in the beat of a heart

a book by john whitfield

what people say

"Engaging...the best available introduction ... his first hand experience at the subject's coal face are vividly readable. Whitfield's lively account focuses on the power of a beguilingly simple idea about how the living world might work, and on the remarkable men who conceived it."


"Why are there 700 species of North American birds instead of seven? Why do the tropics have more species than the polar regions? If different species-whether tree, bear, or bacterium-are subject to the same physical laws, is there a general unified theory of biology? Freelance science writer Whitfield tackles these questions by exploring the role of energy and metabolism as the unifying force in nature. Writing in an engaging style, he describes the work and lives of key scientists whose often controversial ideas also help contribute answers."
Named one of Library Journal's Best Sci-Tech Books, 2006.

Library Journal

"Attempts to understand life have become bloated with data but starved of ideas. This is a book about one of the few big ideas to have emerged in many years – and it’s not about genes, but energy. It is an idea that looks at organisms not as data banks but as living, moving, breathing things. It answers questions you never knew existed, let alone had a common answer: How much LSD can an elephant take? Why do lizards live closer together than birds? Why aren’t trees spherical? And how many heartbeats are there in one lifetime?
Balanced yet provocative, witty but never flippant, clear without being simplistic, and far- but never over-reaching, In the Beat of a Heart achieves the rare trick of entertaining and illuminating at the same time. In our gene-fixated times, it’s a breath of fresh air."

Philip Ball, Aventis winning-author of Critical Mass and The Devil's Doctor.

"This is a book with a text that works on many levels, making it relevant to anyone with a professional or academic interest in biology... In the Beat of a Heart provides a fascinating insight into how science is done. When Whitfield travels to Costa Rica, the prose becomes Brysonesque."

Times Higher Educational Supplement

"In the Beat of a Heart explores and explains the complexities of the natural world, from microorganisms and the inner workings of the human body to global biodiversity and the nature of ecosystems. Whitfield takes you on a strange and wonderful trip into the scientific frontier of nature."

J. Whitfield Gibbons, Professor of Ecology, University of Georgia, and author of Keeping All the Pieces: Perspectives on Natural History and the Environment

"When I was at BookExpo this year, I wandered over to the National Academy of Science's booth and got my greedy mitts on an advance copy of John Whitfield's In the Beat of a Heart: Life, Energy, and the Unity of Nature. I'm glad I did.  It's a well-researched and accessible introduction to metabolic ecology, starting with D'Arcy Thompson's early attempts to apply physics and mathematics to biology. Whitfield uses clear and engaging examples to teach readers about metabolism, how it scales with size, and its effects on life span, life history, and ecological patterns. And how not to give an elephant LSD."

Science Made Cool

"Most biologists focus their inherent curiosity about the natural world on single species, or small groups of species, but in any generation there is a small but dedicated cadre of 'big-picture' types.… Whitfield documents the efforts of many of these visionaries, from Alexander von Humboldt to Jim Brown, as they search for that unifying concept that will tie together all of those complex loose ends of natural science. The tidbits about each of these personalities and how they view the world are compelling to anyone interested in natural history."

Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, and author of Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife

"This is writing about science at its best. Metabolic ecology is one of the newest and most exciting areas of ecology with a clear connection to evolution. The book is engagingly written and gives an excellent historical perspective."

Lev Ginzburg, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, and author of Ecological Orbits: How Planets Move and Populations Grow