A World From Dust
How the Periodic Table Shaped Life
by Ben McFarland
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1st June 2016
A World From Dust describes how a set of chemical rules combined with the principles of evolution in order to create an environment in which life as we know it could unfold. Beginning with simple mathematics, these predictable rules led to the advent of the planet itself, as well as cells, organs and organelles, ecosystems, and increasingly complex life forms. McFarland provides an accessible discussion of a geological history as well, describing how the inorganic matter on Earth underwent chemical reactions with air and water, allowing for life to emerge from the world’s first rocks. He traces the history of life all the way to modern neuroscience, and shows how the bioelectric signals that make up the human brain were formed. Most popular science books on the topic present either the physics of how the universe formed, or the biology of how complex life came about; this book’s approach would be novel in that it condenses in an engaging way the chemistry that links the two fields. This book is an accessible and multidisciplinary look at how life on our planet came to be, and how it continues to develop and change even today.
The author makes a decent argument for the chemical predictability of evolution as a bridge between biology and physics. The book’s chronological structure and colloquial writing style make the book easy to read. The contents manage to walk the edge between technical and popular. I think the author goes too far in trying, however briefly, to apply chemical predictability to culture and I also think he focuses to much on his disagreement with S. J. Gould’s ‘Wonderful Life’.
It took me far longer to read this book than it should have done, it was slightly boring to be honest and I noticed one or two non-science related errors. I would recommend this book to non-specialist people with an interest in evolution, it might also be useful for students before starting university.