What is Life? A Guide to Biology

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  • Edition: 3rd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2015-01-01
  • Publisher: W. H. Freeman

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From the front of the classroom to the top of the bestseller’s list, award-winning educator Jay Phelan knows how to tell the story of how scientists investigate the big questions about life. He is also a master at using biology as a springboard for developing the critical thinking skills and scientific literacy that are essential to students through college and throughout their lives.

Phelan’s dynamic approach to teaching biology is the driving force behind What Is Life?—the most successful new non-majors biology textbook of the millennium. The rigorously updated new edition brings forward the features that made the book a classroom favorite (chapters anchored to intriguing questions about life, spectacular original illustrations, innovative learning tools) with new features, enhanced art, and full integration with its own dedicated version of LaunchPad—W.H. Freeman’s breakthrough online course space, which fully integrates an interactive e-Book, all student media, a wide range of assessment and course management features, in a new interface in which power and simplicity go hand in hand. See what's in the LaunchPad

Author Biography

Jay Phelan teaches biology at UCLA, where he has taught introductory biology in large lectures for majors and nonmajors for twelve years. He received his PhD in evolutionary biology from Harvard in 1995, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Yale and UCLA. His primary area of research is evolutionary genetics, and his original research has been published in Evolution, Experimental Gerontology, and the Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology, among others. His research has been featured on Nightline, CNN, the BBC, and NPR; in Science Times and Elle; and in more than a hundred newspapers. He is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards.  With Terry Burnham, Jay is the coauthor of the international best-seller Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food—Taming Our Primal Instincts. Written for the general reader, Mean Genes explains in simple terms how knowledge of the genetic basis of human nature can empower individuals to lead more satisfying lives. Writing for a nonscientific audience has honed Phelan’s writing style to one that is casual and inviting to students but also scientifically precise.

Table of Contents


1. Scientific Thinking |
Your best pathway to understanding the world

2. Chemistry | Raw materials and fuel for our bodies

3. Cells | The smallest part of you

4. Energy | From the sun to you in just two steps


5. DNA, Gene Expression, and Biotechnology |
What is the code, and how is it harnessed?

6. Chromosomes and Cell Division | Continuity and variety

7. Genes and Inheritance | Family resemblance: how traits are inherited

8. Evolution and Natural Selection | Darwin’s dangerous idea

9. Evolution and Behavior | Communication, cooperation, and conflict in the animal world


10. The Origin and Diversification of Life on Earth
| Understanding biodiversity

11. Animal Diversification | Visibility in motion

12. Plant and Fungi Diversification | Where did all the plants and fungi come from?

13. Evolution and Diversity among the Microbes | Bacteria, archaea, protists, and viruses: the unseen world


14. Population Ecology |
Planet at capacity: patterns of population growth

15. Ecosystems and Communities | Organisms and their environments

16. Conservation and Biodiversity | Human influences on the environment

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