Work Meets Life:

Exploring the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems


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From the MIT Press



Now—Five book reviews in academic journals of Work Meets Life:


“Provide[s] a refreshingly new gaze…in a clear and intuitively comfortable manner.”


“A genuinely integrative work that looks at the same phenomenon through different levels of analysis, and that provides a coherent but rich and complex narrative.”


“An entirely new way of talking about work…The book is full of new and surprising juxtapositions of ideas that will be interesting to readers.”


“The chapters are generally well written and the book is very well organised, with an excellent index, helpful abstracts, and a detailed introduction…Consistently provide[s] clear and easy to follow descriptions.”


—KN Farrell, American Journal of Human Biology


Work Meets Life succeeds admirably.”


“Prepared with intellectual honesty.”


“A willingness to look at old problems in new ways.”


Work Meets Life is an exemplary collaboration of minds.”


—JS Turner, Metascience


A quest to develop integrative links among varied scientific perspectives on work in living systems…Connections across all levels are developed in a set of provocative integrative ideas.”


“Chapters are well written and aptly describe complex scientific topics in terms that are understandable to a scientifically literate audience...Interesting new connections are developed, and novel ways of approaching the subject emerge.”


“This collective work as a whole is breathtaking in its aspiration, and it successfully delivers.”


                   —DD Pennington, BioScience


“Exploring work in living systems…is an ambitious and potentially vast undertaking. Work Meets Life takes a broad view of work in living systems, addressing multiple interpretations of work at many levels of biological organization.”


“Each chapter builds upon concepts in other chapters, each can also be read as a separate essay. By considering biological systems in relation to work, the chapters interpret these systems in novel and thought-provoking ways.”


—JE Niven, Integrative and Comparative Biology


“Contributions from researchers with expertise in disciplines such as psychology, neurobiology, [and] engineering…provide several very different perspectives on the concept of work and the ways it is accomplished.”


“A rewarding read for interested audiences as the text goes beyond the classical concepts of work as defined in physics.”


Recommended.  Academic and professional audiences, all levels.”


—DC Eustice, Choice, journal of the Association of Research Libraries and the American Library Association


Work Meets Life Overview


Work Meets Life (The MIT Press) is a multidisciplinary volume developed during a seven-year collaborative project between researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado and the University of Cambridge.  The volume is fashioned as a guidebook to exploring different aspects of how work gets done in living systems. 


A Guidebook—to the Integrative Study of Work, in Living Systems


The core of the guidebook brings together nine contributed chapters, each authored by researchers from life sciences, psychological sciences, or engineering.  Each chapter presents a vignette or cameo of specific research that can illuminate one aspect of how work gets done in biological systems, including humans.  Each vignette was developed and edited cooperatively between the chapter authors and volume editors to provide the reader with content that provides together:

1.     A tutorial or primer on the research at hand.

2.     A learned essay on aspects of the research related to understanding work in living systems.

3.     An invitation related to engaging in future inquiry.


The nine contributed chapters are preceded by an Introduction that provides a framework for this exploration of studying work in living systems and an overview of the volume content and the links between the research vignettes in different areas.  The contributed chapters are followed by a collaboratively-developed chapter, titled “Reflections,” on this exploration of work in living systems.  Chapters are extensively cross-referenced throughout. 


Work Meets Life has been named to Library Journal’s most recent “Best Sellers in Biology” list, with a Top Twenty ranking in biology, among both authored books and edited volumes, for sales to academic libraries and a Top Five ranking among edited volumes.


International Team of Contributing Authors


The interdisciplinary and international team of contributors worked together over seven years to collaboratively develop and integrate their chapters, each drawn from research conducted in life sciences, psychological sciences, or engineering.


·         Alan Blackwell is Reader in Interdisciplinary Design in the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.

·         Gillian Brown is Lecturer and Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews and Codirector of the Institute of Behavioural and Neural Sciences.

·         Christina De La Rocha is Professor in the Marine Environmental Sciences Laboratory (LEMAR) of the European Institute for Marine Research (IUEM) at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest, France.

·         Kevin Laland is Professor in the School of Biology at the University of St. Andrews and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

·         Simon Laughlin is Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge; a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge; and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

·         Robert Levin is Director and Fellow of the Center for the Integrative Study of Work (CISW) at the University of Colorado Boulder and Scholar-in-Residence in the university’s Graduate School.

·         Michael Lightner is Professor and Chair in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Fellow and the 2006 President of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

·         Steven Maier is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society.

·         Joseph Rosse is Professor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder.

·         Stacy Saturay is Instructor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder.


Content Summary


The work performed by living systems ranges from photosynthesis to prodigious feats of computation and organization. This multidisciplinary volume explores work across many different levels of organization. By addressing how work gets done, and why, from the perspectives of research in a range of disciplines, including cellular and evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, electrical and computer engineering, and design, the volume sets out to establish an integrative perspective on understanding work in living systems, including humans.

Chapters introduce the biological work of producing energy in the cell; establish inherent tradeoffs between energy and information in neural systems; relate principles of integrated circuit manufacture to work in biological systems; explore the work of photosynthesis; investigate how work shapes organisms’ evolutionary niches; consider the human work of design; describe the effects of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction on work-life balance; highlight ways that physiological trade-offs can affect postindustrial workers and their work; and address the effects of environmental challenges (stress) on how humans and animals do work. At the beginning and end of the volume, the editors provide a framework for this exploration and draw from it integrative reflections.


Guidebook Chapters


     Introduction: A Fresh Perspective on Work

1.    The Ancient Processes of Work in Living Systems

2.    Energy, Information, and the Work of the Brain

3.    Performance-Yield Trade-offs in Work in Manufactured and Living Systems

4.    The Impact of Photosynthetic Work on Earth, Climate, and the Biosphere

5.    Niche Construction and Human Behavioral Ecology: Tools for Understanding Work

6.    The Work of Designers: Cultures of Making and Representation

7.    Working on the Edge Today: Dissatisfaction, Adaptation, and Performance

8.    Do Energy Allocations Affect Work Performance?  The Working Energy/Take-Home Energy Trade-off Hypothesis

9.    Responding to the Challenges of the Environment: Stressors, the Brain, and Work

    Reflections: On Exploring Work in Living Systems


Now available in both print and e-book editions


·         Work Meets Life print edition information at the MIT Press

·         Work Meets Life print edition information at  

·         NEW! Work Meets Life e-book edition information at the MIT Press

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