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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution Paperback – 7 Jan 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861978189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861978189
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Lane is a biochemist and writer. He is Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His research focuses on the role of bioenergetics in the origin of life and the evolution of cells. Nick was awarded the first UCL Provost's Venture Research Prize in 2009 and will receive the 2015 Biochemical Society Award. He has published three critically acclaimed books, which have been translated into 20 languages. The latest, Life Ascending, won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. His books have been shortlisted for two other literary prizes and named a book of the year by the Economist, the Independent, the Times, the Sunday Times and New Scientist. He was described by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek as "a writer who is not afraid to think big - and think hard." For more information, visit

Product Description


This is a science book that doesn't cheat: the structure is logical, the writing is witty, and the hard questions are tackled head on (Tim Radford Guardian)

Original and awe-inspiring ... an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology (Michael Le Page New Scientist)

Excellent and imaginative and, similar to life itself, the book is full of surprises ... a fascinating book for anyone interested in life and evolution, and how these discoveries were made (Nature)

Life Ascending earns its place on the bookshelf of every biology teacher - and anyone else interested in how we all got here. (James Kingsland Guardian)

an absolute joy...Dr Nick Lane employs a clarity of thought and an adroitness of expression that allows the reader to easily navigate his enviable breadth of knowledge. A breadth of knowledge that never scrimps on detail whilst delivering logic and inspiration in equal measure. The very definition of a 'must read' for anyone that has ever marvelled at the complexity of life (Laboratory News)

If Charles Darwin sprang from his grave, I would give him this fine book to bring him up to speed. (Matt Ridley)

Lane brings science alive with the kind of beautiful prose that turns a book full of interesting information into a book you simply cannot put down. (Amanda Gefter New Scientist)

Nick Lane is one of the most exciting science writers of our time. His book...reads like a smooth chronicle, has great subject matter and is well argued. (Steve Connor Independent)

With its vast scope, page-turning revelations and elegant prose, Nick Lane's Life Ascending is everything one could hope for in a science book (Robert Matthews Daily Telegraph)


'If Charles Darwin sprang from his grave, I would give him this fine book to bring him up to speed. It's a breathless bulletin from the accelerating rush of news about the secrets of life on planet earth.' - Matt Ridley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By J. Taylor on 29 Jun 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't think it is an overstatement to say that every one of these ten chapters could be expanded to fill ten books! This book is therefore very fast moving, absolutely packed with information and bang up to date.

It is a tribute to the writing skills of the author, that the ten separate inventions follow from each other so smoothly and logically.

Particularly outstanding chapters included the subjects of DNA, photosynthesis, sight, hot blood and death. Here, the level of understanding conferred far exceeded the average poular science book.

A few of the chapters proved quite a challenge, notably the origin of life and conciousness. Whilst these subjects arguably deserve their status in the top ten, the difficulty is possibly that they are less well understood by the current status of science.

Overall, if you really want an inspiring, deeper understanding of the mechanics of evolution, I can't fault this book. If however you are fairly new to the subject, then Richard Dawkins classic "The Selfish Gene" still lays the foundations of understanding without dumbing down.

Some subjects really are more complex than a post-it note explanation, intellectual effort is required, but Life Ascending makes the quest both accessible and richly rewarding. An awesome read!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jason Mills VINE VOICE on 31 Jan 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a thrilling book. Lane picks 10 milestones in evolution and explores their biochemistry. These landmarks are: the origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. He presents the problems, the research, the contending hypotheses and his careful conclusions, all in a depth of detail that flatters the reader's intellect (this reader's anyway!), yet remains eminently comprehensible throughout. The arguments and explanations are bang up to date and constantly surprising: it was a real delight to me that despite my reading any number of popular texts about evolution, there was still almost nothing here that I already knew!

The premise requires covering certain inevitable subjects, and so I approached the dull-sounding chapter on photosynthesis, for example, as a necessary evil: yet who could have expected that the molecular processes involved could be so exciting? Similarly, the unpromising topic of the mechanical operation of muscle fibres turns out to be fascinating. I found the chapter on consciousness comparatively weak, but it asks a lot for a biochemist to crack that one!

The book's apparatus includes illustrations, an annotated bibliography and extensive index. There are also endnotes: these contain commentary rather than citation, so are better read as one goes along (footnotes might have served the reader better).

This book passes my 'bus test': it made me want to get on the bus to work, so that I could continue reading it!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Peter Young on 26 Feb 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is well worth a read, as unlike many others in this field, the author discusses in detail, a variety of different topics. These topices range from basic cell structure, to muscles, sight, consciousness and death to name a few. For me, some chapters were fasinating (Consciousness)and not long enough, while a couple of others (muscles), were a bit on the long side. It is almost like ten different books in one, and if it were not for a couple of chapters, which I found repetitive, then it would be a definite 5 stars.
Having said that, if you are at all interested in the evolution of life, buy this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Caspar Thomas on 27 Nov 2012
Format: Paperback
I was excited about reading this book as I am interested in evolution, having read about the subject in Richard Dawkins' books. I also thought the idea of the 10 best "inventions" of evolution was very clever. I am curious to know how evolution could bring about, say, an eye, or the complex cell, and also why organisms that age and die should have evolved if natural selection is "choosing" those organisms that are better able to survive.

In reality I found the book to be overly technical - particularly the first 3 chapters (The Origin of Life, DNA and Photosynthesis). It seems that the author, who is clearly extremely knowledgeable of his subject, chose not to condense what is known about the subject into a simple idiot-proof, understandable explanation. Instead he has included a lot of technical detail and names of the scientists involved with the discovery of the corresponding theories. What I would have prefered, to be honest, is a layman explanation making use of analogies outside the field of biochemistry.

However, I did get something out of the following chapters: Sex, Consciousness & Death. I found these chapters (especially the latter two) to have slightly less technical detail and found them more readable than the rest of the book.

The author has a literary and thoughtful style and has clearly gone to great pains to make sure there are no errors in the book and I did not detect any typos at all (in the paperback edition).

In summary, I would suggest that this book is suitable for someone who already has a fairly strong background in evolutionary theory and perhaps some knowledge of biochemistry. If that is not the case, then I would be slightly wary about buying the book - although some of the chapters may be of interest (i.e. those three mentioned above).
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