What Is Life?

Publication series Das Neue Alphabet (The New Alphabet), Volume 11
Editors: Stefan Helmreich, Natasha Myers, Sophia Roosth and Michael Rossi (Biogroop) in association with Katrin Klingan und Nick Houde
Publisher: Spector Books, Leipzig, 2021
165 pages, German and English edition
color illustrations, paperback with folded dust cover
ISBN DE: 978 – 3 – 95905 – 497 – 3
ISBN EN: 978 – 3 – 95905 – 498 – 0
Price: 10 €

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“What is life?” is a question that has haunted the life sciences since Gottfried Treviranus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck independently coined the word “biology” in 1802. The query has titled scores of articles and books, with Erwin Schrödinger’s in 1944 and Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan’s in 1995 being only the most prominent ones. In this book, the editors curate and speculate upon a collection of first pages of publications from 1829–2020 containing “What Is Life?” in their titles. Replies to the question – and, by extension, the object of biology – have transformed since its first enunciation, from “the sum of the functions that resist death” to “a bioinformation system” to “edible, lovable, lethal.” Interleaved are frame-shifting interruptions reflecting on how the question has been posed, answered, and may yet be unasked. With contributions by Evelyn Fox Keller, Stefan Helmreich, Natasha Myers, Sophia Roosth and Michael Rossi.

Table of contents:

Katrin Klingan and Nick Houde


What Is Life? 1867–1905

The Monkey and the Tardigrade
Michael Rossi

What Is Life? 1907–1928

Life and the Compass
Stefan Helmreich

What Is Life? 1929–1958

And Say the Fossil Responded?
Sophia Roosth

What Is Life? 1959–1993

Once Again, “What Is Life?”
Evelyn Fox Keller

What Is Life? 1994–2006

What Is Life Becoming?
Natasha Myers

What Is Life? 2008–2021

How Is Life?

Works Excerpted: A Chronological Select Bibliography for “What Is Life?”