Changing ideas of how life appeared on Earth, a mystery that remains unsolved.
Mesler teams up with Cleaves—vice president of the International Society for the Study of Life, a professor at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton—to present a history of science designed for general readers. They fill their account with dozens of fascinating characters, some from the ancient world, some working today, some holding beliefs now seen as ridiculous—the spontaneous generation of frogs and mice, for instance—and some searching for the answer in modern research facilities. Among them are such familiar names as Aristotle, Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, Crick, and Darwin, as well as many less well-known ones, such as Henry Bastian or Alexander Oparin. The authors not only present them as men of their times, but bring them to life with anecdotes about their eccentricities (noted British scientist J.B.S. Haldane is seen as a pyromaniac who hated to wear socks), their debates, their successes, and their failures. The authors include illustrations, photographs, line drawings, and even a Herblock cartoon, but more would have been welcome. Their narrative has a grand sweep and shows important figures with competing ideas amid evolving worldviews. As a demonstration of changing times and approaches to the mystery of how life began, an appendix includes some intriguing recipes: Johannes van Helmont’s recipe for making mice, Bastian’s four recipes for making microbes, Sidney Fox’s recipe for proteinoid microspheres, and Craig Venter’s recipe for creating a cell.
A lively, highly readable jaunt through the world of science.