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Oxygen: The molecule that made the world (Popular Science) [Paperback]

Nick Lane
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Sep 2003 0198607830 978-0198607830 New Ed
Oxygen has had extraordinary effects on life.

Three hundred million years ago, in Carboniferous times, dragonflies grew as big as seagulls, with wingspans of
nearly a metre. Researchers claim they could have flown only if the air had contained more oxygen than today -
probably as much as 35 per cent. Giant spiders, tree-ferns, marine rock formations and fossil charcoals
all tell the same story. High oxygen levels may also explain the global firestorm that contributed to the
demise of the dinosaurs after the asteroid impact.

The strange and profound effects that oxygen has had on the evolution of life pose a riddle, which this book
sets out to answer. Oxygen is a toxic gas. Divers breathing pure oxygen at depth suffer from convulsions
and lung injury. Fruit flies raised at twice normal atmospheric levels of oxygen live half as long as their
siblings. Reactive forms of oxygen, known as free radicals, are thought to cause ageing in people. Yet if
atmospheric oxygen reached 35 per cent in the Carboniferous, why did it promote exuberant growth,
instead of rapid ageing and death?

Oxygen takes the reader on an enthralling journey, as gripping as a thriller, as it unravels the unexpected
ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death. The book explains far more than the size of
ancient insects: it shows how oxygen underpins the origin of biological complexity, the birth of photosynthesis, the sudden evolution of animals, the need for two sexes, the accelerated ageing of cloned animals like Dolly the sheep, and the surprisingly long lives of bats and birds.

Drawing on this grand evolutionary canvas, Oxygen offers fresh perspectives on our own lives and deaths,
explaining modern killer diseases, why we age, and what we can do about it. Advancing revelatory new ideas,
following chains of evidence, the book ranges through many disciplines, from environmental sciences to
molecular medicine. The result is a captivating vision of contemporary science and a humane synthesis of our
place in nature. This remarkable book will redefine the way we think about the world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (25 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198607830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198607830
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 12.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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 www.nick-lane.net

Product Description


'. . . popular science writing at its very best - clear yet challenging, speculative yet rigorous. The book is a (Bernard Dixon)

which orchestrates a seamless story out of both venerable ideas and very recent discoveries in several disparate fields.'

'. . . a breathtaking, broad vision of the role of a single gas in our life, from the origin of organisms, through the emergence of creatures, and to their deaths . . . packed full of interesting life-and-death stories...A wonderful read.' (Peter Atkins)

'. . . one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.' (John Emsley)

Nick Lane's chapters are dispatches from the frontiers of research into Earth and life history, but they contain nothing that will lose the patient reader and much that will reward. (The Guardian Review)

a brisk revelatory study (Christopher Hirst, The Independent)

From the Back Cover

'...popular science writing at its very best - clear yet challenging, speculative yet rigorous. The book is a tour de force which orchestrates a seamless story out of both venerable ideas and very recent discoveries in several disparate fields.'
Bernard Dixon

'... a breathtaking, broad vision of the role of a single gas in our life, from the origin of organisms, through the emergence of creatures, and to their deaths ... packed full of interesting life- and death-stories .... A wonderful read.'
Peter Atkins

'... one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.'
John Emsley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In search of the elixir of life 2 Oct 2003
By A Customer
This book gives a very broad and thoughtful perspective on the importance of oxygen in the development of life on Earth. The chain of reasoning is long and brings to contact discoveries from a series of disciplines otherwise apparently unrelated to each other. In this aspect lies one of the greatest strengths of this book, as it shows, as few have been able to shown, how important it is to have a broad perspective and an open mind to undertake a scientific research program. Besides, the author is most critic to the current trends in medical research, most of them can be traced back to such problems as over-specialisation, and lack of knowledge from nearby research fields. The huge amounts of data accumulating every day leaving no time to reduce it properly and put it coherently in a workable body of knowledge does not help either.
What does this book deal with? Oxygen is an all-important molecule, which is fundamental to life, however it is also a threatening and toxic element as well. Through this book, Nick Lane explains the importance oxygen had in the evolution of life. How it is inferred that our Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) possessed already a series of genes and proteins that lasted until our present days. How these have developed in response to oxidation stress from the environment. How the responses are similar to an organism's reaction to an infectious disease. How this is related to diseases such as Alzheimer, cancer and diabetes. How this can give clues to unravel the secrets of ageing in organisms and the search for better ways to extend a person's life span.
The book covers the early biological, atmospheric, and geological evolution of the Earth. It presents basic biochemical reaction mechanisms. It covers biology and medical research.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and satisfying 11 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The truly fascinating story of how oxygen shaped our world and ourselves. Without oxygen and the life it made possible, the Earth today would look like Mars; we need oxygen to survive, yet it causes our bodies to deteriorate and eventually succumb to disease. If nothing else kills you, just breathing will!

Writing objectively and entertainingly about science is a challenge that Nick Lane pulls off brilliantly in this book. Lay readers like me should be grateful that the author has resisted the temptation to over-simplify, for mass market consumption, such a richly complex subject area as this. Consequently one does need to concentrate in order to follow the plot, but Lane's way of connecting scientific ideas through their evolutionary history provides a sure thread - a thread strung with many pearls. Time after time, through painstaking research and brilliant insights, scientific notions arrive and have their day, only to be demolished by new evidence and replaced by a new paradigm. The chapters unfold like detective stories, with sub-plots, twists and turns in mankind's long struggle to understand. By the end one feels as well informed as anyone else on the planet and ready to explore the side-avenues of knowledge lying wait in the many literature sources cited.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Completely changed the way I think about aging! 20 July 2011
Absolutely loved this book, although it took me a month to get through. Having studied biochemistry at university I found that many of the concepts in the book were familiar to me (such as respiration, photosynthesis, and oxygen free radicals), but perhaps a reader with a more casual interest in science might struggle in places. Half of the book dwells heavily upon a very detailed history of the evolution of early life forms on the planet- perhaps for a bit too long really- but remains readable and interesting throughout. However, for me the second half was more exciting, with its discussion of antioxidants and the 'darker side' to Vitamin C, some revelations about the strong link between the fecundity and the longevity of a species, and how oxidative stress underlies all age-related diseases.
This book will make you feel an awful lot more well-informed about aging and about the evolution of life, and is reassuringly optimistic about the former, stating that: "aging is neither programmed nor inevitable".
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough Going 3 Aug 2006
This book sets out the complex relationship between oxygen and life. In particular Lane discusses how organisms have adapted to using oxygen for respiration despite the inevitable production of damaging free radicals. These leads on to the role of anti-oxidants and ageing.

The concepts are introduced thick and fast. By the end you will be an expert on the differences between the Dispoable Soma and Antagonistic Pleitropy theories of ageing! However, the use of diagrams and illustrations is sparing and a general reader will find several chapters a struggle. Some sections read like a biochemistry text book and it is also unclear when he deviates from mainstream thinking into more controversial theories.

A readable account, but this belies the level of difficulty of some of the concepts and pushes it somewhat beyond the popular science genre.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Challenging! 24 Jun 2011
I found this book pretty hard going with a lot of information about changing climates at the beginning of the book which was a bit boring to be honest. Once it started to talk more about the oxygen molecule it got more interesting but I found it not easy to read and that's coming from someone with a science background!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard work but rewarding
A three page glossary of technical words and phrases indicates that this is not a "coffee table" book, but one that requires the reader's concentration. Read more
Published 2 months ago by John Southern
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive
Well written and authoritative but sometimes gets bogged down in covering evidence and counter evidence for this, that and the other. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dr Chris
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable
Nick Lane provides the clearest and most detailed account of the evolution of what, in colloquial terms, is termed "mother nature". Read more
Published 2 months ago by Julian Hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars A good layman's up-to date science textbook
Nick Lane's series of cellular evolution are extremely well written and hugely informative. Waiting for the next book in the same context.
Published 3 months ago by Paul Watson
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxygen by Nick Lane
Very well written and maintains your interest throughout. It's amazing how well presented the information is. Well worth the read.
Published 7 months ago by Teacher47
4.0 out of 5 stars Oxygen - The Molecule that made the World
This book takes the reader on a journey beginning 3.5 billion years ago explaining the likely origins of oxygen, its role in the evolution of life on earth and how it continues to... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Doug Jay
1.0 out of 5 stars Mis-matached kindle content
The Kindle version of Oxygen has the cover mis-matched with a book about African genocide! Can we get this corrected please? Read more
Published 11 months ago by mjbaker
1.0 out of 5 stars wrong book in file
When downloaded, the file showed the correct cover, and correct title on each page, but the contents were a book about wars in Africa. Requested refund based on defective content.
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxygen: The molecule that made the world, by Nick Lane
I love Nick Lane's books because he gives you the real science and doesn't over-simplify. Having only just started this one, I am looking forward to at least a week of happy... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Pauline O'Hara
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxygen, good and bad.
The book is difficult but makes you remember chemistry from school. I am old so I wanted to know about aging.
Published 17 months ago by Lena Moszkowicz
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