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The Fifth Miracle: Search for the Origins of Life (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 22 May 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (22 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140282262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140282269
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 1.8 x 18 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 764,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The origin of life remains one of the most attractive and yet seemingly intractable problems in science. Was it by accident or design that at least 3.5 billion years ago inorganic matter somehow became vitalized on Earth? And if it happened here, could it have happened elsewhere in the Universe? Nobel prize-winning biologist Jacques Monod concluded that life is the product of chance, that "Man at last knows he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe."

Paul Davies cogently argues otherwise in The Fifth Miracle. Originally a British physicist, Davies is now a prize-winning science writer living in Australia. Writing for a general readership, he covers all the main topics surrounding this fundamental question, from microbial biology and biochemistry, through the fossil record and genetics to Martian meteorites. Eminently readable, generally accurate and without mind-boggling detail (references are provided for intellectual explorers), Davies presents the current ideas and data in a very even-handed way. He comes down on the side of those who believe that we are not alone but live in a "self-organizing and self-complexifying universe, governed by ingenious laws that encourage matter to evolve towards life and consciousness." -- Douglas Palmer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Mar. 2000
Format: Paperback
Paul Davies here goes through the theories attached to the enduring problem of where life originally came from, how an inhospitable lump of rather warm rock managed to become a world of living creatures. Sometimes the science is really a bit too (unnecessarily) blinding, especially where Davies tries to relate the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy to the origins of life: the connection between physics and biology here is rather difficult to understand. But by the time Davies'...erm... less substantiated theories about meteorites and Mars start being elaborated, the book's taken on a momentum of its own. It's a very interesting book, but, to a layman, only quite convincing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Fifth Miracle: The search for the origin of life, by Paul Davies, Penguin, 1998, 304 ff.

Theories of the origin of life
By Howard A. Jones

No, this is not a theology book, though it does take its title from the author's reading of Genesis where God is said to create the universe, light, firmament, land - and then life, all regarded as miracles. Setting theology aside, the rest of the book is a scientific description of theories - biological, chemical and physical - as to the origin of life on Earth. The author was a Professor at the University of Adelaide when this book was written and is now at the State University of Arizona where he is Director of a Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, exploring subjects as diverse as cancer, which he proposes be studied in a non-traditional way, and the search for extra-terrestrial life.

In the opening chapter Davies makes it clear that he does not believe in vitalism, the existence of some kind of life force in living matter. He does however accept that living matter contains a unique type of information that allows self-propagation. There is a good discussion of the scientifically accepted (Darwinian) biological role of DNA and RNA here and in later chapters, but for any Lamarckian interpretation readers must turn to authors like Bruce Lipton. In fact, the whole book is more biological than others I have read by this author, but it's good to see Cairns-Smith's ideas of clay minerals as templates for nucleic acids getting some coverage. As usual in his books, Davies combines with fluency geology, biology, cosmology and metaphysics (about the meaning of life, for example) on a scientific bedrock of physics. Also as usual, there is no mathematics for readers to have to get their heads around.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By manji_kerai@hotmail.com on 26 April 2001
Format: Paperback
This book describes in detail various theories on the origins of life. It is supported by a combination of scientific research information and personal views which made it a very enjoyable read. One of the most interesting books I have read on this subject. I would be very interested to know which of the theories Paul Davies favours most.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Some Customer on 3 Feb. 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't know who Douglas Palmer (quoted in Amazon's own review of this book) is but he clearly has either not read the book or else did not understand it! The book actually argues the exact polar opposite of what Palmer states. That is to say, that the beginnings of life in as far as science can currently understand are an 'up-hill' process and that life, what's more, intilligent life should have arrisen in the universe even once is nothing short of miraculous. The argument thus, is that we are, in fact, alone whether we like it or not. I don't know, therefore, how much use the above Amazon review is but the book is one of my favourites, very informative and definiately worth a read. Davies does (in my opinion) make an error at one point in his 'information theory'/'thermodynamics' but it doesn't affect his argument. It's a great book.
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