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Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water, With a new preface

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One of the four elements of classical antiquity, water is central to the environment of our planet. In Life's Matrix, Philip Ball writes of water's origins, history, and unique physical character. As a geological agent, water shapes mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and when unleashed in hurricanes and floods its destructive power is awesome. Ball's provocative explorati One of the four elements of classical antiquity, water is central to the environment of our planet. In Life's Matrix, Philip Ball writes of water's origins, history, and unique physical character. As a geological agent, water shapes mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and when unleashed in hurricanes and floods its destructive power is awesome. Ball's provocative exploration of water on other planets highlights the possibilities of life beyond Earth. Life's Matrix also examines the grim realities of depletion of natural resources and its effects on the availability of water in the twenty-first century.


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One of the four elements of classical antiquity, water is central to the environment of our planet. In Life's Matrix, Philip Ball writes of water's origins, history, and unique physical character. As a geological agent, water shapes mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and when unleashed in hurricanes and floods its destructive power is awesome. Ball's provocative explorati One of the four elements of classical antiquity, water is central to the environment of our planet. In Life's Matrix, Philip Ball writes of water's origins, history, and unique physical character. As a geological agent, water shapes mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and when unleashed in hurricanes and floods its destructive power is awesome. Ball's provocative exploration of water on other planets highlights the possibilities of life beyond Earth. Life's Matrix also examines the grim realities of depletion of natural resources and its effects on the availability of water in the twenty-first century.

30 review for Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water, With a new preface

  1. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    What did I want from this book that it didn't give me? I can't say. More history and practicality, less chemistry and minutiae? Was Ball's tone too dry? On the surface, I can't name anything that should've been a deal-breaker; I just knew that after three weeks of slogging, I didn't want to read another word of this book. Certainly I would have loved it if Ball hadn't felt (like so many writers of science books for lay audiences) that he had to go all the way back to the Big Bang before he could What did I want from this book that it didn't give me? I can't say. More history and practicality, less chemistry and minutiae? Was Ball's tone too dry? On the surface, I can't name anything that should've been a deal-breaker; I just knew that after three weeks of slogging, I didn't want to read another word of this book. Certainly I would have loved it if Ball hadn't felt (like so many writers of science books for lay audiences) that he had to go all the way back to the Big Bang before he could tell us anything about water. Definitely I could have done without the digression into failed chapters in water science (which read more like lectures on the importance of scientific method). There's probably a lot to recommend this book, and I wish others better luck with it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rai Rendon

    Damos por sentado muchas cosas, la luz del sol, el aire, la noche y el día, las fases de la luna, o las estaciones, muchas veces ni siquiera las comprendemos por completo, pero es un hecho que están ahí, que van a estar ahí mientras dure nuestra corta vida; una de esas tantas cosas es el agua, el líquido elemento, la matriz de la vida. La mayor parte de nosotros sabemos poco mas que tiene tres estados, que esta conformada por dos átomos de hidrogeno y uno de oxígeno, que es parte de un ciclo ete Damos por sentado muchas cosas, la luz del sol, el aire, la noche y el día, las fases de la luna, o las estaciones, muchas veces ni siquiera las comprendemos por completo, pero es un hecho que están ahí, que van a estar ahí mientras dure nuestra corta vida; una de esas tantas cosas es el agua, el líquido elemento, la matriz de la vida. La mayor parte de nosotros sabemos poco mas que tiene tres estados, que esta conformada por dos átomos de hidrogeno y uno de oxígeno, que es parte de un ciclo eterno, y que todos los seres vivos de este planeta la necesitan para subsistir en mayor o menor medida. Lo cierto es que aunque nos maravillamos por la belleza de los copos de nieve y extraviamos la mirada en el horizonte de las playas sin nombre, comprendemos muy superficialmente su naturaleza. Precisamente por estas continuas reflexiones, un día particularmente lluvioso empecé este libro, que va solo y únicamente del agua, desde sus posibles orígenes allá en lo profundo del universo, hasta últimos los descubrimientos y timos científicos que ha habido últimamente. No les voy a mentir, el libro es árido, (sé que el termino resulta contrario al tema, pero es lo que hay) muy árido, esta dividido en 4 partes, el agua vista desde el punto de vista físico, químico, biológico y los últimos avances en materia de investigación del fluido. A mí, me gustaron mucho las dos primeras partes, porque explica clarísimo como el agua (aquí el termino esta mas que mejor empleado) influye en el planeta y en el sistema solar, además de aclarar conceptos a nivel subatómico, enlaces, explicación de propiedades, etc. Pero la tercera parte va acerca de como el agua afecta a la vida, y su comportamiento a nivel celular, lo cual me resulta más difícil de comprender porque la biología y la bioquímica se me hacen muy cuesta arriba y no fluyo… En fin, que el libro me ha parecido super útil e interesante, he comprendido muchísimas cosas y ha hecho que me pregunte de muchas otras (la filosofía no podía faltar), la escritura ha sido muy entendible tratándose de un tema de ciencia pura y dura, sin embargo, a pesar de todos los elogios que le pueda dar, no creo que sea para todos, principalmente por los conceptos base de ciencias, habrá quienes estén como pez en el agua, y habrá quienes se ahoguen en un vaso de agua, ¿mi recomendación? No digan de esta agua no he de beber, denle una ojeada y si sienten que les va bien vayan con calma y no se queden entre dos aguas con el tema.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bridie Jackson

    A very interesting read- being a chemist myself I enjoyed learning about different properties of water and the discovery of hydrogen, oxygen and water. It covered biological case studies and geographical knowledge too. A good all rounder Bit heavy for late reading but I recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carmenza Uribe

    Planeta azul. Vista desde el espacio la Tierra ofrece un espectáculo diferente a cualquier otro planeta del sistema solar. Es el agua la que le da este aspecto, y es el agua la que permite la vida en el planeta. Sin ella, la vida tal como la conocemos, simplemente desaparecería. Y sorprende que solo alrededor del 3.5% de toda el agua del planeta es potable, pero que más del 3% está congelada, lo que da como resultado menos del 1% de agua potable y disponible para sustentar la vida. "H2O, Una bio Planeta azul. Vista desde el espacio la Tierra ofrece un espectáculo diferente a cualquier otro planeta del sistema solar. Es el agua la que le da este aspecto, y es el agua la que permite la vida en el planeta. Sin ella, la vida tal como la conocemos, simplemente desaparecería. Y sorprende que solo alrededor del 3.5% de toda el agua del planeta es potable, pero que más del 3% está congelada, lo que da como resultado menos del 1% de agua potable y disponible para sustentar la vida. "H2O, Una biografía del agua" pone sobre el tapete prácticamente todo lo que se conoce del agua en la actualidad. Pillip Ball, editor de la revista Nature emprende una apasionante aventura por la historia del agua: sus orígenes en el mismo Big Bang, pasando por su estructura, sus sorprendentes propiedades que la hacen un líquido anómalo, su ubicuidad en la biosfera, su significado cultural, sus ciclos, su carácter de artículo de lujo y finalmente el problema de su disponibilidad, asunto que cada vez preocupa más a la humanidad. El epílogo del libro tiene el sugestivo título de "Oro azul" y deja una serie de hechos y reflexiones acerca de lo que podría esperarnos en el futuro con respecto al líquido vital. En el mejor estilo de la divulgación científica, Phillip Ball no solo informa sino que permite la formación de opinión y de responsabilidad social frente a un recurso natural del valor y la importancia del agua. Lectura imprescindible para todo el mundo, pero muy especialmente para las nuevas generaciones. "Si se tiene autoridad suficiente para eliminar un charco putrefacto de las cercanías de unas pocas viviendas humildes, sin duda no debería permitirse que el río que recorre tantos kilómetros a través de Londres, sea transformado en una charca de fermentación de albañales ... Si desatendemos este asunto, tampoco deberíamos sorprendernos si, antes de que pasen muchos años, una temporada de calor nos diera una triste prueba de la necedad de nuestro descuido" Michael Faraday, carta al periódico The Times, 1855.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lakmus

    Stopped at p.96. It's actually a pretty interesting book, and written pretty engagingly (for me, at least). I did learn a lot about water. But I am going to put this one down, because at this point in my life, water has zero interest to me, and I am pressed to read more relevant stuff. Might come back to it later, and probably be way more excited over all the things I could learn about water from this one. Stopped at p.96. It's actually a pretty interesting book, and written pretty engagingly (for me, at least). I did learn a lot about water. But I am going to put this one down, because at this point in my life, water has zero interest to me, and I am pressed to read more relevant stuff. Might come back to it later, and probably be way more excited over all the things I could learn about water from this one.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dave Appleby

    The 'biography' of water. An important study, designed for the more intelligent general reader. It's not just the school science that Ball tells us such as the hydrological cycle. Ball tells us how water arrived on earth (from the meteorites and comets that coalesced into the earth) and assesses the chances of liquid water on Venus, Mars and the moons of Jupiter. One fascinating chapter considers the various theories of the origin of life and shows how the chemistry of water acts as evidence aga The 'biography' of water. An important study, designed for the more intelligent general reader. It's not just the school science that Ball tells us such as the hydrological cycle. Ball tells us how water arrived on earth (from the meteorites and comets that coalesced into the earth) and assesses the chances of liquid water on Venus, Mars and the moons of Jupiter. One fascinating chapter considers the various theories of the origin of life and shows how the chemistry of water acts as evidence against some of these theories. He looks at the history of science with regard to water, considering pre-Socratic philosophers up to alchemists and beyond. Two chapters are devoted to the rather odd chemistry of water and the hydrogen bonds that can produce strange results, as well as different types of water. Then he goes back to the role that water plays in living processes One amusing chapter considers some scientific dead ends in which water played a part, including one which initially seemed to validate homeopathy. A final epilogue considers water as a resource and considers the possibility of water wars. It is an exhaustive, and at times exhausting, study. Ball explains ideas extremely clearly, on the whole, without dodging the difficult stuff. I found his predilection for quoting statistics a little wearisome but my main criticism is that I read it too late. It was only published in 2015 yet it is already out of date in several places. Not Ball's fault!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alex Williams

    Life's Matrix tells the history of human understanding of water. It interprets the properties of water in a beautiful way. The first chapter is called Cosmic Juice. I'm moved through this book quite slowly. It's a thick stew. But what held me back is that it's so dreamy, that I could easily read it cover to cover as a meditation, following water molicules as they evaporate and dissolve salt particles in the sky that seed rain drops that fall and then turn from rain water to ground water and move Life's Matrix tells the history of human understanding of water. It interprets the properties of water in a beautiful way. The first chapter is called Cosmic Juice. I'm moved through this book quite slowly. It's a thick stew. But what held me back is that it's so dreamy, that I could easily read it cover to cover as a meditation, following water molicules as they evaporate and dissolve salt particles in the sky that seed rain drops that fall and then turn from rain water to ground water and move through a lattice of tiny subterranean passageways between grains of soil to find the bottom of the aquafer. But I want to learn all this. I want to understand and know it so I have to reread most pages, or stop and come back to them when I can focus with more force. Its like walking through mud, every step is a tug of war between my boots and the suction of the book. Each chapter represents our scientific understanding of water with little surprise metaphors and poetic passages tucked in. It described water's physics, chemistry, geology and biology and filled in some arid gaps in my understanding of the world. I did the part on the water inside living bodies while floating down a river and it changed the way I saw the vegetation along the shore.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    It was well worth my time. Philip Ball's Biography of Water is illuminated mainly from a scientific perspectice, but doesn't end there. The epilogue is very depressing as we learn there how badly water is wasted by industry and ordinary citizens in the developed countries - and how many million people don't have access to clean water. Ball also describes shortly in the epilogue how different territories fight over water rights. He gives two examples: two states in the US (California and Arizona) It was well worth my time. Philip Ball's Biography of Water is illuminated mainly from a scientific perspectice, but doesn't end there. The epilogue is very depressing as we learn there how badly water is wasted by industry and ordinary citizens in the developed countries - and how many million people don't have access to clean water. Ball also describes shortly in the epilogue how different territories fight over water rights. He gives two examples: two states in the US (California and Arizona) and nations in the Middle East (Israel, Palestine, Jordan).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt Hockley

    I couldn't get into this book and I didn't enjoy it. The tangents were too large and personally it didn't grab my attention. I tried to read as much as I could but it felt tedious and ultimately I had to abandon this book after finishing the second chapter. That said, I learnt a lot of interesting facts and the way the tangents were introduced was good and clever. A lot of extra research was done and you get the feel for the work involved. Ultimately, it really wasn't my taste. I couldn't get into this book and I didn't enjoy it. The tangents were too large and personally it didn't grab my attention. I tried to read as much as I could but it felt tedious and ultimately I had to abandon this book after finishing the second chapter. That said, I learnt a lot of interesting facts and the way the tangents were introduced was good and clever. A lot of extra research was done and you get the feel for the work involved. Ultimately, it really wasn't my taste.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Johannes Vogel

    I wanted to read a book about the chemistry of water and I got much more than that. The author created an amazingly varied outlook on water, from its chemical make up, over its life giving role all the way to its cultural significance in human society and the role it plays in maintaining the western way of living. Written in an easy to read style, it was an absolute joy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    A.L.

    I've been reading this book forever. Well, for years anyway. I don't know why it took me so long. I just found it impenetrable at times. Maybe it's the chemistry that got me? I just know that I'm really interested in the subject, but I found it really hard going. I've been reading this book forever. Well, for years anyway. I don't know why it took me so long. I just found it impenetrable at times. Maybe it's the chemistry that got me? I just know that I'm really interested in the subject, but I found it really hard going.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    Fantastic story! P. Ball tells it masterly, with the nuance of the knowing and at the same time, the simplicity necessary for those of us that have only superficial knowledge of physics and chemistry. Certainly a book worth the hours you take to read and reflect on it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    NF-Science 346 pages Life. It's all about the amazing substance water. NF-Science 346 pages Life. It's all about the amazing substance water.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Willem

    Interessant, maar minstens een derde te lang. Het voelt meer als capita selecta dan als een doorlopend verhaal.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vaidya

    Pretty dry for a book dealing with Water. Trouble might be my expectation with it. Am used to reading such well written easy-to-read Non-fiction work, that the assumption is that there are lots of them. Unfortunately, in this case I wonder if the goal of the author was ever to simplify at all. Almost 80% of the book is chemistry about bonds, crystallising, membranes, pressure, temperature, density, stretching, compressing. I almost sleepwalked through most of it. Read it if a lot of chemistry does Pretty dry for a book dealing with Water. Trouble might be my expectation with it. Am used to reading such well written easy-to-read Non-fiction work, that the assumption is that there are lots of them. Unfortunately, in this case I wonder if the goal of the author was ever to simplify at all. Almost 80% of the book is chemistry about bonds, crystallising, membranes, pressure, temperature, density, stretching, compressing. I almost sleepwalked through most of it. Read it if a lot of chemistry doesn't bore you.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was a great book. Non-scientists may find it a little too detailed with all the chemistry that was included (by necessity), but I thought it was very clear and concise. Ball did manage to pull in a little philosophy with his descriptions, but I never felt he over-reached with it. I loved how he pulled in astronomy, chemistry, biology, and cultural issues associated with water.

  17. 5 out of 5

    William T

    This is my second read of this book. It is fantastic with a few caveats. It is broad, and in places deep. Sometimes it appears to wander where it might have better been edited. But all in all, if you are interested in the chemistry, the physics and the history of our relationship with water, this is the book for you, even twenty years after its publication.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicolina Miller

    A wonderful and amazing book. I made notes in the margin (with pencil), it spoke to me on the level of life, not just of science, it inspired a tattoo--then I let someone borrow it, to spread the word! ...and I never got it back. no notes, no book, no nothing. I will just have to buy it again and give it another read and see what new things it has to tell me!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Hugely influential. Eye opening information on this incredible element.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Fascinating. well researched. wonderfully written. too much. I'm overwhelmed. Fascinating. well researched. wonderfully written. too much. I'm overwhelmed.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    This is not a book to sit down and read for hours. It is a book to read in segments and marvel at the complexity of water and how well the author explains his subject.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Water can be considered from many different angles...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Neil Crocker

    Water may be plentiful but that doesn't mean it isn't special! Water may be plentiful but that doesn't mean it isn't special!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rich Taylor

    Water - it's wierd stuff. Nicely documented here Water - it's wierd stuff. Nicely documented here

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lindenblatt

    So genau wollte ich es gar nicht wissen... Gut recherchiert, gut geschrieben, aber kein Mensch kann sich diese Fülle von Informationen merken. Wie sagte unser Lehrer in der Prüfung: Mut zur Lücke!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Written in 1999 so some of the book is outdated. Covers some complicated science so not a book you'll just whizz through. Interesting. Written in 1999 so some of the book is outdated. Covers some complicated science so not a book you'll just whizz through. Interesting.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Grindy Stone

    A hybrid of the Pop Science and the Commodities genres that never really takes off. It's a tough assignment to write a couple hundred pages on water, and the author comes up short. A hybrid of the Pop Science and the Commodities genres that never really takes off. It's a tough assignment to write a couple hundred pages on water, and the author comes up short.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jomy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trudi Sonderkamp

  30. 5 out of 5

    Justwinter

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