The Cycle of Life:
An History of Experimental Ecology

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Franklin M. Harold, The Vital Force: A Study of Bioenergetics (New York: Freeman, 1986).

Franklin Harold hints at the inherent paradox of studying nature by citing an Anonymous axiom:

"The trouble with simple things is that one must understand them very well."

In his first chapter, "Energy, Work, and Order", Harold surveys the history of thermodynamics in physics finally tracing that work into "Energy Flow in the Biological World." The world of physics is so different from "the biologist's world, which "is populated by singular and wriggly objects such as fungi and butterflies, genes and enzymes" that it is hard to discern how the two worlds interact. Do living organisms follow the first two laws of thermodynamics? Energy balance sheets dating back to Lavoisier's work on animal and plant respiration show that the law of energy conservation holds within very narrow limits of error. The second law is more difficult--organisms perform work evolving towards greater complexity, yet maintaining states of low entropy. This does not violate the second law because living beings are not closed systems.

Lloyd Ackert
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