The Equations of Life: The Hidden Rules Shaping Evolution

The Equations of Life: The Hidden Rules Shaping Evolution
Genre : Popular Science
Published : 7 Jun 2018 - Atlantic Books
Why do gazelles have legs and not wheels? Why is all life based on carbon rather than silicon? Why do humans have eyes on the front of their heads? And beyond earth, would life – if it should exist – look like our own?

The puzzles of life astound and confuse us like no other mystery. An astrophysicist once conceded that even the smallest insect is far more complex than either an atom or a star. But in this groundbreaking new account of the process of evolution, Professor Charles Cockell reveals how nature is far more understandable and predictable than we would think. Refining Darwin's theory of natural selection, Cockell puts forward a remarkable and elegant account of why evolution has taken the paths it has. The key is understanding how fundamental physical laws constrain nature's direction and form at every turn. From the animal kingdom to the atomic realm, he shows how physics is the true touchstone for understanding life in all its extraordinary forms. Provocative and captivating, this book will fundamentally change how you view the world.


Nature's intricate diversity offers immense challenges to biologists -- and inspires the rest of us with wonder and delight. But despite its diversity, the entire biosphere is governed by unifying principles -- all living things are assemblages of atoms, governed by gravity and other basic forces. This riveting book - fully accessible to the general reader - shows how all Earthly life (and indeed any alien life elsewhere in the universe ) emerges through the operation of basic physical laws and is constrained by what these laws permit. Charles Cockell is not only a fine scientist but a fine writer too.

Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, past President of the Royal Society

Life as we know it arises from an interplay between biological chance and physical necessity. What about life as we don’t know it? To think about life on other planets, we need to understand how things could have been different. Charles Cockell’s book is a fascinating new look at this question, offering surprising insights on just how constrained biology can be by the laws of physics.

Sean Carroll, author The Big Picture

Want to know about alien life? According to Charles Cockell, you can learn from the living things around you, right here on Earth. Whether on this third rock from the Sun or another planet in a far-distant galaxy, creatures should share forms and behaviours shaped by the forces of natural selection and fundamental laws of physics that reign throughout the universe. In this enlightening, entertaining book, Cockell explains how extraterrestrials might not be quite so ‘alien’ after all.

Lee Billings, author of Five Billion Years of Solitude

Fascinating. A profound exploration of the deep nexus between physics and biology.

Andreas Wagner, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich and author of Arrival of the Fittest

An insightful argument that evolution, despite producing complex creatures as different as bacteria, bugs, and humans, must obey scientific laws…a lucid, provocative argument that the dazzling variety of organisms produced by 4 billion years of evolution may seem unbounded, but all follow universal laws.

Kirkus Reviews

In a fascinating journey across physics and biology, Cockell builds a compelling argument for how physical principles constrain the course of evolution.


Cockell’s book lucidly addresses biology’s great mystery: If we grant that life is an interplay of chance and necessity, in the words of the French biochemist Jacques Monod, then which has the upper hand?

The New York Times

And even if a reader's end interest is not astrobiology, this book still does a very nice job of explaining what life is up against here on our world - and why it - we - are the way that we are. Highly recommended.

A remarkable scientific contribution breathing new life into Darwin’s theory of evolution, The Equations of Life makes a radical argument about what life can–and can’t–be.

Fantasy Literature

Sscholarly, delightful, and utterly satisfying.


Showing 5 of 10 reviews