Life’s Edge – Exploring what it means to be alive (or close)

I greatly enjoy the writings of Carl Zimmer. When it comes to describing immensely complex aspects of biology, such as the complex molecular machinery that drives cells, tissues, and organisms, I don’t know many that can present them in such a digestible way. I have been waiting for Zimmer to write a new book ever since I finished ‘She has her mother’s laugh‘, an in-depth background into the history, present and the future of heredity. My friend Maddy gifted it to me when I was about to pass on my own genes to the next generation – a pretty spot-on present (and a highly recommended read).

I did not have to wait for too long. Zimmer is rather prolific as a writer. Earlier this year, his latest title ‘Life’s Edge‘ came out. In this book, Zimmer explores the definition of life. In his explorations, Zimmer meets with scientists from a broad number of fields, from chemistry, to microbiology, to physics, to philosophy. What I love about his work is that his writing almost makes you feel like you are there at the interviews and discussions he describes. All of this is interwoven with a good dose of science history, which never seems to bore me.

Life – it is something so familiar to us, that we rarely think about its definition. It is something that we just know or feel to be what it is. Yet, as it turns out, the experts in the field struggle to find a unifying definition. Life is pretty confusing – but the confusion inspired enjoyable reading material. The journey brings the reader from pythons (always a good start), to slime molds, to hibernating bats, only to end with robots programmed to re-create life in a laboratory.

The book may have left me with more questions about life than I had before, but it has also given me many new ideas which to include in my own teaching about life on earth. Reading the book was like life itself – an interesting and enjoyable journey.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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