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Life on the Edge

The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology
Narrated by: Pete Cross
Length: 12 hrs and 40 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (301 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how did it come to be? Even in an age of cloning and artificial biology, the remarkable truth remains: Nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we still missing a vital ingredient in its creation? Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal the hitherto missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.

©2014 Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili (P)2015 Dreamscape Media, LLC

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Finally, applied quantum mechanics for biology

Story most compelling. Written so that a classical biologist could understand. Coherent arguments more than plausible. Implications far reaching. Schroedinger's "What is life" under appreciated. Than you.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 09-09-15

More woo than new

I have a problem with most of the new science books that I've been reading lately. They really aren't saying anything new and when they do they seem to enter into woo woo land. The authors demonstrate nicely how certain biological processes such as the internal magnetic compass of a certain kind of Robin, the photosynthesis in plants, the universal energy currency of life: ATP, the enzyme process, and how the sense of smell can all be thought best in terms of quantum mechanics.

Those examples make up the first half of the book. My problem with the book is the second half. All objective knowledge can be broken down into the subatomic quantum mechanical level, but that doesn't mean they should be. The authors go off the rails and enter the land of woo with ascribing the origins of life, the genetic code in general and mutations in particular, and our consciousness as best understood by quantum mechanical processes. As much as the next person, I love the mysteries of the quantum world, but I don't want to reduce the process understudy down to that level unless it is absolutely necessary. I really get tired at how many authors (including these) refer to the problem of consciousness as the "hard problem". There have been many strides lately on understanding consciousness, but mixing it with the woo woo of physics the way a Depak Chopra would is never the right approach.

It is a pity. This book had a lot going for it in the beginning, because the authors as biologist really know how to explain the physics. The authors tell the listener in very clear terms what Feynman meant by "all the mysteries of physics are contained within the double slit experiment". (Everyone who reads books like this one should take the time and trouble and look up the Feynman Lectures on the Character of Physical Law on Youtube, seven of the happiest hours I ever spent). This book explains the double split experiment, the particle/wave duality, the measurement problem, and more specifically for the book, quantum tunneling, entanglement, coherence, and superposition. Also, the authors really knew how to explain the steps in the scientific process a biologist needs in order to reach coherent, consistent, and non-contradictory conclusions.

I'm still looking for new popular science books that teach me things I don't already know and which don't enter into the land of woo.



34 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Thoroughly enjoyable and highly interesting

Good writing is getting more difficult to find, especially in popular science, but not this one. The subject matter has not been explored elsewhere (yet) except for the explanations of the quantum mechanics but the experiments used to probe the specific features as well as those upon which this theory is built. A few of the ideas have been tested at least once (which means many runs of each experiment.) The narrator of the audio book was good but seemed to be doing more reading than comprehending. It may not be true, and his job is to strictly repeat what is on the written page, but he sounded bored in spots. Still, it was fascinating stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A Good Review with Decent Quantum Relevant Insight

This is a good review of biology from molecular and quantum perspectives.  The authors made a great effort in connecting or trying to connect biological functionalities with today's understanding of quantum mechanics and (potential) applications, though some are quite convincing based on existing scientific evidence, some are not yet at the current time... Nonetheless, my hats off to the authors and hope to see more and/or updated version.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book, well narrated

It is early in the game of attempting to bridge biology with quantum physics. This book is a great introduction and update on the current state of this complex subject

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Nat
  • Santa Clara, CA, United States
  • 04-04-16

Brilliant Explanations

I love it when I find a book that explains new concepts like this one. These books are few and far between. However, Life on the Edge stands out for the quality of its explanations of both the new quantum biological phenomena and the long-known quantum phenomena that I supposedly learned in college.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great into to quant bio

Excellent The book was packed with information yet not overwhelming for the layman. Highly recommended.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A whole new perspective on biology

While my profession involved understanding biology and physiology it never entered my mind that quantum physics was involved. The importance of quantum phenomena for enzymes, DNA replication, and smell opened my eyes. I have been fascinated by descriptions of elementary particles for years. It had always seemed irrelevant for day to day life. I now see it plays a role in many things we are just beginning to understand.

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very insightful<br />

you can tell that a lot of thought and research has gone into this book. It is definitely worth a read I wish there would be a part 2 that would come out and we learn even more

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  • Max
  • United States
  • 10-05-18

Exciting subject, inadequate style.

i dont understand how it happened, but i find this listening uninspiring. i actually love the subject, love the authors, and find their youtube videos exciting. but here they may have gone too far trying to explain exciting science to an imaginary uneducated person. my point is that unenlightened people wouldnt listen anyway. i find the information content here too low, and the extent of accomodation of imaginary skeptics too high. there is no personality behind, the book is too sterile. they lost me when they dismissed skeptics and mystics lumped together. a true scientist showld be a mystic and a skeptic because most of modern science is conservative brainwash.