailed it as a book of "grand and daunting sweep.... A splendid and rewarding tour de force." And New Scientist wrote that it captured "the essence of modern biology," calling it "an extremely significant book which, as a bonus, is very readable."
Now, in The Origins of Life, Maynard Smith and Szathmary have completely rewritten Transitions to bring their ideas to a wider audience of general readers. Here is a brilliant, state-of-the-art account of how life evolved on earth, focusing primarily on six major transitions--dramatic breakthroughs in the way that information was passed between generations. The authors offer illuminating explorations of the origin of life itself, the arrival of the first cells with nuclei, the first reproduction by sexual means, the appearance of multicellular plants and animals, the emergence of cooperation and of animal societies, and the birth of language.
The Origins of Life represents the thinking of two leading scientists on questions that engage us all--how life began and how it gradually evolved from tiny invisible cells into whales and trees and human beings.

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Review:

Life is a long, strange trip, and in The Origins of Life, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry blast you through its three-and-a-half-billion-year history at breathtaking pace.

Life, we learn, is information, transmitted in ever more intricate ways across the generations. Self-replicating chemicals walled themselves into cells, organized themselves into regimented communities of chromosomes, swapped notes with other populations to become sexual, cloned themselves to form multicellular colonies called organisms, got together with other colonies to form societies, and, eventually, in the case of one particular ape, developed the ability to put this whole story down on paper.

For those evolutionists brought up on the theory of "red queens" and "self genes," Origins provides a complementary crash course in the practical nuts-and-bolts biology behind the headlines. The authors describe the technical problems involved in the transition from one stage to another, and explain the ingenious and often fortuitous steps that natural selection took to overcome them. For example, the rigid walls of the first cells gave way to more flexible membranes that could engulf food particles and incorporate "little organs" such as mitochondria. A "cytoskeleton" of filaments and tubules was needed to maintain the cell's integrity, and--presto!--this structure was the perfect motorway for intracellular traffic, ideal for shearing the cell apart during cloning, and provided the earliest means of locomotion, such as the tail of sperm.

With this attention to detail, the book requires careful reading--but it's worth it. Maynard Smith and Szathmáry's book makes you realize just how lucky you are to be alive. --Oliver Curry, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:


John Maynard Smith is an internationally renowned biologiest, widely respected for the originality of his ideas and quality of his thinking. He is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex. Eors Szathmary is a Professor at the Collegium Budapest, in Hungary.

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Smith, John Maynard; Szathmáry, Eörs
Editorial: Oxford University Press (1999)
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