A series of interviews with three French-based scientists presents current theories on the origins of the world we see around us, of life itself, and of our own species. Journalist Dominique Simmonet encourages her three guests— an astrophysicist (Reeves), an organic chemist (Joel De Rosnay), and an anthropologist (Yves Coppens)—to speculate on the Big Questions. Each gets roughly a third of the book. Reeves leads off by sketching the story of cosmology from the formation of the basic building blocks of matter in the era after the Big Bang to the coalescence of our sun and its family of planets. De Rosnay then examines the conditions believed to have existed on the primitive Earth and how they may have given rise to life— curiously, this topic is the one most amenable to direct laboratory study, yet in some ways the one about which we are least certain of the details. Finally, Coppens recapitulates the now-familiar African origin of hominids, their gradual development into our human ancestors, their invention of technology, and their spread throughout the world. Simmonet has somewhat artificially broken up the discussion into three ``acts,'' of three ``scenes'' each, a rather facile attempt to create links between the insights of these very different sciences. But the scientists present their summaries clearly, and Simmonet has the knack of anticipating questions an intelligent layperson would like to ask. The (uncredited) translation from the French is idiomatic and smooth. A useful though not especially deep summary of the current state of knowledge in three key areas of science.
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