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on 7 December 2009
I read the hardcover version three years ago and I'm ready to start it again. There is a lot to get hold of, so I would not recommend anyone to tackle this book unless they are prepared to work at it, or unless this is their specialism. A strong motivation is probably more important than a grounding in biology - I had zero formal education in life sciences, but exposure to certain theories of disease revolving around mitochondrial processes and A-B symbiosis gave me the incentive to find out more. "Power, Sex, Suicide" came along at the right time. And by the way I think the title is spot on.
Fortunately for readers like me, Nick Lane has the gift of tracing the development of scientific understanding (and misunderstanding) as engagingly as your favourite writer of crime-thrillers. Yet you never feel there's the slightest tendency to dumb down. Once you get into it, the story is really gripping and by the end believe me you will be an expert - I was able to explain things to a doctorate in biochemistry! Of course, five years is a long time in science and the frontiers have undoubtedly moved on. So Nick, if you're reading this, I would love to get hold of the revised edition - 2010 maybe?
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on 2 May 2011
I bought this book on trust, not intuitively understanding how mitochondria could be as dramatically important as was claimed on the cover. My trust was amply repaid - this is a biology update well worth experiencing.

Bacteria were the apex of life on earth for a billion years - and most of them still exist today in their initial form.
There was only ever a one-off, single breakthrough into complexity, which happened 2 billion years ago. The book is about that breakthrough, and deserves the acclaim it has earned.

When one bacteria engulfed another and established an endo-symbiosis ( which was at times parasitic), a crucial platform for complexity was created: the cell-within-a-cell, which became mitochondria.

All multicellular life comprises such complex cells, with mitochondria the engine room of power. As cellular colonies evolved, the relationship between cells and organism was determined by selective cell deaths, triggered by their mitochondria - we humans get through some 10 billion such damaged cell exterminations every day. Overly-replicating cells trigger similar fates - thus mitochondrial responses effectively keep organisms' bodies in cellular proportion - that is of course unless the system fails (which is essentially the mechanism of cancer).

Subtler distress signalling from ailing host cell to these `guest' cells at one time stimulated, not cell destruction, but (sexual) reproduction between the two cells, and rejuvenation.

Hence the title of the book.

Lane goes on to speculate where all this knowledge might one day lead us. Enhancing our mitochondria could very well slow the ageing process and its attendant degenerative diseases- a tantalising thought.
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on 3 October 2009
This book is a real treasure for anyone who wants to understand what life on Earth is all about and why we are the way we are. After you have read "The Selfish Gene", this (admittedly far more specific and complicated) work is the mandatory follow-up.

But talk about a misleading title! (Dare I say "cheap sales trick"?) Of course, strictly speaking, this book is about power - meaning "power" in the sense of "energy", not in the sense of "power over something or somebody". It is about sex - but only in the sense of "how did two-gender organisms emerge", not in any sexy meaning. And it's about suicide - it describes how occasionally cells die willingly if it benefits the organism as a whole. So if Mr. Lane would say under oath that this book is about power, sex and suicide, he could not be convicted of perjury. On the other hand, I don't think there are many people in the world who, seeing the title "Power, Sex, Suicide", would expect to find a book on... mitochondria!

And this book is about mitochondria. They are organelles inside the cells and they supply cells with energy. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but according to this book, mitochondria are the crucial piece of the puzzle that has made life as we know possible. When you read this book, you'll learn that amoeba (one-cell organisms who have mitochondria) are actually closer to humans than to bacteria (one-cell organisms without mitochondria). You'll also learn why bacteria can never evolve into multicellular organisms, and even why Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene" theory isn't applicable on bacteria. Also, the emergence of multiple sexes (there are species that have more than two) and the phenomenon known as cell suicide have been caused by mitochondria. The part on antioxydants was also rather interesting.

Finally, Mr. Lane suggests that the emergence of mitochondria was such a hugely improbable coincidence that it's quite possible that it has never occurred anywhere else in the universe. It means that it's plausible to assume that Earth is the only place where there is any life above the level of bacteria.

My only big complaint is that Mr. Lane just can't do without pathetic politically correct apologies whenever touching subjects that have to do with (human) gender relations.
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on 17 September 2007
What a book, absolutely fascinating and highly recommended, although I must say that this is not an easy book, in fact is kind of complex if you are not acquainted with the subject. This is not a critic, thing is I would not change a bit of it, but in my opinion, people should have a little knowledge of cellular metabolism and biochemistry before attempting this book.

After reading Dawkins book about the selfish gene, it was inevitable for me to wonder about life origins, why unicellular organisms have that tendency to complexity and to group itself, and how all this machinery works. This book provide a thorough and absorbing biography of Mitochondria and its symbiosis with eukaryotes, what is the function of each one, why there are two sexes and why we aged and finally become history. As you will see, our understanding of these matters is rather modest, the author insinuate possible solutions to some of the big questions, but in any case the subject is so interesting that you read this book excited all the way to the end.

How beautiful is life and how complex ... you can see that just watching a little fly and wonder how on earth this insect manage to fly, as if eukaryotes have a previous knowledge of Physics, as if they have all the basic solutions of nature in a template. I just know one thing: I want to know and read more about it.
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on 12 September 2009
The story of mitochondria, how cells get powered, with amazing discussions of evolution, the steps to multi-cellular organisms, the reason we have two sexes, cell death and other such stuff.

Well written and interesting stuff, but he pulls no punches: this is complicated stuff and he doesn't patronise the reader by over-simplifying.

I dare say if you have university level biochemistry a lot of this is familiar but for a lay reader it made my head hurt at times. But that is no bad thing, and having to think hard about something important (and what could be more important than "what makes life tick?") is all too rare.

Some amazing, astonishing insights and I learnt a lot.

Recommended, but not one for a plane ride - you do need to concentrate.
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on 16 August 2011
The miracle of the eukaryotic cell was nothing short of a revelation. GCSE science left me with the impression of the cell as nothing more than a fried egg. It was a delight to discover the breathtaking complexity here described. Shame on the education system that left me bored out of my mind at school, this is fascinating stuff!!

The most unsettling element of the story for me, was the idea that there was no 'inevitable' rise of complex cellular life. It is a terrifying prospect when you understand it. Without the revolution of the eukaryotic cell with it's power generating mitochondria, we might never have got past the stage of bacteria (who I've found greater respect for since reading this). A sobering thought, which ultimately made me feel even more how precious and wonderful life is. It might so easily never have happened.

As I've no technical background, I found some parts of the book hard going. But, after doing a test which showed I had poor mitochondrial funtion, I had the motivation to persevere. I did the mitochondrial test privately at Biolab in London and Dr Sarah Myhill gave the best, fullest interpretation of the results.
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on 25 January 2012
A most intriguing journey into cell biology.
In parts hard going, but worth the effort.
Nick Lane has the ability to explain these sometimes difficult concepts in a way that we laymen can grasp, if we make the effort.
I previously knew very little about the function of Mitochrondia within the cell, or much other than cell construction,
but now look upon our overall biology in a totally different way.
If you are interested in the theories of "the Aging"process antioxidents , mitochronial leakage, whether or not we are pre-programmed
for death etc this book will bring you up to date on the latest ideas, especially if you read Nick Lanes book "Oxygen" which is a great essential accompaniment to this excellent book.
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on 11 December 2005
Cellular biology is a subject, which falls between the interesting and complicated. It is for this reason I warn the reader that unless you have an unquenchable thirst for this subject, think twice about reading this book. For the biologically-orientated individual however, this is an excellent book, which takes account of recent developments and discoveries. It is very readable and the author has made a complex subject a somewhat absorbing field. The reason for the 4 stars is the price. Given the lack of illustrations, the price is a bit on the high side.
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on 11 November 2008
You're certain that the universe contains other complex life forms? -- this book questions that statistical assumption.
This is a wonderful read, and takes you into areas which, even when you've a scientific background, are mostly unfamiliar territory - mitochondria....... but are they that important? - you bet they are.
First we wouldn't be here, we simply would not have evolved, had mitochondria not come into existence.How this is likely to have come about is extensively discussed.
Secondly, the author is of the view that the likelyhood of mitochondria coming into existence at all is so amazingly miniscule that, even by the universe's standards of space and time ( so huge that other theories make the probability if complex life forming a statistical near certainty ) it is, he argues, extremely unlikely to have occured more than the once that has spawned us !
Thirdly, the mitochondrion, as the powerhouse of the cell, is also the seat of much that can go wrong, and ageing and cancer etc are examines from this perspective.
Finally, the genes in mitochondria can themselves mutate and are themselves subject to natural selection - not only that, but they are actually passed down into the next generation via the gamete ( only via the maternal line )........ this is another evolutionary route which has all sorts of interesting implications.
Mitochondria - they're where it's all at !
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on 3 August 2011
This is a fascinating book about how cells - the things that make up everything living being - actually work, and particularly how the cells of eucaryotes (which includes all multicellular animals, including us) got the way they are. I found it an absolute revelation - it taught me much that I didn't know, and clarified much that i had sort-of heard.

The four stars rather than five are because the book is, as others have already said, hard work. Not that it is badly written - on the contrary, it is very clearly written. But it is necessary to use the unfamiliar technical names for unfamiliar things in an area of science most of us are unfamiliar with. So, while every such term is well explained when introduced, there are a lot of such terms to remember - a bit like reading a long Russian novel with lots of character names to remeber.

So don't get this book for light reading on the beach. But do get it for a full update about an important and fast-evolving area of science. And reserve a few quiet evening to work through it.
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