Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
J. Craig Venter
Viking, 2013 ($26.95)

Venter, the scientist famed for his role in sequencing the human genome, opens this remarkable book with his answer to a question that lies at the heart of biology: “What is life?” Life, he asserts, is wholly reducible to the “DNA machines” and “protein robots” that operate within cells, and he hopes to prove it by constructing organisms entirely from scratch. After presenting a concise, deeply informed summary of the science surrounding synthetic biology, Venter makes clear that he has little time for excessive ethical hand-wringing about “playing God,” writing that “my greatest fear is not the abuse of technology but that we will not use it at all.” To that end, he details an ambitious vision for a future in which custom-made organisms heal the planet, unlock life's origins and extend humanity's reach beyond Earth.