Wonders of Life: Exploring the Most Extraordinary Phenomenon in the Universe by Prof. Brian Cox

Wonders of Life

“In a sense, this is all there is to the Universe! If no energy is ‘flowing’ – a colloquialism by which we mean ‘being transformed from one form to another’ – then nothing is happening at all. Here is the first step on the road to answering Schrödinger’s question – What is Life? Whatever it is, it is a process by which energy is transformed from one form to another”

Before I begin my book review I think I should introduce the writer first. Professor Brian Cox is one of my favorite scientists, not because he is the smartest but more to how easy it is for him to deliver complex science understanding into something much easier. He is a talented speaker, no matter how complex the matter he is delivering he is still able to enchant people.

I first knew Professor Cox from Sunshine. He was the advisor for the movie and he is also the one that inspired Cillian. Cillian was sort of copying him when he was playing as Robert Capa in Sunshine. I remember one interview where he clearly said that he even copied the way Cox clasps his hand when he is sitting. Cillian spent a lot of time with him so that he can understand more about physics. Prof. Cox is an easy going person, smart but still looks cool.

Cillian - Cox
Cillian Murphy as Capa and Prof. Brian Cox

I have just seen this last series of Wonders about a month ago and I am fortunate to find the ebook version of the accompanying documentary. For each series of Wonders (Wonders of The Solar System, Wonders of The Universe and Wonders of Life), Prof. Cox always wrote the companion book. It’s nice to be able to see the documentary and read the book afterward because the book fills the holes in the documentary.

Brian Cox is a particle physicist, he is not a biologist, he has other biologists as his advisors while filming the documentary and writing the book. Through this book, Prof. Cox asks these profound questions, “What is Life? Where did it come from? Why does it end?” To answer that question, he explains how biological appearances both the tiny cell to the physical being are control by the law of Physics such as gravity, time , energy, etc. The easiest example is when he highlights why big animals can’t jump and why tree is never going to as tall as 1 km, everything connects to gravity. It really is interesting to read how he shares the wonders of biology through the law of physics.

I can easily see how he admires Darwin and his evolution theory, the book mostly shares about evolution and natural selection. The way he delivers his explanation is easy to understand and creates deep root that whatever I have read in the book, I can still remember it.

“The paramecium has no nervous system or brain, and yet it has a rudimentary sense of touch; when it bumps into something, it changes its behaviour. The biochemical mechanism underlying the paramecium’s touch response is known as an action potential.”

From the quote above, I can understand more about biology and the electricity that pass through our body as a way to carry information.

From this book, I can see that Prof. Cox is not only a scientist but also has a great literary ability. He can romanticize science. I honestly think he romanticize science way better than Crichton. Just read this quote to see what I mean:

“Found in the wet highland regions of the southeastern state of Victoria and on the island of Tasmania, the mountain ash groves are almost Tolkienesque. In February, the shifting mists fight a running battle with the weakening late summer Sun, rendering every frame of towering columns in unique light, a fidgeting artistry calmed by the fragrant wet wood and fast-damped reverberation of the forest. This is a land of giants. The evergreens will grow a metre in a good year, reaching heights in excess of 100 m during their 400-year lives before physics intervenes like an irritating council official in a high-visibility vest to ensure that the world does not become too magical.”

The book also shares a lot of beautiful images, from the amazing zoomed eyes of mantis shrimp to beautiful scenery of Mount Taal. He also provides diagram that can make anyone who read the book understand the complexity of science easier. He always uses good reference to all the theory but at the same he also shares his own opinion.

By reading this book, I learned more how to connect science. As we all know, there are three major science: Chemistry, Physics and Biology. I have been teaching chemistry for years and I often ignore the other science major. This book has changed the way I look at science. Everything connects and one can’t exist without the other.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves science.

“Given there are over half a trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, the idea that there are no other planets out there with webs of life at least as complex as our own seems to me to be an absurd proposition.”

Book Detail:

Title: Wonders of Life: Exploring the Most Extraordinary Phenomenon in the Universe
Author: Brian Cox
Pages: 288 pages
Rating: 5 books


    1. They are not that similar, different eyes and face structure…but I do agree that somehow they are alike 😉

      One do gorgeous, one so smart.

      Thank you Ruth 🙂

  1. Sounds like quite a good book and something I would like if I could get around to reading it. Brian Cox reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan, who also wrote a number of books before his major work, Cosmos. He was also a physicist who was an excellent presenter and communicator. I really enjoyed reading Carl Sagan’s books many many years ago.

          1. I saw the videos on that site, I hope the show is not like those videos, I don’t like green screen like that to explain science.

            I just found the whole series of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in youtube. Watching it right now 🙂 I Like it (no green screen when he is explaining)

          2. It might be a bit dated now, but it looked pretty spectacular back in 1981 (I think). I even have the book!
            I just saw one episode of the new series on TV, and there were no green screens in the one I saw.

          3. If you meant green screen as in special effects like stars and galaxies behind the host, then, yes, there was a lot of that. Also cartoon animated sections with people, which was a bit strange.

          4. I was just about to reply your previous comment and then I noticed your next comment. YUP! That’s what I meant. I don’t like documentary with so much unnecessary special effects

  2. Great post! I never knew about him but the examples you posted by are exquisitely written. When I went to school, Cosmos, by Sagan was the man who made the universe easier to understand. The newer version show I’ve heard about, but haven’t had a chance to watch. Thanks for bringing all of this up 🙂

    1. I have heard of Cosmos but never seen it…till today. I saw it in youtube. It’s great but it’s been many years ago so a bit left behind in the newest science discovery.

      I just saw some examples video of the new cosmos and not quite fond of it, it uses green screen. I love what Prof. Cox does more, it a bit like Carl Sagan, he uses real nature as the back ground.

      I already have Prof. Cox other book, Why E=MC2? I will read it somewhere this year…probably after I finished my current read (I am in the mood to read horror now 😉 )

  3. Thats why Brian Cox is still married if he is an easy going guy not like the rest of them that are faul smelly selfish pigs and Im still single cos there really isnt that many Prof Brian Coxs around. His probebely from a highly advanced civilisation then here and thinks us earthlings are a complete mess

    1. I think he is a easy going guy, but I assume we have different interpretation of easy going 😉 Easy going for me is that he can easily blend with different kind of people, seems like a nice person even though he can be foul mouth sometimes.

      Hahahaha your last sentence is fun. I love it.

  4. You know what – I think this is one of my favourite posts of yours. I really enjoyed it.
    I see what you mean about his writing. He writes really well, so evocative. It’s admirable when a scientist can bring his science closer. Fascinating.
    Interesting about Sunshine. It was my first Cillian Murphy.

    1. Thank you Caroline 🙂

      This is my first time reading his book and I have to admit I was quite surprise to know now how well he write. He has great passion toward science and he wants to make as many people/children as possible to start being interested in science.

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