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Science Books

December 7, 2006

The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design
Leonard Susskind (2006)
ISBN: 0316013331

In this, his debut book, Leonard Susskind, the father of string theory, takes a fresh approach to our understanding of what he refers to as the cosmic "landscape". Susskind claims rightly that science has moved on from the elegant yet narrow solutions proffered by string theory during the twentieth century. Susskind now argues in favor of a concept that is far more encompassing, open to possibility and exciting than could ever have been thought imaginable of such a rigorous and sharp-witted scientific mind. Despite having spawned multitudes of physicists who consider string theory as an end in itself, Susskind now considers string theory to be but one piece of a much larger puzzle. His main aim is to see this larger picture and understand why physical laws are the way they are, and why they appear so finely tuned. During this ambitious exploration, Susskind manages to dismiss totally the concept of a super intelligence, or "celestial cook" capable of creating the perfect environment to produce and sustain life. Susskind's novel theory draws on general relativity, quantum mechanics and vacuum energy, which in the hands of a lesser mortal may have been explained in a fashion both intimidating and impenetrable to lay readers. Thankfully, Susskind has taken the time to make his extraordinary theory relatively accessible; allowing all-comers to witness what could be a scientific revolution in the making.

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
Nick Lane (2006)
ISBN: 0199205647

Mitochondria. You may have heard of them, but just what are they exactly, and what role do they play in our lives? If you don't know much about mitochondria, the answers may genuinely astound you. As Dr. Nick Lane, Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World, explains, mitochondria are the microscopic structures that inhabit and produce energy in the cells of all complex organisms. This makes mitochondria essential to life as we know it, but there is something even more surprising about them. Mitochondria have their own DNA and a set of genes separate from those found in the cell nucleus, and it is widely accepted that mitochondria were once free-roaming bacteria up until they became integral to the evolution of life on Earth. It's just like having little aliens stoking our cells' furnaces! This symbiotic relationship is what allowed organisms to become more complex and develop into two separate sexes. Aside from the oddness of this relationship, mitochondria can provide vital information regarding our evolution. This is because, explains Dr. Lane, mitochondrial DNA is passed almost entirely down the female line, where human ancestry can be traced to what is referred to as the "Mitochondrial Eve." Fascinating stuff, for sure, but Dr. Lane's research goes a step further and presents an extraordinary account of how complex life arose, why we have to have sex to procreate, and even why our lives must lamentably end. A captivating and thought-provoking book, recommended to anyone intrigued by the wonder and bizarreness of life.

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