Summer reading;Books

20th August 1999 at 01:00
THE FIFTH MIRACLE. By Paul Davies. Penguin. pound;5.99.

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Where did life begin? Paul Davies takes a scientific and philosophical journey to the centre of the Earth.


Kathryn Edwards teaches biology and chemistry in Wales David Cook is chaplain and head of RE at Cranbrook School, Kent Betsy Barker is a primary music specialist in Midlothian Sylvia Ardolino is a classroom assistant in Stockport Denise Bates is a school governor and chairs education appeals for an LEA in the North-West KE Davies writes with an enthusiasm and clarity that should enthral non-scientists and inspire even the most jaded science teacher. His holistic approach incorporates current thinking from an impressive range of scientific disciplines. Each chapter is well thought out and logically constructed, with good use of metaphor to illustrate and clarify issues, and extensive references. A stimulating and thought-provoking read.

DC A tough read, but invigorating and admirably clear. Davies shows which option he chooses at each point and why, but also makes clear the attractions of the alternatives. To a non-scientist, some parts repay a second reading.

Davies also points out the wider philosophical implications of the issues. His mission is to explain, not to persuade, and his openness and obvious enjoyment are engaging.

BB I was suffering from bronchitis when I read this, and I felt sympathy with the theory that life began with microbes in the hot subterranean crannies of Earth. Or were they originally from Mars, in rocks flung into space and sucked in by Earth's gravity? Science that makes you think ... and think ... and think.

SA How did life on Earth begin? Do I really want to know? Well, yes, I do now.

The first page generates a powerful image of a world four billion years ago.

Where scientific terms are used they are clearly explained and pieces of information build up to effortless understanding. This is not the plain vocabulary of science, but the fascinating image-production achieved by the best writing.

DB Davies makes research accessible to a general reader and also stimulates a scientific mind to think more deeply. I have an arts background and thoroughly enjoyed a journey along which major concepts of physics, chemistry and biology were lucidly explained and interwoven. Question follows question - though the answers often need the boundaries of know-ledge to be extended. If your grey cells need stimulation, try this.

Next week: "Cloudspitter" by Russell Banks (Vintage pound;7.99).

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