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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Paperback – December 11, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Full of startling insights into the nature and evolution of life as we know it."--The Economist


About the Author


Dr. Nick Lane is an honorary senior research fellow at University College, London. His first book, Oxygen: the Molecule that made the World, was published to critical acclaim by Oxford University Press in 2002.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199205647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199205646
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.9 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Lane is a biochemist and writer. He is a Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. "Like his forebears in that same department -- Steve Jones, JBS Haldane -- he's that rare species, a scientist who can illuminate the bewildering complexities of biology with clear, luminous words" (The Observer). His research focuses on the role of bioenergetics in the origin of life and the evolution of cells. Nick was awarded the first UCL Provost's Venture Research Prize in 2009 and the 2015 Biochemical Society Award. He has published four critically acclaimed books, which have been translated into 20 languages. Life Ascending won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. His books have been shortlisted for two other literary prizes and named a book of the year by the Economist, Independent, Times, Sunday Times and New Scientist. He was described by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek as "a writer who is not afraid to think big - and think hard." For more information, visit www.nick-lane.net

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Edward F. Strasser on December 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
After the origin of life, the next big step on the way to us was the origin of eukaryotes. These are all the organisms - including people, trees, mushrooms, and slime molds - who package most of our DNA into chromosomes in cell nuclei. Mitochondria, the "powerhouses" of eukaryotes, are descended from bacteria which took to living in a very close relationship with another type of one-celled organism; in fact they came to live inside the other. Nick Lane argues that this merger must have preceded the formation of the nuclear membrane. Hence "Penultimate Roots Trip".

Lane starts with a brief section on the origin of life, in order to present necessary information about how organisms get usable energy. This strongly supports his claim that something like a mitochondrion is necessary for life to become more complex than bacteria. After that he describes how formerly free-living bacteria could have evolved into the vastly stripped-down mitochondria. Then he builds up a picture of how that partnership led to the complexities of modern organisms. And I really do mean "builds". Each chapter draws on material from earlier chapters, and the picture becomes more complex as you go on. Fortunately, there are frequent recaps of the material you're about to need.

Marvelously, he manages to tell this story in mostly plain English. A little bit of technical language is unavoidable, but I am confident that it will not be a problem for anyone who wasn't already scared off by the word "mitochondrion" in the subtitle.

In addition to power, sex, and suicide, the book also discusses aging. Lane presents his ideas on why current attempts to slow aging don't seem to be working and gives some suggestions for research he finds more promising. This is the culmination of the book and I hope it provokes a lot of thought in readers at all levels of technical knowledge.

[Original review 14 Dec 2005; "powerhouse" comment added 25 Jan 2006.]
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Superannuated student on January 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Few to no equations, not all that many figures, terminology introduced as needed, yet... this book is demanding. It has the capacity to put the reader through the proverbial wringer. It is slow going, not because it is per se difficult to read, but because it brings forth many questions and much thought. When I finish it, I will need to read it again.

It might be worth buying a copy for everyone in the local high school's biology course, in hopes that 2 or 3 people would read it, then be inspired and motivated to study hard toward real science.

How can one not be excited by the quest for a Last Universal Common Ancestor, whether there be one or more? How can one not be fascinated by a reprise on mitochondria, which in (even a very good) high school biology course 36 years ago were too glibly termed "the powerhouse of the cell" (but did we really know much more than this about them)? We now have specific and wonderous mechanisms of energetics, a possibility of discernable origins and history, and a convincing argument for a fundamental and perhaps unique point of departure from the all-microscopic and limited prokaryotic world, toward eukaryotes and rich and complex life.

Lane presents his opinions and speculation in addition to settled science, but these are clearly and responsibly identified. In several instances, opposing views are noted in sufficient detail to allow one to investigate another side of the argument. A Further Reading bibliography cites original journal papers.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John on November 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As another reviewer stated, this really is a life-changing book. I read it after taking a course in biochemistry and it had even more impact on me in tying a lot of fascinating concepts together.

The most amazing thing about this book is how influential mitochondria are on our lives and subsequently how little we (you!) know about them. They're why we(eukaryotes AND warm-blooded animals)'re here, why we're large, why bacteria can't become like us, why we have gender, why we have sex and why we die. Fascinating stuff--definitely a book you should buy (especially considering the title is quite a conversation starter too).
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Martin on May 10, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nick Lane tops his previous effort ("Oxygen") in gathering the myriad threads of biological science around a unifiying topic. By writing about all complex life forms from the point of view of their embedded mitochondria he answers open questions (and poses some novel ones) about the rise of complex organisms, the underpinnings of sexual reproduction and programmed cell death, and even our odds of encountering extraterrestial intelligence.

My only quibble is that each chapter seems to have been written for serialized publication -- there is too much summary of past chapters at the start of each.

A great read, for an audience spanning a wide range of previous biology studies.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Gaunilon on February 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the first accessible book that describes the crucial steps, on a cellular level, that allowed for advanced life forms. It also provides insights on sex and death. His book on Oxygen was remarkable, this more so. Worth a patient read, it is profound, with subject matter not addressed elsewhere.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. A CAVE on December 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I realize that I am flying in the face of the collective wisdom of most of the people who have bothered to review this book on Amazon when I say I am very sorry I read it. I have lost a part of my life that I will never get back. I also realize that expressing this sadness of mine will invite nasty attacks from Lane's devoted readers, but I'll just have to suck that up. Early on in my reading I came to this site to see if it was worth continuing. I was encouraged by the hordes of delighted reviewers. One even assured us that reading this book "will change your life!"

Before you attack me: English is my first language and I use it rather well. I have tested high in reading comprehension. I have received a college education in the biological sciences. So I'm not "stupid" or "illiterate."

Now that we have that out of the way, I have to say this was one of the most tedious and unrewarding books I have ever read. As another reviewer has noted, it IS repetitive. Over and over again the author will explain the same principles in the same difficult manner. And it IS speculative. You will be treated to some marvelous bits of knowledge, but they won't make up for the pages and pages and pages of droning speculation. The reason the author has been driven to repeating things over and over again is because he's trying to persuade you of his vision of the role of mitochondria, and to do that he has to build up his case--tedious, repetitive chapter by tedious, repetitive chapter. He has a theory and he wants to popularize it to the world rather than submit it as the end result of a study to his peers for proper review and publication. Perhaps he just doesn't have the time or inclination. Or perhaps he knows his peers wouldn't go for it.

It did "change my life" in a way: it stole a week from me that I could have used in so many better ways.
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