- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 22, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393065960
- ISBN-13: 978-0393065961
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this wonderful book, Lane (Power, Sex, Suicide), a biochemist at University College London, asks an intriguing and simple question: what were the great biological inventions that led to Earth as we know it. (He is quick to point out that by œinvention, he refers to nature's own creativity, not to intelligent design.) Lane argues that there are 10 such inventions and explores the evolution of each. Not surprisingly, each of the 10—the origin of life, the creation of DNA, photosynthesis, the evolution of complex cells, sex, movement, sight, warm bloodedness, consciousness and death—is intricate, its origins swirling in significant controversy. Drawing on cutting-edge science, Lane does a masterful job of explaining the science of each, distinguishing what is fairly conclusively known and what is currently reasonable conjecture. At times he presents some shocking but compelling information. For example, one of the light-sensitive pigments in human eyes probably arose first in algae, where it can still be found today helping to maximize photosynthesis. While each of Lane's 10 subjects deserves a book of its own, they come together to form an elegant, fully satisfying whole. 20 illus. (June)
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Original and awe-inspiring... an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology. (Michael Le Page - New Scientist)
Top Customer Reviews
The excuse is gone, and each new book in this field seems to top the previous entries in some key aspect. "Life Ascending" takes a biochemical approach to the fascinating "inventions" of evolution, from the beginning of life to photosynthesis, sex...even death. Other writers have dipped into this important topic, notably Sean Carroll, but I am not aware of another popularly written book that focuses so extensively on this one aspect of evolutionary theory. And for my money, it's the most compelling evidence that exists.
The chapters on the origins of life and metabolism (Krebs cycle) are worth the price of the book alone. Will the hypotheses advanced convince a hard-core Intelligent Design promoter? Not likely. The speculation required still eclipses the evidence provided, but a very plausible-sounding pathway is put forth, and it's fascinating to think about. What's more, key elements of each hypothesis are TESTABLE, setting them well apart from the comparitively content-free notion of Intelligent Design.
The capper is how lucid the prose is, and how entertaining. Even when the topics get technical and potentially dry, great care is taken to turn phrases, add color, and supply interesting metaphors and examples to pull the reader through. I can hardly recommend this book more highly.
When he is focused, he can be witty and compelling, but you turn around for a moment, and he has put down his rifle and is wielding a blunderbus.
There is so much that is interesting and compelling in the book, but then for long periods he throws in so many half-explained terms that it is like listening to an orchestra in which every instrument is being played at exactly the same volume.
For example, photosynthesis; he explains some things beautifully, such as the extraordinary stability of water molecules and therefore the inherent difficulty in separating oxygen from hydrogen. And he is entertaining as he employs the metaphor of a street hustler, who manages to sell an additional electron to the carbon dioxide molecule that is perfectly happy without it. But then, having convinced me so thoroughly of the difficulties involved, he seemed to rush over the exact details of how photosynthesis overcomes them.
"This book is about the greatest inventions of evolution [where invention does NOT imply a deliberate inventor], how each one transformed the living world, and how we humans have learned to read this past...It is a celebration of life's marvellous inventiveness...It is...the long story of how we came to be here--the milestones along the epic journey from the origin of life to our own lives and deaths. It is a book grand in scope. We shall span the lengths and breadths of life, from its very origins in deep-sea vents to human consciousness, from tiny bacteria to giant dinosaurs. We shall span the sciences, from geology and chemistry to neuroimaging, from quantum physics to planetary science. And we shall span the range of human achievement...
My list of [ten] inventions is subjective...and could have been different; but I did apply four criteria [that the author outlines] which I think restrict the choice [of inventions] considerably to a few seminal events in life's history...Beyond these...formal criteria, each invention had to catch my own imagination."
The above comes from the introduction of this extraordinarily interesting book by biochemist and author Nick Lane. He is a biochemist at University College, London, England.
This book is a treasure trove of past, recent, and new scientific knowledge. And the writing is superb. A book like this could have been dry and boring. But the writing is so good that this never occurs. For example, here is a writing sample from the chapter on sex:
"If sex is an occupational folly, an existential absurdity, then not having sex is even worse, for it leads in most cases to extinction, non-existential absurdity.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
it is the nature of being a professional scientist today and you specialize in a domain space, and nick lane is in my estimate, as far as that goes, the deeper thinker in... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Stanley Lippman
Back in my day, in Biology classes, there were many questions and no answers. Nick Lane has the gift of making the complex easier to understand. Read morePublished 4 months ago by J.D. Savid
Each chapter surprises the reader with fascinating insights into evolution not previously encountered -it is a fast moving field and Lane is a creative investigator in his own... Read morePublished 5 months ago by algo41
You want to know the answer to the evolution (or not!) of the eye? Read this book! Just excellent.Published 6 months ago by K. E. Morrison
This is an excellent book, explaining many things about evolution that had been puzzling to me. His explanations and presentation were clear and thorough. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Daniel Rieder
A very well written book with the first plausible explanation of the origin of life that I have read. Well edited. I learned a lot.Published 7 months ago by Phillip Roberts
For all the topics that are covered in his magnum opus Power Sex Suicide, the author is eloquent as usual. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Sheng
"The sea has eyes in its stars!" This read was as magical as it was educational. Pleasantly surprised by the supernatural turn in chapter 9.Published 10 months ago by Ira Smith III