Life’s Edge

Life’s Edge, by Carl Zimmer, is a fascinating exploration of the boundary regions between the world of the definitely alive and the realms of the decidedly not. While each of us has some sense of what life is, making a scientific definition is surprisingly difficult. Can a tardigrade truly be considered alive, given that it can be dehydrated for hundreds of years but resume living the moment it encounters water again? What about human tissue grown in labs? Or viruses? Or even people who pass every biological test possible but, due to a very specific nerve injury, stoutly maintain they have died? 

Carl Zimmer explores all of these peculiar corners and more in Life’s Edge. Taking examples from every field of science and delving deep into the history of the biological sciences, he weaves a cohesive narrative detailing our species’ struggle to define life. 

Personally, I found the book very engaging. The science is sound and the writing colorful, guiding me through these admittedly esoteric subjects gracefully. I would definitely recommend this book if you want to take a moment and ponder one of life’s greatest mysteries: what even is life?

-Rhys

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