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Carl Zimmer on Defining Life

In his new book, “Life’s Edge,” Carl Zimmer asks the modest questions: What is life? How did it start? And by what criteria can we define things as “alive”? In this week’s podcast, Zimmer, science columnist for The Times, explains how difficult it can be to find answers.

“There are actually philosophers who have argued that maybe we should just try not to define life at all, in fact; that maybe we’re having trouble, ”Zimmer says. “If you search scientists for a definition of life, you will find hundreds; hundreds of published definitions that are different from each other. And every year a new spell, or maybe two, and they just keep going. Not that long ago, I read an article that said there are probably as many definitions of life as there are people trying to define life.

Paulina Bren visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “The Barbizon,” a review of the historic women’s hotel that opened in 1928.

“He’s been through all kinds of incarnations,” Bren says. “This hotel really follows in many ways not only the history of women in the 20th century, but also the ups and downs, the history of New York.”

Also in this week’s episode, Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what people read. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books covered in “What We Read” this week:

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