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Homage To Gaia: The Life Of An Independent Scientist
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James Lovelock is the British scientist who gave birth to the concept of Gaia--the idea that "...the Earth regulates its climate and composition..." that neither "...we, or any living thing, [can] evolve without changing the state of the Earth". But as we find in Homage to Gaia: the Life of an Independent Scientist, there is much more to James Lovelock. His life has been more like that of the pioneer natural philosophers of the Renaissance who studied "science" before the word "scientist" was invented in the 19th century. As we discover in this fascinating autobiography, Lovelock learned the nuts and bolts of his science in a very old-fashioned way by what he calls "the long apprenticeship". On leaving school he had, like many bright but poor youths in Britain until the 1950s, to start work as an apprentice chemical analyst in London and study in the evenings at Birkbeck College. For any would-be scientist Lovelock's early career is an object lesson in application, persistence and inspiration. He managed to work his way into a remarkable variety of scientific research posts in chemistry, medicine and space science in both Britain and America. Along the way he invented the electron capture detector, which revolutionised the study of environmental chemistry and discovered that CFCs are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere and damaging the ozone layer. And then there is Gaia, "...part of science...not an alternative to religion but a complement", according to Lovelock. Much of Lovelock's work has been carried out independently of universities, research institutes or business organisations, financed by the success of his inventions. His story of the struggle to make ends meet, to develop new ideas and to try to come to terms with what it means to be a responsible "child" of Earth, Gaia is essential if at times uncomfortable reading for anyone interested in the interaction between science and the environment. Be prepared to have your preconceptions of Lovelock shaken up. --Douglas Palmer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"there is much more than science in this book ... This is ultimately an uplifting book about the way life ought to be, both at a personal and at a global level, and a strong contender for science book of the year."--Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
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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Content - I have already dipped into many different chapters in the book.Read more
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