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Life Ascending


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About 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.


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) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"The emergence of life itself remains obscure. But as Lane shows with clarity and vigor, fascinating studies on the subject abound." -- The New York Times
"Excellent and imaginative and, similar to life itself, the book is full of surprises." -- Nature
"Lane lays out processes of dizzying complexity in smooth, nimble prose." -- Kirkus Reviews
"If Charles Darwin sprang from his grave, I would give him this fine book to bring him up to speed." -- Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen

This ambitious book explains ten significant milestones in the evolution of life, beginning with the origin of life and onto the development of DNA, complex cells, sex, sight, consciousness, and death. Lane (honorary reader, biochemistry, Univ. Coll. London; Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life) brings together intriguing insights from researchers to build consistent theories as to how these "inventions" came about. The illustrations and endnotes are helpful, but the lack of a bibliography will be problematic for those who like to follow up particular research. Verdict Lane writes clearly and well, although there are sections, particularly in the chapter on the origin of life, where the biochemistry is a bit intense for the general reader. Overall, a fascinating and provocative scientific book for the layperson.-Marit S. Taylor, Auraria Lib., Denver Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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