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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Paperback – December 11, 2006
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"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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Top Customer Reviews
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.]
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.
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).
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was looking for a book with information on the latest research on mitochondria and/or strategies to maintain the health of the mitochondria. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I had to read this for a class in college and it was awful to get through. Please keep in mind, I am a history major and dislike science. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kate Stack
Nick Lane artfully communicates difficult concepts in a light and enjoyable way. But more importantly, he assembles decades of research into a vitally important narrative that has... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Travis
It's so amazing and covers so much about origin of life that it feels like a scientific bible. And it's such an entertaining book that it reads like a bestselling production by... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Sheng
The brilliant Nick Lane tcontinues his intellectual voyage into the origin of life on Earth - some of the best thinking on the subject I've encountered in my lifetime.Published 8 months ago by P. Nicholson
I agree it's not much on the scale of literature, it emphatically made me nauseous, physically woozy, because the author seemed to revel in the blood and guts aspect of hard... Read morePublished 9 months ago by felixthecat