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The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision Hardcover – 10 Apr 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 510 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (10 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107011361
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107011366
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 2.5 x 24.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'A magisterial study of the scientific basis for an integrated worldview grounded in the wholeness that generations of one-eyed reductionists could not see. The authors succeed brilliantly!' David W. Orr, Oberlin College

'The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision gives us a sound synthesis of the best science and theory on the connectedness of all living things, the dynamics of emergence and self-organization as conceived by Francisco Varela. This volume offers a profound framework for understanding our place on the planet, for better or worse. And if we apply the insights offered by Capra and Luisi, it will be for the better. The Systems View of Life should be required reading for today's young, tomorrow's leaders, and anyone who cares about life on this planet.' Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence

'What is life? What is a human being? How can new discoveries about nature and ourselves keep us from becoming the first self-endangered species? Capra and Luisi's dazzling synthesis explains how moving beyond mechanistic, linear, reductionist habits is revealing startling new answers to perennial questions of philosophy and practice. Sir Francis Bacon's goal of 'the enlargement of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible' has put humanity in serious trouble. But today, rebuilding our thinking, language, and actions around Darwin, not Descartes, and around modern biology, not outmoded physics, creates rich new options. Driven by the coevolution of business with civil society, these can build a fairer, healthier, cooler, safer world. The Systems View of Life is a lucid, wide-ranging guide to living maturely, kindly, and durably with each other and with other beings on the only home we have.' Amory B. Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

'Partly an enjoyable survey of exciting new developments in systems biology, valuable to any student of biology or science, and partly a bold blueprint for how we might preserve our future on Earth.' New Scientist

'… this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts. It starts walking us through the history of science - and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures … This book pulls the big changes together and integrates them, across disciplines into a glorious big picture, for each field … As I was reading the portion of the book covering the history of systems thinking … I realized that I was suddenly feeling very excited, like I was in a movie, sitting on the edge of my seat … This is what a great writer and a great book are supposed to do … It has had a huge impact on my way of thinking about so many things. It doesn't matter what your area of work or interest is. This book is essential reading to face the future with eyes wide open.' Rob Kall,

'Serves as a valuable overview of the discipline.' Stephen Lewis, The Biologist

New Scientist

Book Description

Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, this volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Life's biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions are presented and its philosophical, spiritual, and political implications discussed.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Prof Warwick Fox on 12 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fritjof Capra has been a consistently interesting and deservedly popular thinker for many years now. I have always been impressed by the clarity and economy with which he has been able to communicate complex ideas, often in considerable depth, to a general audience. Equally, I have always been impressed by the breadth of his intellectual interests and his rare ability to combine these wide-ranging interests into coherent and far-reaching syntheses.

Now, together with his co-author Pier Luigi Luisi, who has himself made significant contributions to the discussion of the emergence of life (see, e.g., Luisi's The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology), Capra and Luisi have outdone themselves. Their 500 page book The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (with many words per page, given its large-page format) is, purely and simply, a magnum opus, it really is. It surely represents the culminating statement of Capra and his co-author's work over several decades now on the development of a scientifically-informed unified vision of the world that incorporates and integrates the biological, ecological, cognitive, philosophical, social, political, and even the spiritual dimensions of life. The last time I read such an all-embracing, well-informed, and richly rewarding synthesis as this was when I read Charles Birch and John Cobb's
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
“[T]he Zeitgeist (“spirit of the age”) of the early twenty-first century is being shaped by a profound change of paradigms, characterized by a shift of metaphors from the world as a machine to the world as a network. The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts”

The Systems View of Life - A Unifying Vision (Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi) is the kind of book I wish I could write. As the industrial age, which began in the period of the European Enlightenment, draws to maturity through the end of the 20th century and beyond, its very fruits have given humanity the tools to move beyond the industrial and mechanical, and into a higher conception of the nature of existence.

Thus we have the insights of quantum physics and fractal mathematics which were only made possible by going through the Newtonian / Cartesian phase. Or the interconnected, networked world that is forming today, that came about through incremental phases of industrial, machine-based progress. The recent giant leaps in computing power that today enables us to study and model complexity and chaos, leave us perhaps with more questions than answers, but evolved through essentially linear statistical methods over the preceding 200-years.

Where Capra and Luisi take us therefore, is into a place that we I think, already know to be instinctively know we need to be. Namely that as a society we are perhaps grown up enough to be able to once again emphasise the qualitative over the quantitative, the observation over the explanation, the process rather than the outcome.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J P on 13 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading this book I was, on one hand, depressed by the complex nature of the many problems facing the world and, on the other hand, elated by the extraordinary amount of work going on to find systemic solutions. If this book is correct then it is just possible that a groundswell of ideas and innovations may start to displace the multinational companies that are destroying our planet.

The Systems View of Life presents the culmination of many years of research and thinking by its writers. It shows how many of the processes of our lives, and our lives themselves, are complex systems producing all types of emergent behaviours. Whilst many of the underlying properties of these complex systems were similar I was left wondering when, if ever, we will really be able to understand the systems. The key will be when we can make accurate predictions about their behaviours.

It seems to me that the great thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were physicists. One hundred years on the great thinkers need to be in the field of complex systems research. Fingers crossed!

Overall a very stimulating read and the final two chapters which start to look at solutions are very uplifting. Let's hope that there will be a follow up publication in 10 years time which will show how the many ideas in this book are really making a global impact.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. Moffatt on 27 May 2015
Format: Hardcover
Some criticisms of this book are rather arbitrary I feel, much like a lover of science fiction might slate a romance. They detract from what is a majestic, brilliantly organised and holistically coordinated academic book.

To write with authority, succinctness and clarity across many disciplines is a major feat - most in a position of such authority often fail to organise their thoughts or explain so efficiently or such insights. This book does so brilliantly, and is probably the most profound book I have read in my life.

Systems theory is an encompassing one, looking at life in a qualified rather than mechanistic, quantified was that is the mainstay of most teaching. That the book mirrors this encompassing idea by collating ideas from maths, physics, chemistry, politics, sociology and more is entirely appropriate, and, I have no doubt, not an accident.

It is a long read in large part because of its succinctness. But a very worthwhile one for those interested in unifying ideas.
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