- Series: Popular Science
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (March 26, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198607830
- ISBN-13: 978-0198607830
- Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1.1 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 96 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (Popular Science) New Ed Edition
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From The New England Journal of Medicine
Nick Lane, the author of Oxygen, studied biochemistry at the University of London and did his doctoral research on oxygen free radicals at the Royal Free Hospital in London, but then left science to become the director of a multimedia company involved to a certain extent in medical education. His background suffuses this book, both for better and for worse. Apart from the first chapter, which is cast in a style approaching the juvenile, the book is very well written and easy to read. Lane makes his points clearly, and his lines of reasoning are well developed. The first half of the book is a very interesting and well-thought-out analysis of evolution, starting from the Archean eon and carrying on through the appearance of multicellular eukaryotes, such as humans. There is some awkward writing: "oxygen-hating" this and that, "first ever ice age," and a strained analogy about opinionated newspaper proprietors. Early in the book there are three or four statements that look like errors, but they are corrected later in the book. Of considerable interest, however, are Lane's remarks about chlorophyll arising from purple bacteria. Even more interesting is his comment to the effect that the oxygen-evolving complex in plants arose from an adaptation of catalase. He astutely points out that Fridovich's discovery of superoxide dismutase was "the most important discovery in modern biology never to win the Nobel Prize," a sentiment with which I heartily concur. The second half of the book begins with an excellent chapter on vitamin C, in which the author appropriately describes the outstanding work of Mark Levine and quotes Linus Pauling: "I would trust the biochemistry of a goat over the advice of a doctor." But subsequently, there is a mistake: Sue-Goo Rhee is referred to as a woman, when in fact he is a man. The rest of the second half, though informative in many places, is chiefly a buildup to the author's own theory -- namely, that aging itself is due exclusively to the damage caused by the leakage of oxygen radicals from aging mitochondria. In the course of the book, Lane takes a couple of shots at scientists for working on little pictures instead of the big picture. He takes little cognizance of the fact that big pictures, including the cause of aging, are made by the assembly of little pictures and that his own theory, probably only in part correct, was derived from many little pictures. He cites a few articles that support his idea but none that oppose it. Despite the inclusion of a small number of references, the book is not a perfect work of scholarship. But it is not meant to be one. It is a thought-provoking popularization of evolution and oxygen biochemistry, and I'm glad I read it. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, I can recommend the book strongly because of its informational content and its breezy and accessible style. It has to be read, though, with eyes open. Bernard M. Babior, M.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A thought-provoking popularization of evolution and oxygen biochemistry."--New England Journal of Medicine
"Nothing less than a total rethink of how life evolved between about 3.5 billion and 543 million years ago, and how that relates to the diseases we suffer from today.... This is scientific writing at its best."--Financial Times
"A worthy effort with a clearly argued message, full of informative and entertaining details."--American Scientist
"Provocative and complexly argued."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"One of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read."--John Emsley
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Nick Lane draws findings from disparate fields, combines them in very complex decision trees, and shows how they suggest ideas about the origin and nature of life that are compelling if not generally accepted. He is given some latitude by the fact that nothing in evolutionary biochemistry is generally accepted. The intellectual leaps are at that level where real science is done. Exciting and accessible to non-specialists though not necessarily easy.
Reading these books is a pleasure akin to watching a world class athlete. The result of reading these books is a very different and greatly expanded understanding of the living world.
Nick Lane is one of the few authors who consistently does his homework and his presentation of the state of the art,
both in terms of hard evidence and hypothesis, is spot on.
The reason I gave 4 stars instead of 5 is I do not enjoy Dr. Lane's very British, extremely discursive writing style. Many readers think it's very entertaining and enjoyable. In a way, it indeed delivers a lot of ancillary information that is entertaining. I can see why many readers who are reading for enjoyment love that style. But I prefer a more straight forward style that has a higher ratio of scientific information to words.
Nick Lane's treatment of Oxygen in this book is pretty definitive. However, for some readers, it might also be a bit long and difficult journey. Despite being labeled a popular science book, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody without at least a college-level course in chemistry and biology, preferably earth sciences as well.Lane explains some of the science involved, but he covers a lot and can't possibly explain the basics in detail. Lane also explains not just the science, but also the prior theories and evidence that justify his current interpretations. For some readers this is useful, but for some (especially those without a solid background in the sciences) this can simply be confusing. I actually took those courses and read quite a few popular science books, but its been a few years since college and so I found myself having to reread passages.
Lane's insights into Oxygen are fascinating and worth working through the book. However, I hope he publishes a "dumbed-down" version for wider audiences at some point. Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (Popular Science) is great for people familiar with natural sciences, but might be a bit too much for novices.