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Secret Chambers: The inside story of cells and complex life Hardcover – 31 May 2012

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (31 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199644004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199644001
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 2.3 x 14.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 927,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Bursting with almost boyish enthusiasm, Brasier takes us on an adventure with lively vignettes from his career. (Henry Nicholls, New Scientist)

About the Author

Martin Brasier is an English paleontologist made known from his study of microfossils, the Origin of Life, and Precambrian fossils such as the Ediacara biota. He is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford. He has worked on the Cambrian Explosion and was leader of the UN 's IGCP project on defining the Cambrian geological period. His own book on the subject, Darwin's Lost World: The hidden history of animal life was published in 2009 as part of the Charles Darwin centenary. In 2014 Martin Brasier was awarded the Lyell Medal by the Geological Society for outstanding research contributions.


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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let's have no equivocation : This is a five star read, written by a world authority with verve and pace.

Martin Brasier is a top man in the world of Precambrian palaeontology, so we're entitled to expect a book of some distinction. He does deliver this, but you have to accept a certain 'professorial' style to his structuring of the book. Actually I'm well up for it; Brasier has a delightful turn of phrase and a garrulous way with his recounting of adventures in the field, usually somewhere impossibly hot and dangerous like outback northern Australia, which lead him to jump around and add twists and turns to an often complex narrative.

Well I'm fine with this. We're in the company of an Oxford don here, a man who's been at the forefront of ancient fossil research for the past four decades - important groundbreaking decades - and if the old boy rambles a bit it's all part of the fun. Absent, mercifully, is the all too common smugness or 'matey'-ness, characteristic of the Attenborough wannabe, desperate to have you come along for their "journey" - usually an ill-disguised attempt to bag a TV deal.

But I reckon this book should be read in conjunction with his previous "Darwin's Lost World" so that if you can enjoy the quirks of style and delivery, you'll get a fuller richer picture of this whole subject. My only slight gripe is Brasier's hero worship of long dead white males; we are regularly regaled with fulsome quotes from Darwin, Lyell, Hooke etc which is alright if you like that sort of thing but I find it rather trying and tedious ESPECIALLY when Brasier knew and socialised with a far greater scientist for our times, namely the wonderful Lynn Margulis, now sadly departed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great book very informative
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x96b9c4a4) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x969c38ac) out of 5 stars much story with facts sprinkled in 5 July 2012
By Gary Odom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is a mishmash; combining history, anecdotes, facts, and the adventures of the author. The facts are often explained by analogy; a very difficult way to learn something with any sense of accuracy.

I dislike such books, as I get bored with the stories (the history retelling is rather scatter shot in this book), and can never find my way back to some fact, as the book's organization does not allow it (the section titles are story based).

If you like reading non-fiction books for storytelling, with some interesting tidbits thrown in, this may be a book for you. If you want to learn much of anything about cellular biology, the supposed subject of this book, read something else.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x987c29cc) out of 5 stars a thoughtful exposition through narrative 25 Sept. 2012
By Nigel Kirk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a readable, if initially patchy, account of early biological evolution, strung together through a narrative of the author's career travels.

In early chapters the comparison of a cell to an ocean-going vessel is laid on a little thick as metaphors like "lapses in procedure" and the "Chartroom" tend to confuse the real information about cell biology, even to the point that the writer incorrectly terms DNA as a binary code (p 48). The narrative, tracing the evolution of cell organelles and subsequently of more complex life, is punctuated by references to "secrets" in order to allow the author to further convey tales of discovery. This is mainly enjoyable, if a little old school. A 1970s survey of the Sargasso Sea negotiates turbulent waters while hinting at possible ways that the nucleus and organelles are integrated into eukaryote cells, an underwater reef is charted while explanations of symbiotic mechanisms are recounted. Further chapters trace growing evidence of global warming and then the narrative also warms as the author introduces the great Lynn Margulis, pulling together the cell symbiosis theory of organelles in the chapter, The Mangrove Tree. Further accounts of science reveal the human side of discovery, from mistakes, hard work to apparent fraud, all portrayed warmly and reminiscent of Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life. Some of the author's observations of Australia, in particular of water management practice, irked me slightly as supercilious, however his rendition of the landscape, characters and geology, again, compensate. Ironically, the Australian landscape tested the author's own water management credentials, almost tragically.

This review is not an attempt to flag all of the intriguing topics this book covers but rather to convey its flavour. The author is a fine story teller with any hint of rambling compensated for by good exposition of evolutionary biology, and facilitated by geographical and biographical raconteuring. His final chapter rounds off the `boring billions' hypothesis that he teased out throughout the book. But it is his "efficiency is fatal" corollary, told through an odd "Albert and Emily" story, which provides elegant and credible conjecture on the less considered risks to future human evolution, which wins Secret Chambers five stars.
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