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 The Liberation of Life : From the Cell to the Community
(also from Cambridge University Press) - and that was published back in 1981!
If you want to understand the major cultural shift that we have been undergoing over the last several hundred years (right across the physical, life, and social sciences) from a mechanistic worldview to the emergence of what the authors term a 'systems' worldview - a worldview that sees the world around us in terms of networks, patterns, and complex, mutually interacting, living or life-like systems rather than in terms of discrete building blocks that interact in linear, sequential ways that are open to precise forms of prediction and control - then this is now THE book to read.
As the authors show, this shift in worldview has major implications for almost everything that ought to matter to us - from the very practical ways in which we need to attend to the manifold problems that are pressing in upon us in the ecological and socio-political realms to the ways in which we can find an approach to our inner, spiritual lives that is consistent with our best scientific understandings.
You get the idea. I cannot praise this book enough. Capra and Luisi have done us all a great service. I cannot see how anyone could spend even just a few hours with this book and not come away considerably the richer for it. Spend considerably longer with it and you will undoubtedly come away knowing a lot more about various areas of interest to you than you do now - not to mention more inspired to work for changes in directions that will enable us to sustain the web of life on this planet. Every critically-minded reader will find their own quibbles here and there of course, but c'mon ... the comprehensive breadth and depth of scholarship displayed in this book, all communicated clearly and economically (often with aid of pictures, inset boxes, and diagrams), is simply outstanding.
Warwick Fox - author of Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism
, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment
, and On Beautiful Days Such as This: A philosopher sings the blues and restores his soul in Greece