Title: The Energy of Life: The Science of What Makes Our Minds and Bodies Work
Author: Guy Brown
Publication Dates: 1999, 2000
Publisher: The Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Details: 267 pages, 12 chapters plus appendix, glossary, and sources and further readings section
Excerpts: chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 6, chapter 8, chapter 12, appendix
Keywords: biology, biochemistry, metabolism, energy, health
Suggested by: TRN Staff

Reviewed by Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News

  The first chapter of Guy Brown's The Energy of Life is one of the best examples of explanatory science writing I have run across. Brown starts the chapter "I taught the science of body energy, or bioenergetics, at Cambridge University for many years before I realized I did not understand what energy was", then goes on to explain what energy is and how it relates to life in a very clear, picturable way.

Brown takes a subject that seems simple, shows how very complicated it is, then carefully and compellingly explains it. His dry humor shows through regularly, especially in pointing out unlikely facts and connections.

Brown lays a careful groundwork of the basics of energy and the workings of living systems in the first two chapters, brings the two together in chapter 3, turns to the mitochondrial power houses that invaded our ancestral cells one billion years ago in chapter 4, answers the question "how do I move my arm just by willing it so?" in chapter 5, explores metabolic rates and the way time passes in chapter 6, talks about weight in chapter 7, explores the limits of body energy and what happens when we try to push them in chapter 8, turns to matters of energy in the mind and brain in chapters 9 and 10, explores the energy workings of sex and sleep in chapter 11, then explores the all-important question of how to get more energy in chapter 12.

The appendix is really another book -- a 56-page history that follows the changes in the philosophy and science that has informed our understanding of living energy. It includes summaries of ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and American Indian philosophies on the energy of life. Its cast of characters runs from Thales, the grandfather of Greek philosophy and science, circa 600 B.C. through the 19th century scientists such as James Watt and James Joule whose names are now familiar science terms. This section connects historical events and conveys a good sense of how many people and how much time it takes to reach a scientific breakthrough.

The sources and further reading pages cite between 5 and 17 books and journal articles for each chapter and another 22 for the appendix. Cited books include The Second Law: Energy, Chaos and Form, by P. W. Atkins; The Refrigerator and the Universe, by M. Goldstein and I. F. Goldstein; Energy and Life, by J. Wigglesworth; Our Molecular Nature: the Body's Motors, Machines and Messages, by D. S. Goodsell; Sex and the Origins of Death, by W. R. Clark; Why We Age, by S. N. Austad; The Healing Mind, by P. Martin; Motivation: The Organization of Action, by D. G. Mook; The Human Mind Explained, by S. Greenfield; The Human Brain: a Guided Tour, by S. Greenfield; Drugs and the Brain, by S. H. Snyder; Sperm Wars, by R. Baker; The Enchanted World of Sleep, by P. Lavie; Brainsex: The Real Difference between Men and Women, by A. Moir and D. Jessel; The Energy Advantage: Fueling Your Body and Mind for Success, by C. Fenn; Creations of Fire, by C. Cobb and H. Goldwhite; The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: a Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present, by R. Porter.

The Energy of Life contains the following sections:

Chapter 1: Energy Itself
Chapter 2: The Life Machine
Chapter 3: The Body Electric
Chapter 4: Maternal Dragons
Chapter 5 The Miracle of Motion
Chapter 6 The Pace of Life and Death
Chapter 7 Getting Fat or Staying Thin
Chapter 8 The Athletic Limit
Chapter 9 Mind Energy
Chapter 10: Brain Waves
Chapter 11: Sex and Sleep
Chapter 12: How to Get More Energy

Appendix: The Story of Living Energy (56 pages)
Sources and Further Reading (8 pages)
Glossary (6 pages)

Excerpts from The Energy of Life:

Chapter 1: Energy Itself

Page 5
All bits of matter are made up of roughly equal numbers of electrons and protons. If this were not so, there would be an excess of positive or negative charge, and this would create a huge force... If two people, standing at arm's length apart, were each to have 1 1 percent more electrons than protons in their bodies, they would be blown apart by an electric force sufficient to move the weight of the entire earth.

Page 9
Motion of an object, such as a bullet, involves all the atoms moving in the same direction, at the same speed, at the same time, whereas the heat of an object involves all molecules moving in different directions, at different speeds, at different times. When a bullet hits a wall, energy is transferred from the motion of the object to heat.

Chapter 2: The Life Machine

Page 15
If we increased the scale of everything 100 million times, then we could see an atom; it would be 1 centimeter across -- about the size of a pea. Small molecules like sugars, amino acids, and ATP would be 5 to 10 centimeters -- the size of apples and light bulbs. And proteins would be 20 centimeters to 1 meter -- the size of children or televisions. On this scale, an average cell would be two kilometers across -- a vast, spherical space-age metropolis. There is effectively no gravity within a cell, so this metropolis is located out in space, with its inhabitants floating around inside. The cell is bounded by a cell membrane and divided up into many compartments by internal membranes, each 0.5 meter thick on our expanded scale. The compartments include a maze of tunnels -- the width of a small road on our expanded scale -- connecting different parts of the cell. Attached to these tunnels and floating throughout the cell are a huge number of ribosomes, the factories that make proteins, which would be three meters across -- the size of a car. And the cell is also crisscrossed by a vast number of filaments -- 1 meter across on the enlarged scale, like steel girders or pylons -- which act as the skeleton of the cell, and to which the proteins may attach. Mitochondria, the power stations of the cell, would be 100 meters across -- the size of a power station -- and there would be roughly 1,000 of them per cell. The nucleus, a vast spherical structure about 1 kilometer across and a repository of eons of evolutionary wisdom, broods over the cell.

Chapter 3: The Body Electric

Page 24
At first it seems hard to believe that we humans run on electricity. After all, if we stick a finger into the body, we do not get an electric shock, there are no visible sparks, and our hair does not stand on end. The reason is the minute scale on which these biological electric circuits run. They are miniaturized beyond the dreams of any microchip designer. The electric charges are separated by the thickness of a membrane, that is, about 5 nanometers, or less than one-millionth of the width of a fingernail. And the voltages are small too -- about 0.1 volt. In comparison, our domestic electric supply, from which you can get a shock, runs at 120 or 250 volts. However, 0.1 volt across a 5-nanometer membrane gives an electric field of 20 million volts per meter. This is a very large electric field, and it is the field that matters to an electrically charged molecule trying to cross the membrane against the huge electrical force.

Chapter 6: The Pace of Life and Death

Page 67
The basal metabolic rate of an adult human is between 60 and 100 watts. That means that an adult human at rest uses the same amount of energy and produces the same amount of heat as an ordinary lightbulb.

Chapter 8: The Athletic Limit

Page 100 Running is a strange means of locomotion that involves bouncing up and down, as well as moving forward. This bouncing is aided by the elastic nature of the Achilles tendon at the back of the foot, which acts like an elastic band, stretching when we put our foot down, and then pulling back to its relaxed length to propel us upward. This conserves a considerable amount of energy during running, raising the energy efficiency from 25 to 40 percent or more. And training increases the elasticity of the tendon, whereas aging decreases elasticity, making running less efficient. Kangaroos are the ultimate masters of this pogo stick effect, which enables them to increase from 5 to 20 kilometers per hour without using any extra energy -- just more bounce.

Chapter 12: How to Get More Energy

Page 181
The body adapts to repeated shots of caffeine or nicotine by maintaining a lower level of energy in the absence of these drugs, thus inducing a dependence on higher and higher doses to attain a normal level of energy.

Appendix: The Story of Living Energy

Page 213
The importance of alchemy for our story is that it attempted to understand what things are made of and, more important, how they change. If we look at a stone or egg with naive eyes, it is hard to see what they consist of or where the potential for change comes from. What is it about an egg that enables it to turn into a chicken? What is it about a piece of wood that enables it to burn? What is it about a lump of gold that enables it to last forever? The alchemists put all these questions into the fire.

Page 239
While bleeding sailors in the East Indies, Mayer was alarmed to find that blood from the veins was much redder than usual -- almost like blood from the arteries... This set Mayer thinking.

Other books by the author:

Bioenergetics: A Practical Approach by Brown and Christopher Cooper
Mitochondria and Cell Death by Brown, David Nicholls and Christopher Cooper

Search for other books by author, title or keywords:
Search Now:
Suggest a book for consideration for the TRN bookshelf:
Name (optional):
Email (optional):

If the book is chosen for the TRN bookshelf, would you like your name listed as the one who suggested it? (please enter "yes" or "no")
Home     Archive     Resources    Feeds     Offline Publications     Glossary
TRN Finder     Research Dir.    Events Dir.      Researchers     Bookshelf
   Contribute      Under Development     T-shirts etc.     Classifieds
Forum    Comments    Feedback     About TRN

© Copyright Technology Research News, LLC 2000-2005. All rights reserved.    


You might need to scroll right to see all of the ads.