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Dazzle Gradually

Reflections on the Nature of Nature

By Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan
Foreword by Roald Hoffman

Nature & Environment

At the crossroads of philosophy and science, the sometimes-dry topics of evolution and ecology come alive in this new collection of essays--many never before anthologized. Learn how technology may be a sort of second nature, how the systemic human fungus Candida albicans can lead to cravings for carrot cake and beer, how the presence of life may be why there's water on Earth, and many other fascinating facts.

The essay "Metametazoa" presents perspectives on biology in a philosophical context, demonstrating how the intellectual librarian, pornographer, and political agitator Georges Bataille was influenced by Russian mineralogist Vladimir Vernadsky and how this led to his notion of the absence of meaning in the face of the sun--which later influenced Jacques Derrida, thereby establishing a causal chain of influence from the hard sciences to topics as abstract as deconstruction and post-modernism.

In "Spirochetes Awake" the bizarre connection between syphilis and genius in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche is traced. The astonishing similarities of the Acquired-Immune-Deficiency-Syndrome symptoms with those of chronic spirochete infection, it is argued, contrast sharply with the lack of evidence that "HIV is the cause of AIDS". Throughout these readings we are dazzled by the intimacy and necessity of relationships between us and our other planetmates. In our ignorance as "civilized" people we dismiss, disdain, and deny our kinship with the only productive life forms that sustain this living planet.


"Enlightening, argumentative, and passionate reflections from a lifetime of debate about science, sex, and society. A fine personal summing up by mother and son--two of the finest creative thinkers and writers in the literature."--Greg Bear

"This is a ripsnorting intellectual barnstorm of a book, a sort of chimeric hybrid of mental genes from Dorion Sagan, his genius mother Lynn Margulis, and his dead father Carl Sagan--surely one of the smartest families on the planet. The result is a remarkably coherent and blazingly original proposal for the next grand narrative of our civilization (now that we have pretty much burned out the Cartesian one)."--Frederick Turner, author of Natural Classicism and The Culture of Hope

"Brilliant and fascinating, Dazzle Gradually unrolls for us the scroll of life on earth. These essays show us the intricate complexities of microbes; an atmosphere that performs self-maintenance; our own minds. Margulis and Sagan do not blink at the big questions or hard answers, and their writing is lively, precise, entertaining, and provocative, their passion for science everywhere evident and persuasive. Anyone who has ever wondered where we came from, who we are, and where we may be headed will delight in this extraordinarily exciting book."--Kelly Cherry, author of Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems

"Deeply personal, humorous, and brilliant…reading Dazzle is like journeying into two of the most original and creative scientific minds of our time. Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan discuss their most revelatory and complex ideas in concise essays with accessible language, making this book a must-read primer to foraying their broad academic and intellectual interests."--Alan Berger, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

"Here is a certain slant of light, a profound exploration exposing false hierarchies and convenient dualisms and illuminating the continuities of biology, literature, physics, and philosophy. Margulis and Sagan make a dazzling team--their science allows us to glimpse, to begin to understand, a universe of unseen worlds."--Joseph Coulson, author of The Vanishing Moon and Of Song and Water; novelist, playwright, and co-editor of The Nature of Life: Readings in Biology

"In Dazzle Gradually, Margulis and Sagan effectively tap into the cultural waveform through a series of original science essays and provocative ideas to reveal why we are living in an open social networked world, and why survival of the fittest no longer means fit to kill, but fitting in with the rest of life. Simply said, Darwin is left in the dust."--Mary McGuinness, Co-Director, Sputnik Observatory

"Margulis and Sagan continue to dazzle--much like the natural world they are describing. This is a wonderful collection of essays that breaks down false barriers and challenges the reader to rethink the very concepts of life, self, and change. Among the false dualisms that the authors attack is the very nature of writing itself. Written in neither dense, technical-academic prose nor some mere watered-down, populist version of science, Margulis and Sagan maintain their reputation for being able to bring the best of both worlds together--and in so doing show us that the dichotomy is to no one's advantage. Indeed, in many ways Dazzle Gradually is their finest work, both in that it brings together some of the authors' greatest contributions to and speculations on science, and in that they seamlessly move from autobiography to nature, from the personal to the transpersonal, with subtle humor, clear examples, and revolutionary thinking. Dazzle Gradually not only eloquently states the queries but has the courage to offer arguments that point toward answers as well. It is a remarkable book. A book that might just make a move toward resolving some of the big questions: questions concerning the birth of life, the origin of sex, the rise of death, and everything in between. Even raccoons in space."--H. Peter Steeves, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University, and author of The Things Themselves

"Biological phenomena are usually viewed in terms of plants and animals. Margulis and Sagan look at them from their extremes: Gaia--the living system of the Earth as a whole--and bacteria. Both Gaia and bacteria dazzle the reader accustomed to conventional fare. It is re-viewing of this kind that paves the way for real advance in science."--John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology

"Dazzle Gradually is like an air-raid siren, calling for science to reinvent itself for the 21st century; to look beyond the categorization and characterization of things and the traditional view of nature into a highly networked and involved view. In particular, it advises us to descend from our throne of delusion and realize that humanity (with all its technological and cultural trappings), is intimately and inextricably immersed in this grand system along with the protoctists and bacteria, plants and animals, the living world that surrounds us. Our very identity--our minds and souls--are a result of the evolving experiment we call nature. Dazzle Gradually is like opening the door to a vast and brilliant garden, which slowly assimilates us as we become part of nature's teeming, humming, growing, and unendingly magical realm."--Stephen Miles Uzzo, Ph.D., New York Hall of Science

"Dazzle Gradually sparkles with insight and wit as it delves into a host of topics in biology and ecology, linking them in new ways that highlight scientific understanding and speculation at their enjoyable best."--Donald Goldsmith, co-author of Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution and The Search for Life in the Universe

"This book is a thrilling account of deep insights into life and its evolution, and will likely influence fundamental research in biology and environmental sciences."--Zoltán Toroczkai, Associate Professor of Physics, University of Notre Dame


Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) who served as a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, received the 1999 National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton. She was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences starting in 1983 and of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences from 1997 forward. Author, editor, or coauthor of chapters in more than forty books, she published or had her work profiled in many journals, magazines, and books, among them Natural History, Science, Nature, New England Watershed, Scientific American, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science Firsts, and The Scientific 100. She made numerous contributions to the primary scientific literature of microbial evolution and cell biology.

Margulis's theory of species evolution by symbiogenesis, put forth in Acquiring Genomes (co-authored with Dorion Sagan, 2002), describes how speciation does not occur by random mutation alone but rather by symbiotic détente. Behavioral, chemical, and other interactions often lead to integration among organisms, members of different taxa. In well-documented cases some mergers create new species. Intimacy, physical contact of strangers, becomes part of the engine of life's evolution that accelerates the process of change. Margulis worked in the laboratory and field with many other scientists and students to show how specific ancient partnerships, in a given order over a billion years, generated the cells of the species we see with our unaided eyes. The fossil record, in fact, does not show Darwin's predicted gradual changes between closely related species but rather the "punctuated equilibrium" pattern described by Eldredge and Gould: a jump from one to a different species.

She worked on the "revolution in evolution" since she was a graduate student. In the last fifteen years of her life, Margulis co-authored several books with Dorion Sagan, among them What is Sex? (1997), What is Life? (1995), Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991), Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors (1986), and Origins of Sex:Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination (1986).

Her work with K.V. Schwartz provided a consistent formal classification of all life on Earth and has lead to the third edition of Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (1998). Their classification scheme was generated from scientific results of myriad colleagues and its logical-genealogical basis is summarized in her single-authored book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons (second edition, 1993). The bacterial origins of both chloroplasts and mitochondria are now well established.

Since the mid-1970s, Margulis aided James E. Lovelock, FRS, in documenting his Gaia Theory, which posits that the Earth's surface interactions among living beings, rocks and soil, air and water have created a vast, self-regulating system. From the vantage of outer space the Earth looks like an amazing being; from the vantage of biochemistry it behaves in many ways like a giant organism.

Dorion Sagan

Dorion Sagan

Dorion Sagan is author of numerous articles and twenty-three books translated into eleven languages, including Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future and Into the Cool, coauthored with Eric D. Schneider. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Wired, The Skeptical Inquirer, Pabular, Smithsonian, The Ecologist, Co-Evolution Quarterly, The Times Higher Education, Omni, Natural History, The Sciences, Cabinet, and Tricycle. He edited Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel, a 2012 collection of writings addressing Margulis's life and work.


Science Writters
Lynn's Wikipedia Page



Dorion Sagan discusses his life in Science

Debate at Balliol with Richard Dawkins

Debate at Balliol with Richard Dawkins

Lynn Margulis Discusses September 11, 2011 and the Scientific Method

Lynn Margulis Discusses September 11, 2011 and the Scientific Method

Dorian Sagan in Conversation with Harold Channer

Dorian Sagan in Conversation with Harold Channer

Lynn Margulis Discusses Her Love of Science

Dazzle Gradually

Pages:259 pages
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781933392318
Pub. Date August 15, 2007

Available In/Retail Price

Paperback, 259 pages, $25.00