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Summary

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic 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 missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

Like Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of life's dynamics. Bringing together firsthand experience of science at the cutting edge with unparalleled gifts of exposition and explanation, 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.

Drawing on recent groundbreaking experiments around the world, they show how photosynthesis relies on subatomic particles existing in many places at once while inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another.

Each chapter in Life on the Edge opens with an engaging example that illustrates one of life’s puzzles - How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes manage to copy themselves with such precision? - and then reveals how quantum mechanics delivers its answer.

Guiding the reader through the maze of rapidly unfolding discovery, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate vividly the excitement of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.

©2015 Jim Al-Khalili (P)2015 Random House AudioBooks

What listeners say about Life on the Edge

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I wish Jim had narrated this book.

A very interesting book but sometimes a little hard to follow, but that is the nature of the subject.

I really wish it had been narrated by Jim and surprised it was not considering his Radio 4 and BBC TV work. I would preferred to hear his calm, traditional English voice than to the colonial one, which often mangled British names and places.

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Very disappointing

Very poor and superficial explanation of the quantum mechanics effects in molecular biology. The authors spends a lot of time on basic concepts of molecular biology and biochemistry but not nearly enough on the stuff the book claims to be about

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worth read again and again!

finally philosophy, quantum biology, physics and mechanic together! very good put together, worth reading again!

2 people found this helpful

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Tour de force! Excellent.

A truly eye opening book, with extremely convincing arguments to link how the very unlikely and paradoxical world of quantum dynamics may be the only reason that any life, as we know it, can exist.
The nuances of the effects of QD are eye opening in the extreme. The apparent workings of QD in the "warm and wet" environment of all living cells are so unlikely and of potentially world-changing in its possibilities in areas well outside living things, for instance, being able to use the effect to increase the energy extraction from the sun by using the same effect that photosynthesis does (which is almost 100% efficient!), would utterly change the possible options for our world energy requirements.
This is notwithstanding the question of how life came into existence in the first place, which is still a very live and puzzling thing.
The reader did his job well, although being English, there were naturally certain word pronunciations that grated - so not his fault!
I'd recommend this book to any enquiring mind. It will inspire you to view the world in a very different way. It's as though one has climbed a hill in what at first appeared an unpromising area and suddenly found oneself overlooking a stunning panorama with endless possibilities!

6 people found this helpful

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A cutting edge look at life and quantum physics

Briging the gap between quantum physics and biology is no simple task but this book does a beautiful job of it and the narrative keeps the reader fully on board

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Important learning if you like science

Any additional comments?

This was recommended by a physicist friend. It's highly readable despite providing a full revision of modern physics before explaining new learning about the role quantum mechanics plays in the biology of life. I thought I had a reasonable grasp of biology but this stuff is dynamite!

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Great Book

Would you listen to Life on the Edge again? Why?

Yes, its needed there are some great ideas that need re listening (in my case) to fully take in the absolute content of the book.

What did you like best about this story?

The Journey of the butterfly from America to Mexico

Which character – as performed by Pete Cross – was your favourite?

His Narration was very good

2 people found this helpful

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Best non fiction book I have read!

amazing book that tackles the greatest questions ever posed and offers new (at least to me) possible explanations. Incredibly well written and easy to understand but without simplifying complex concepts too much for those with a more technical background.

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A mind-opening discussion of quantum biology

One or two mis-pronunciations, but forgiven because of the content. Re listening now, and will require a third run through too.

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Unusual and imaginative book

Highly speculative yet riveting story, despite becoming extra speculative near the end, this book is truly amazing. It allows to glimpse of biology from the new perspective. I'm not a phisicist, neither a native English speaker, but I found this book easy to listen since everything narrated super clear and with colourful analogies. Great popular science book.

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  • Jacqueline B
  • 22-12-16

Simply fascinating science

What made the experience of listening to Life on the Edge the most enjoyable?

As this is a review of an audio book, the prize has to go to the narrator, Pete Cross. His is one of the most pleasant reading voices I have yet listened to - and important for a scientific work. He engages the listener with his smooth reading style, very good voice tone and timbre and has taken the trouble to pronounce scientific words clearly. His diction and pronunciation cannot be faulted and he makes the contents compelling and interesting. In addition, the book itself is an extraordinary read and I have subsequently purchased the paperback as well for annotation purposes.

Any additional comments?

This is a compelling story of how quantum physics has expanded into the field of biology. The authors have delineated the process of how it all happened by quoting studies and experiments and have made the concepts very clear for a science-loving non-scientist. Famous physicists such as Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Richard Feynman ('What I cannot create, I do not understand') are given their place in history while modern experimental findings tell of mankind's further adventures into this minuscule world. Thermodynamics, tunnelling and entanglement are explained with clear examples, along with the mysterious way in which measurement affects behaviour in the quantum world, not a new concept, but puts it into context. We have so much to learn.

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  • VC
  • 22-11-18

Fascinating insight into the cutting edge Science

I stumbled upon this book, rather accidentally. It has been a truly remarkable learning experience to understand quauntum principles as fundamental to organic life! A peep into cutting edge research thinking. As a lay reader, interested in Science and pondering about life, it was filled with amazement of so many new ideas and insights. Some parts are challenging to comprehend without the in-depth exposure to quantum science, which I lacked. Overall, if one is interested in the question of what this Life is all about and if one has been exploring spirituality, this book is a highly recommended read (listen)!

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  • Ben
  • 25-10-17

revolutionizing ideas

revolutionizing ideas in the junction of many disciplines. very well written for a complex science book.