Life Explained

Michel Morange; Translated by Matthew Cobb and Malcolm DeBevoise

View Inside Price: $19.00

November 24, 2009
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300158502

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Fifty years ago Francis Crick and James D. Watson proposed the double helix model for the DNA molecule. They believed they had, as Crick put it, discovered the “secret of life,” and many agreed. But in the intervening years, science has marched—sometimes leaped—forward, and now the question “What is life?” must be posed once again.


In this accessible and fascinating book, Michel Morange draws on recent advances in molecular genetics, evolutionary biology, astrobiology, and other disciplines to find today’s answers to the question of life. He begins by discussing the various answers that have been formulated in the past, setting contemporary definitions of life within a rich philosophical and scientific tradition that reaches back to ancient Greece. Then, with impeccable logic and a wealth of appropriate detail, Morange proceeds to lay out the fundamental characteristics that define life. The road to an understanding of life remains incompletely charted, he concludes, but the nature of its final destination is no longer an enigma.

Michel Morange is professor of biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he directs the Centre Cavaillès for the History and Philosophy of Science. He is the author of The Misunderstood Gene and A History of Molecular Biology, and has published many articles in scientific journals. Matthew Cobb is senior lecturer in animal behavior at the University of Manchester. Malcolm DeBevoise has translated some thirty works from French in all branches of scholarship.

“Morange approaches the question ‘what is life’ thoughtfully and with an open mind. He accepts what seems sensible and rejects that which is overblown or confusing.”—William C. Summers, YaleUniversity


“This book is remarkable for the clarity and soundness of its arguments, the fair and balanced way in which it presents controversial positions, and its unique capacity to map out unresolved questions.”—Bruno J. Strasser, Yale University

"I won't give away Morange's thoughtful and persuasive payoff, but his demand that children undergo compulsory education in philosophy of science is energising."—The Guardian

"This translation from the 2003 French release outlines in an easy-to-read style the deep issue of the nature of life. . . . Morange is at ease in getting across the historical, philosophical, and biological nuances of the long search for essential features that allow us to define life or living. . . . Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, technical program students, and general readers."—Choice

Winner of the French-American Foundation Translation Prize in the category of non-fiction, given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation.
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