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Stephen Frank (London)

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Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
by Lynn Margulis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.28

5.0 out of 5 stars And we thought we were the supreme species..., 30 Sept. 2013
If you're one of those who has felt worried that the earth might not survive what we're doing to it, then worry no longer! We, as a species which has brought 'wholesale ecological carnage' to the planet may not survive, but the earth surely will! What soon emerges from this insightful book is that humankind is a relatively young species, still 'vulnerable, error-prone.' Humans are not seen as the dominant species - the pinnacle of evolution - but as one of the still immature species. The real players are the species that have been here the longest, the bacteria. 'Even nuclear war would not be total apocalypse, since the hardy bacteria underlying life on the planetary scale would doubtless survive it.'
Margulis and Sagan relegate Darwin to a secondary place within the order of things: the most powerful and important changes in evolution happen not through mutation - as Darwin would have it - but through symbiosis, '...the merging of organisms into new collectives, proves to be a major power of change on Earth.' In particular oxygen-breathing bacteria merged with other organisms to enable oxygen-based life on the once alien surface of this hydrogen filled planet. 'The symbiotic process goes on unceasingly.' 'Fully ten percent of our own dry body weight consists of bacteria - some of which.... we cannot live without.' That's an estimation of ten thousand billion bacteria each!

Imagine a droplet of water with a membrane holding the water in place and allowing certain nutrients in. This is a simplified description of how it is imagined the first becteria came into being. The book offers a fascinating history of the evolution of life on our planet. This is a wonderful story full of fantastic developments spanning thousands of millions of years. Every now and then we are reminded by the authors that none of it could have taken place or could be happening now were it not for the metabolic abilities of bacteria. It gives a really eye-opening account of bacterial sex with the insight that all bacteria, all over the planet, are really part of one organism because they are all able to exchange genetic information. For instance it's thought that bacteria obtained their now well-known resistence to penicillen from their bacterial cousins in the soil. But also, you begin to get the impression that perhaps it's the bacteria which have used every means possible and are now using us too to spread onto the land and all over the planet and beyond from their original wet home in the ocean. Humans are defintely relegated to a secondary place within something much, much bigger that is (consciously?) evolving.

This is a fascinating book which has radically changed the way I perceive life and the universe. I read it with great excitement and completed it with a new awe for those minute beings, the bacteria, which have, until now, had a very bad press.


The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: a German Worker Remembers 1933-45
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: a German Worker Remembers 1933-45
by Friedrich Schlotterbeck
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping tale of remarkable courage, 29 Sept. 2013
More than any other book I've read about the Germans and the Nazis, this book helped me see that there really were many ordinary Germans who opposed and hated the Nazis, even if most were too terrified and therefore helpless to do anything about it. Friedrich Schlotterbeck was an exception, brave beyond compare in what he did and subsequently what he had to suffer as a result of his activities. The book is not well written - or perhaps not well translated (hence just 4 stars) - but nevertheless, once I got gripped by his courageous, remarkable and tragic story, I couldn't put it down. But apart from his amazing story, what shines through is how German society really was covertly divided into those who were Nazis and those who weren't. As in all totalitarian regimes, one careless remark could get you locked up for years if not exterminated - there were always those who were ready to denounce others. But equally, there were many who saw the Nazis for the viciously cruel and inhuman gang of thugs they were and who knew, mostly, who they could trust with their opinions and who they couldn't. This group of people carefully supported one another as best they could, always aware that they faced annihilation if they ever made a single false step. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how ordinary Germans related to the brutish thugs - deludedly calling themselves the master race - who controlled the population through sheer, ongoing terror.


The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars ... A German worker remembers, 1933-1945. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars ... A German worker remembers, 1933-1945. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald
by Friedrich Schlotterbeck
Edition: Unknown Binding

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping tale of remarkable courage, 28 Sept. 2013
More than any other book I've read about the Germans and the Nazis, this book helped me see that there really were many ordinary Germans who opposed and hated the Nazis, even if most were too terrified and therefore helpless to do anything about it. Friedrich Schlotterbeck was an exception, brave beyond compare in what he did and subsequently what he had to suffer as a result of his activities. The book is not well written - or perhaps not well translated (hence just 4 stars) - but nevertheless, once I got gripped by his courageous, remarkable and tragic story, I couldn't put it down. But apart from his amazing story, what shines through is how German society really was covertly divided into those who were Nazis and those who weren't. As in all totalitarian regimes, one careless remark could get you locked up for years if not exterminated - there were always those who were ready to denounce others. But equally, there were many who saw the Nazis for the viciously cruel and inhuman gang of thugs they were and who knew, mostly, who they could trust with their opinions and who they couldn't. This group of people carefully supported one another as best they could, always aware that they faced annihilation if they ever made a single false step. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how ordinary Germans related to the brutish thugs - deludedly calling themselves the master race - who controlled the population through sheer, ongoing terror.


The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
by Jeremy Narby
Edition: Hardcover

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected twists and turns on a personal quest for truth, 25 Oct. 1999
This book takes you on an unexpected and surprising journey. Ever since sub-atomic physics discovered that the presence of the experimenter alters the outcome of any experiment - ie that pure objectivity is no longer possible - some avant garde scientists have slowly begun to see reality through new eyes. More and more scientists are beginning to discover what every good intuitive already knows: that an inherent intelligence pervades all things. This idea flies directly in the face of old 'objective' science which rests on materialist philosophy. This philosophy claims, for instance, that we will ultimately be able to understand life as just a series of chemical reactions. Jeremy Narby, a scientist himself, begins The Cosmic Serpent with this materialistic perspective but gradually, in the face of more and more overwhelming and compelling evidence finds himself forced to challenge the materialist philosophy on which science is based as he discovers the active intelligent, coded language at the heart of life itself, in the DNA. This is something way beyond the blind chemistry of materialistic science. DNA originated life as we understand it 3500 million years ago almost as soon as the planet cooled enough to sustain it and, according to the fossil record, with hardly enough time to develop anything so sophisticated. Scientists are inclined to think that only humans have been intelligent enough to invent language. So where did the ultra sophisticated coded language embedded in DNA come from? What is it saying?
This book is like discovering those important pieces of the jig-saw puzzle you've been looking for everywhere. It explains some of the mysteries. It also elevates so-called tribal knowledge - obtained by shamans the world over - to a par and probably beyond recent discoveries in the field of genetics. It becomes obvious reading this book that the shamans have long known about DNA and the origin of life - even if they use their own language to describe it. Also, because they are not looking to exploit it, their relationship to this knowledge is very different to ours.
The Cosmic Serpent describes Jeremy Narby's personal quest for truth. It's an exciting read as he uses his scientific mind to uncover truths which have long remained hidden. Along the way he finds his own beliefs challenged again and again. He expects his work to be rejected by dogmatic and fundamentalist believers in science. They may do this out of hand by not reading this book. But any who do and have a half-way open mind will surely also be challenged to the roots of their belief. It will be interesting to see if and how Western scientists come to terms with the remarkable facts in this fascinating book. And if science ever does come to recognise the sacredness of life then this book will have been one of the stepping stones which helped it to a better perspective.


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