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on 22 January 2001
Whilst talking to a colleague a few days ago, I mentioned that I had just read the autobiography of James Lovelock. He looked blank. "James Lovelock", I said, "the originator of the Gaia hypothesis? The idea that the processes of life maintain the earth in homeostatic balance?" He shook his head.
My colleague is a microbiologist and I was at first surprised that he had never heard of Lovelock or Gaia. After a little thought, I realised that the topic is probably not taught in many university microbiology courses. Lovelock is, after all, widely regarded as a maverick independent scientist, whose ideas have been variously vilified by evolutionary biologists (notably Richard Dawkins) and adopted as religion by the New Age environmental movement. However, Lovelock has always been something of a personal hero to me, so I began the story of his life with great anticipation.
I wasn't disappointed. Over the course of twelve chapters, Lovelock takes us through his early life and education and what he calls his "scientific apprenticeship", largely spent working for the Medical Research Council over some twenty years. He then describes his first steps towards an independent scientific career as an inventor and consultant, facilitated largely by his invention of the electron capture device (ECD), an instrument capable of detecting almost unimaginably tiny quantities of molecules in air and water samples. This leads to a spirited discussion of the "Ozone war" in the early 1970s, in which Lovelock became embroiled as a consultant for companies manufacturing CFCs. The Gaia hypothesis, Lovelock's best known idea, is discussed quite briefly in Chapter 9, where Lovelock tells us how the ideacame to him whilst working for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and of the fight to gain credibility for Gaia with the scientific establishment. The latter part of the book is the most personal, where Lovelock describes the day to day practice of independent science, his struggles with serious medical problems in later life and his new-found happiness with his second wife, whom he met at the age of almost 70.
On the surface, Lovelock appears as a bundle of contradictions. A self-professed recluse who lives in an isolated corner of rural England, yet widely travelled with a large circle of friends and admirers. A doyen of New Age environmentalists, yet intensely critical of many environmental organisations. A meticulous, methodical and practical scientist, yet shunned and ridiculed by the science establishment. However, Lovelock comes across as a man of great integrity and gentle courage, who sees no such contradictions in himself. What sets this science autobiography apart is its very personal, frank and warm style. It is clearly not the work of a ghost writer-Lovelock's writing hops about with little regard for the precise timeframe of events (as he admits cheerfully towards the end of the book). There are moments of great humour, as when he describes his experiences with the culture and beaurocracy of the United States, and many honest, open and moving moments, such as his accounts of major surgery undergone in the 1980s or the decline and death of his first wife through multiple sclerosis.
In the preface to the book, Lovelock writes "Some who read this book might think it old fashioned ,and if they do, I ask them to note that I was born in 1919, when English society was still conditioned by the code of the gentleman, a culture which valued good manners, playing by the rules, admiring the good loser and above all taking full responsibility for mistakes." He needn't have worried. He has lead a more extraordinary life than most of us can ever hope for and his personal account of it is a joy to read from start to finish.
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on 19 June 2001
My brother gave me this book for Christmas, I was sceptical at first having heard a lot about Dr. Lovelock from my university lecturers however I soon found that I had been misinformed. This hugely enjoyable book enlightened me about Gaia theory, which states that life on earth regulates its climate and composition. It describes the life of a jack of all trades who discoveries range from CFC's in the atmosphere to di-methyl sulphide gas production by algae and how it forms clouds, he even had a hand in the early missions to Mars. He is remarkable candid about his life and although I do not agree with everything he says, I would count myself lucky if one day I can look back on a scientific career even half as varied and interested as the one this book describes. This book should be read by anybody considering science as a career or just interested in a good read.
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on 3 May 2003
If you like autobiographies by scientists this is for you. Here is a man - an independant scientist - [will there ever be his like again?] who not only comes up with one of the great ideas of the 20th C i.e. Gaia but also a great chemistry discovery i.e. a detector device used in GLC analysis. And a number of other briliant ideas and discoveries any one of which most scientists would be grateful for. In this book you will find how a great scientist works, thinks and feels. Warts and all. I ask this question: 'Why has such a great original thinker not been given The Nobel Prize'? Others have cashed in on his discoveries. Read it - I'd give it 6 stars if I could!
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VINE VOICEon 10 June 2004
That Lovelock is an extraordinary man shouldnt need mentioning: as an independent scientist, inventor and the creator fo the gaia hypothesis, I was excited to pick this up and read about his life. The early chapters recount his early years in S london and his eduction as a scientist during the war- an illuminating insight into a time when being a scientist was a profession of respect whose work was regarded as important for the nation and often quite dangerous. Early days with setting himself up as an independent and trips to NASA are also interesting and amke for fascinating reading. His honesty and candour shines through the entire book...but throughout i got the feeling something ws missing.
Gaia itself (or should i say herself), despite a huge build up is glossed over very quickly. the rest of the book then becomes a list of awards he was honoured to receive and interesting people he met and how charmed he was by them. Audaciously he also recounts his passionate liasions with his current wife while his first wife was dying from MS.
Then it struck me: lovelock, ever so careful when analysing the planet, never analyses himself. He describes events that happen to him, explains how he reacts and then moves on. There is a stunning lack of self awareness. For someone who exhorts the importance of having space to think for hours and days on end, he never expands on his thinking process. What was going through his head while his wife was degenerating from MS? he describes it as distressing but no more. What was he thinking when he began sleeping with another woman? As a socialist, how does he explain his admiration for Margaret Thatcher? Most irritating for me, he describes some of the events and conversation that led to Gaia, but glosses over the writing of his first Gaia book in less than a paragraph. What was the creative process that led him to take so many ideas and congeal them into one holistic concept?
I found this a frustrating experience- having read a couple of the Gaia texts i wanted to know a lot more but i feel the autobiog didn't really scratch the surface. Lovelock comes across as slightly arrogant and even superficial... i guess I'll have to wait for the unauthorised biography.
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on 6 August 2014
Cover 4/5 Says what is in the box.

Content - I have already dipped into many different chapters in the book. I recalled the story of the potato and the microwave in Desert Island Discs and while discussing another matter Jim Smith the current Director of NIMR referred me to the relevant pages in the book which are nicely written. My Uncle was a feisty engineering technician who complained about how impractical many of the boffins were for whom he made up experimental apparatus. I argued he and they made great partners as they both needed each other. James Lovelock appears quite capable of making his own apparatus but I suspect my Uncle and he would have got on well.

I read on now nearing the end of childhood from which he appears fortunate to have survived...

Alexander of the Allrighters and Ywnwab!

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on 12 November 2009
I have read all Mr Lovelock's books, detailing the Gaia Theory, a theory that shows the earth as a self regulating super organism. I appreciate his work and agree on his theory.

Homage to Gaia details Mr Lovelocks work firstly as a scientist for the govenment during the war years and then later as an independent scientist.

A whole chapter of the book details the Electron Capture Device, a device invented by Lovelock, that led to our greater understanding of the threat to the ozone layer.

This book demonstrates that the Gaia theory has not always been well received by his fellow scientists, but his ideas as detailed in the book do have a consistency of being correct over the years.
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on 22 April 2014
James Lovelock must rank as one of the great scientists of his time. For this he must command immnese respect.

However, I could not respect his affair with his future second wife which began during the last days of his wife's life, as she slowly succumbed to MS. He says he expected her to live, so can we assume the affair woudl have goen on regardless?

Nevertheless a great read and a very honest autobiography.
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on 16 September 2009
Before reading this book I had heard of James Lovelock only as someone whom 'serious' people dismissed as irrelevant. Richard Dawkins trashed him and his gaia idea as such obvious nonsense that no explanation of its absurdity was necessary. An acquaintance parroted what I gather to be part of the creed of his particular 'green' cult. His 'green faith' gave him the freedom to reject Lovelock as useless purely on account of his advocacy of nuclear power. I do not know how much of Lovelock's work Dawkins had studied. My acquaintance, however, was never shy of voicing authoritative opinions on works he had never read.

There is certainly something of the old codger in this book. Selective education (Lovelock went to grammar school) and a training as an industrial chemist whilst studying for a degree at evening classes, were, he thought, a far better preparation for a life in science than that acquired by today's graduate whippersnappers.

Although a man of his time, his greatness lies in being able to see above it. Yes, like many intellectuals of his generation he felt drawn to socialism, but realised its limitations in his maturity. Indeed, a rigid socialist system would have made it virtually impossible for him to become a freelance, free thinking, independent scientist. Academic specialisation too, may have prevented his seeing the obvious connections between physics, chemistry and biology which led to the Gaia hypothesis.

In essence 'Gaia' is the realisation that living creatures not only adapt over generations to their environment; they also adapt the environment itself. Like so many innovative ideas it seems so obvious in hindsight. What are coal and limestone but the fossilised remains of organisms, to which remains subsequent life has itself to adapt?

The only irksome Lovelock trait I found was his 'Paradise Lost to Regained' attitude. He waxes ridiculously sentimental about the rural England of his youth and the idealised village community where he set up his first married home. It seems odd that such a broad ranging mind could not see how intensely man made is rural England, even the pre combine harvester, big fields, commuter village England of his boyhood. Indeed, as a prosperous commuting research scientist, he was part of the 'wrecking' mechanism he despised. The interaction of organic life with environment, the essence of Gaia, is convincing. The notion that we are heading for doom unless we radically change is not so persuasive.

A previous reviewer found his admiration for a fellow chemist, one Margaret Thatcher, a contradiction. Lovelock, however, was justified in sharing her impatience with statism, especially when a strike in the NHS caused him unnecessary medical complications.

The book is an inspiration to any scientist who lacks expensive resources. Cheap home made gadgets can provide many tools for research. There is much to learn from this man and this book. Other reviewers have mentioned how difficult he is to categorize. That is the essential charm of this work.
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on 29 October 2008
The story of Lovelock's life is absolutely fascinating, and if you are at all interested in science this is a "must read".

Lots of good history of science, no hippy new age rubbish.
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