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Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life [Paperback]

Paul Davies
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall & IBD (22 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068486309X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684863092
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.7 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 681,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Publisher

New York Times Book Review, 4/18/99
Davies is "one of a handful of first-rate scientists who are popular writers. THE FIFTH MIRACLE...is one of his best works....If you are going to read only one book on the origin of life, seriously consider this one." --Lee Smolin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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IMAGINE BOARDING A TIME MACHINE and being transported back four billion years. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I was fascinated by this book, and in many ways it presents a revolutionary picture of life in the solar system based on solid science, such as the recent discoveries that may show life on earth originated deep under the surface, which implies that life could have originated without a planetary surface that was juuuuuust right. But as a physicist I'm disturbed by the way Davies cavalierly throws around the authority of physics in a manner calculated to impress and mystify. I can't help thinking that his fancy footwork with information theory is a matter of the emperor's new clothes. Certainly my PhD in physics didn't help me to decode some of this stuff, which is not a good sign for a book supposedly aimed at a general audience. I can't understand his aversion to the idea that life might have evolved independently on Mars or Europa, and I'm puzzled by his refusal to believe in a materialistic basis for life. To his credit, he does a fairly good job of pointing out which of his ideas are (to put it charitably) speculative.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What are the other four?? 3 Feb 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Approaching this book with some trepidation, it proved a surprisingly good read. Davies is a lucid writer, deft with words and descriptions. His 'chatty' approach brings the reader to his way of thinking with deceptive ease. He even provides an impressive chapter on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a daunting topic at any time. Describing how the Second Law should be properly addressed in the biological realm, the chapter is a quiver of arrows effectively countering the anti-Darwinists who cite the Law in refuting evolution by natural selection. He also manages to explain, as no-one else has done, how we know certain meteorites originated on Mars. All this fine work is undermined by his conclusion. The title, of course, gives the game away. If you don't know what the other four miracles are, you have to read his Preface. Or his source.
Davies opens by expressing his disappointment with "science" not having "wrapped up the mysteries of life's origins." He doesn't make clear why he held this opinion, claiming to have spent "a year or two researching the topic." He then summarizes the various theories offered on life's origins ranging from Darwin's "warm little pond" through Urey and Miller's laboratory generation of amino acids to Graham Cairns Smith's crystalline model of molecular replication. Each little digest of various research efforts are closed with Davies carefully dismantling each result as failing to provide the answer he seeks. Davies is not alone in his dissatisfaction. The numerous concepts offered on life's origins suggests how vital this question remains throughout the realm of science.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, the Universe and ... well ... everything 26 April 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
You can't fault Paul Davies for a lack of gumption. Anyone who'd subtitle his latest book, "the search for the origin and meaning of life" isn't in need of any assertiveness training courses. When I first picked up the book, I thought, "Yeesh, a physicist, writing about the origins of life. Wouldn't that be more the work of a molecular biologist?" But as I read on, I was gradually taken in by Davies spell.
And that's saying something. If, five years ago, you'd told me I'd take the following ideas seriously, I'd have laughed nervously and edged away in a non-threatening manner. Here are Davies' ideas in a nutshell (no pun intended):
1) Life may have existed on Mars. 2) Life may still exist on Mars. 3) Life on earth may have arisen in space and migrated here (panspermia) 4) The "natural" home for life on earth may be in the hot depths of the crust, kilometres beneath the surface.
As I say, five years ago, those ideas would have been heresy. But it's been an interesting five years. The (in)famous martian meteorite, the discovery of tiny, primitive forms of life deep within the earth, life thriving around hydrothermal vents, the discovery of intricate chemical reactions happening in space ... well, it's been fun. And Davies takes full advantage of living in such "interesting times".
Davies makes a thoughtful (if not always persuasive) case for his views on the origins of life. And I found it a really enjoyable read. If you're at all interested in where life came from, or whether there might be life "out there" this is a great book to begin with. Davies is an excellent writer with some fascinating ideas and a great style:
"In a subject supercharged with such significance, lack of agreement is unsurprising.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
For a physicist, who admits he is somewhat out of his realm, Paul Davies does a good (but not entirely flawless) job dealing with biological issues. For example, contrary to what is stated in the text, (p73) left-handed DNA has been found: Z-DNA, (p 41) there is at least 1 form of "life" that does not have a double-helical structure of DNA: M13 virus, (p 41 - 42 and later) DNA can not replicate itself (later, in 1 sentence, he acknowldeges that proteins are needed). Except for these trivial "errors" (?), I found the material quite up-to-date, relevant, and convincing. He presents many ideas to the reader, but his core argument basically boils down to the fact that life is based more on aperiodic, specified, complexity than anything else, and that no known law of nature could produce such specific randomness as the genetic code - "A functional genome is both random and highly specific - properties that seem almost contradictory. It must be random to contain substantial amounts of information, and it must be specific for that information to be biologically relevant. Could a law on its own, without a huge element of luck (i.e., chance), do such a thing? Can specific randomness [as is found in a genome] be the guaranteed product of a deterministic, mechanical, lawlike process, like a primordial soup left to the mercy of familiar laws of physics and chemistry? No, it couldn't. No known law of nature could achieve this..." (p119 - 120). Davies provides supporting evidence for this theme throughout the book. What about the often-heard argument, "You'd have to be pretty arrogant and naive to believe that Earth-life is the only life in such a vast and limitless universe". Read more ›
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