Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

4.6 8
by Nick Lane
     
 

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“Original and awe-inspiring . . . an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology.”—New Scientist See more details below

Overview

“Original and awe-inspiring . . . an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology.”—New Scientist

Editorial Reviews

Peter Dizikes
For about 150 years, we have known how species evolve. The emergence of life itself remains more obscure. But as Lane shows with clarity and vigor in Life Ascending, fascinating studies on the subject abound. A trained biochemist, Lane smoothly pulls in evidence from genetics, proteomics (the study of proteins), paleontology and geophysics to show how the critical components and mechanisms of complex life—from DNA and photosynthesis to sex and vision—could have developed.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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 "invention," 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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Kirkus Reviews
An accessible look at the greatest wonders of evolutionary science. For such a short work, Lane (Biochemistry/University College London; Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, 2005) is admirably ambitious in scope, tackling such complex subjects as DNA, photosynthesis and consciousness in living things. Natural selection is a powerful creative force, notes the author, and has produced some ingenious and elegant scientific processes. Starting with the electrochemical reactions that may have produced the first life on Earth, Lane clearly explains how these landmark processes work and why they are so important. In an engaging chapter on photosynthesis-as well as others dealing with the complex cell, the sense of sight and the emergence of sex and movement among organisms-Lane lays out processes of dizzying complexity in smooth, nimble prose. He also provides a smattering of scientific history, showing how these processes were worked out by thinkers and researchers. (Footnotes provide more detail for the scientifically astute reader.) In the final and most insightful chapter, Lane looks at death as a beneficial process that allows organisms to avoid genetic diseases associated with living exceedingly long life spans. "[D]eath and disease are not random," he writes. "Death evolved. Ageing evolved. They evolved for pragmatic reasons. In the broadest of terms, ageing is flexible, an evolutionary variable that is set against various other factors, like sexual maturation, in the ledger book of life. There are penalties for tampering with these parameters, but the penalties vary and in a few cases at least can be trivial." The author cites a Japanese study that found that onetiny variant of DNA made people twice as likely to live to be 100. A lucid introduction to complex concepts of evolution.
Nature
“Excellent and imaginative and, similar to life itself, the book is full of surprises.”
The New York Times
“The emergence of life itself remains obscure. But as Lane shows with clarity and vigor, fascinating studies on the subject abound.”
Matt Ridley
“If Charles Darwin sprang from his grave, I would give him this fine book to bring him up to speed.”
Michael Le Page - New Scientist
“Original and awe-inspiring... an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393071467
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/14/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
209,279
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Nick Lane is a biochemist in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, and leads the UCL Origins of Life Program. He was awarded the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his outstanding contribution to the molecular life sciences. He is the author of Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, which won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, as well as Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life and Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World.

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