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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creation
Creation , the origin of life is fantastic, really gripping and I'm about to reread it straight away! The future of life will wait for a year or two for a revisit
Published 9 months ago by Mr Craig peggie

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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Confusing
Adam Rutherford's account of the origin of life is interesting but confusing. He very frequently presents confusing statements of the certainty of scientific knowledge. For example on page 56 he writes ` we know that..the planet was probably largely molten..contrary to previous thinking we now think' and then tells us on the next page that the source of the earth's water...
Published 14 months ago by Geoff Crocker


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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much more care needed, 3 July 2013
By 
Dr. Geoffrey Kemball Cook (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
I really wanted to like this book (or these books, if you prefer), but was let down so frequently that it was all I could do to finish it/them.

First the good points. Despite his very brief career of actually doing science, Adam has a reasonable breadth of knowledge of evolutionary genetics and synthetic biology, and quite of a lot of experience, through his job as a media editor at the journal Nature, in pitching his discussions for the intelligent lay person. He doesn't do the job badly, certainly. One should not underestimate this - there are many professional academics who cannot do this, and if people like Adam do not have a stab, who is going to? Full-time academics like Dawkins, Jones and Stringer who can really write are rare - and one wonders how on earth they find the time. So far so good.

However, IMHO Adam has let himself down, and he has been let down by his publishers. Let me explain.

The first problem is that Adam thinks he has to jazz up the narrative with wordy trickery. I lost count of the number of times that an obscure word or metaphor was helicoptered in where there were several more usual alternatives. I have to say this is regrettably a common criticism of popular science authors - showing above all that they do not have faith that the material they are discussing can hold the readers' interest without these little explosions of verbal dexterity. For heaven's sake, if the origin and evolution of life, and its potential to be recreated in the future are not already topics of HUGE interest, something is seriously wrong.

Secondly, I am sorry to say Adam has suffered from a lack of competent copy-editing and proofreading. Any serious author knows that (despite the sexing-up and hero-ising of authors generally) the production of a first-class book is the result of a collaboration between the author, a sympathetic and knowledgable editor, and a similarly qualified proofreader. A copy editor may (largely) be said to "correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, style and usage" while a proofreader "uses care, judgement, skill, knowledge and experience in checking that the work of author, editor and designer/typesetter is satisfactory" - to catch any final errors including but not restricted to typos. It is rare that an author's draft does not benefit hugely from quality advice and revision in order to clarify the message. By definition, both editor and proofreader need genetics expertise, otherwise they cannot help.

There are enough examples of sloppiness to really get under my skin. A typical case off the top of my head is the repeated use, in discussion of the "O" level chemistry of amino-acids, of the Victorian term "carbolic acid" (also known more commonly as phenol, C6H5OH) instead of "carboxylic acid" meaning the acidic -COOH group possessed by all amino-acids. This is possibly an easy slip to make in the white heat of authorship (but not one any author would wish to be reminded of) but to be missed by everyone down the line is shocking.

Naturally I can only speculate from a reading of the final published book. But that is all any of us can do.

Finally I would take issue with what some nameless PR hack has written to adorn the dustjacket: "Dr Adam Rutherford is a geneticist, writer and broadcaster...". Adam is not a geneticist. He WAS a geneticist for a short time and duly completed a PhD in genetics some ten years ago, but since then he has not carried out any research work in this field and appears to have just one publication dating from his PhD project on Pax6. It is very wrong to describe an author in this way as it does a disservice to those working research academics who do find the time to write books for the interested lay public - who really ARE geneticists (this does not include me, in case you think I am carrying out special pleading). I should stress this is absolutely not to criticise Adam for the career path he has taken and been successful in: science desperately needs popular and engaging characters to spend quality time with researchers, intelligently interpret their latest work and present it in a way that is grown-up but accessible.

Oh, and the "flip-book" conceit of this book or books is genuinely horrible. A real triumph of marketing style over usabilty and good sense. What's wrong with a book that has two sections? Never again please.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 11 May 2013
This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
If I had a bright young teenager who wanted to find out about the universe and his place within it, I would ask him to read 4 books: A Brief History of Time, Thinking Fast and Slow, Orientalism, and this extraordinary book by Adam Rutherfood.

In the first half, "the origin of life", the author has set himself an ambitious task - interweave the entire history of life with the history of biology as a science in a seamless and novelistic narrative which can be understood by any well educated person. He achieves this task admirably. There is humour, sex, violence, a mix of pace and tone... The book starts with a dramatic "mise en scene" - the miraculous biological reaction of the human body to a paper cut - which grips the reader and engages them in a journey which leads them further and further back in time, past the birth of animals, past the birth of cells, past the birth of the language of DNA, to the very conditions which created life. And no novel would be complete without a pleasing ring-composition; so Rutherfood finished by delivering us back to the paper cut from which we began. Nor would it be complete without a moral. Rutherfood seeks throughout to build and reinforce his central thesis - we can now explain so convincingly how life might have spontaneously occurred from the conditions of our early planet, that explanations which rely on divine intervention are unnecessary and almost certainly wrong.

As someone who had a micro-biologist as a father, it is hard to determine to what extent the narrative of "the origin of life" would be easily followed in all its detail by someone unfamiliar with the workings of cells. Nevertheless, I find it hard to imagine a clearer explanation in little over 100 pages.

The "future of life" follows logically from the first half of the book, describing as it does the post evolutionary state in which we find ourselves - not because natural selection has stopped, but because it is likely to be outpaced by the progress caused by the genetic meddling of human scientists. This is the story of "synthetic biology", which has emerged as a trade from the basic research that produced the knowledge which Rutherfood has so carefully laid out in "the origins of life".

I have to say that I found this half of the book less gripping than the other, simply because Rutherfood has nothing like the same amount of material at his fingertips. Here he is describing the progress, and the barriers to that progress, which have sprung up in the last 20 years - the first attempts to create new life forms from scratch, and the army of concerned individuals who are trying to stand in their way. But while the results of this new science are still limited (a fact which Rutherfood recognizes repeatedly), the potential is fascinating and terrifying in equal measure.

There is no question that for Rutherfood, the heroes of his second narrative are the brave scientists who are pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and human capability by splicing genes into cells, and even reinventing the language of DNA. Others who read this tale may begin to question whether they have as much confidence as he has in the unknowable results of synthetic biology.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 25 April 2013
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This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Adam Rutherford is an up and coming science icon. The way in which he's managed to write this book is impressive. It is enticing yet tells a very fundamental story and is very informative, not to mention is surprisingly engaging. It is a thrifty two books in one. I also got my copy signed by him, so I'm chuffed.
I would recommend the hardback version of the book as it'll last longer and look good on your shelf.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for the big questions that keep us awake at night, 14 April 2013
This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
This book is for the big questions that keep us awake at night. The Whys, the Hows and the Whats of our yesterday and tomorrow. Beautifully written, intelligently balanced and accessible without ever patronising. The questions may still keep us awake, but we now have someone to share the twilight hours with. An essential companion for wonderers and insomniacs.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 14 April 2013
This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Thrilling, mind expanding, eloquent, impeccably researched and above all within the grasp of the scientifically uninitiated. This book allows us to look back to our origins and peer into the mind-bending future. A must read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 3 Mar 2014
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Really enjoyed this book. Eye opening and very thought provoking; especially part 2: the future of life. As a nutritionist, I try and read a lot about physiology, cell biology and genetics but I've learnt more from this book than anything else I've read in years. Just enough 'science' to keep it interesting but not too much, which makes it easier to read and the author's writing style keeps the book very entertaining as well as informative. I'll certainly look out for more of his work.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea but little substance, 30 April 2013
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It was an interesting concept to bring together a review of current theories on the origins of life with a discussion of where dna research can and should go, but there was little new material here. Too much of the book was spent offering a primer on molecular biology to cover any new ideas in depth and in the end I was confused as to who was the target audience. If you are familiar with the basic science then this book is a waste of time and if not there are many superior alternatives on offer.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life demystified, 6 Aug 2013
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Once upon a time people thought thunder must come from the gods. It was not understood, a mystery. Over the years one supernatural mystery after another has been explained by the advance of science.

But one mystery has been left: life. Even educated people are inclined to view 'the breath of life' as something supernatural. This is understandable, as life even in its most basic form is so complicated.

Rutherford's book takes us a long way towards slaying that last mystery. The book cleverly comes in two halves, which is no mere gimmick. By describing recent advances in synthetic biology, (and bringing into view the prospect that life may be created by humans), the one half does much to explain the other. For the second half explores the possible origins of life. Rutherford is here inspired by the principle 'to understand something you must first be able to build it'.

One crucial point he makes is that 'inanimate matter' is by no means 'inanimate', as any chemist knows. We tend perhaps to exaggerate the difference between living and non living matter. And Rutherford tries to lead us away from the idea of a single moment of creation. Instead we contemplate a long series of transitions between non living and living matter.

There is still a huge amount left to understand, but this book makes an outstanding contribution to progress in this field. It is easy to read and understand, and quite hard to put down once started.

Recommended.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Backside of Winston Churchill, and Other Stories, 18 Jan 2014
This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
There's a story, probably apocryphal, of how Winston Churchill gave a speech to the Free French, ill-advisedly in the tongue of Molière and Balzac. Quand je regarde mon derrière, boomed Britain's great wartime leader, Je vois qu'il est divisé en deux parts. None of which appears at first sight to have very much to do with the fine and definitely bipartite Creation by the radio presenter, former Nature editor, Man in White and all-round egghead, Adam Rutherford.

As the best books about evolution have probably all been written, says Rutherford, the only option is to write a book of two halves - one on what happened before evolution, and the other on what's happening now, that is, how evolution is being co-opted by us humans. Like Churchill, he takes the two-halvedness quite literally. Creation is presented as two books, each with its own front cover. You can start reading Creation: The Origin of Life. Or, if you prefer, turn it backwards, flip it upside down and read Creation; The Future of Life. The books are each independent from the other, and are individually quite short, but - just like the two halves of Churchill's derrière - they meet in the middle, and form a cohesive whole.

Of the two halves, The Origin of Life is the less successful. To be sure, it fizzes with brio, and perhaps strays more towards the breathless this-is-the-sound-of-a-flea-sneezing-magnified-five-million-times style than is really comfortable to one as jaded as I. There is much of the required rehearsal of the structure of nucleic acids and so on - necessarily so. Where it falls down is the discussion of the environment of the earliest days of the Earth - which is no surprise, as this is a fast-moving, deeply complex and contentious field. The classic Miller-Urey experiment is discussed, but I felt that a little more time could have been taken to discuss a few more historical ideas about the origins of life, such as Cairns-Smith's ideas on the nucleation of molecules on clay minerals, or the seminal early thoughts of the likes of Oparin and Bernal.

The Future of Life is altogether more successful and makes up for any deficiencies in its companion. Rutherford's overview of the still-very-new field of synthetic biology is masterful. But it's where he gets into the legal and moral issues surrounding genetic modification that he really gets into his stride, using a philosophical and much more authoritative style that suits him better than the plain reportage elsewhere. True, the tone is far more serious, but is the more effective for all that. From this book you'd never know that, in person, Rutherford is killingly funny (as well as devilishly handsome - why no author photo, hmm?) I look forward to whatever he has up his sleeve next - something longer, deeper, more considered.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise and fun review of the creation of Life, 22 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
A concise and readable review of the concepts underlying the possible start of life followed by an interesting account of the development of life
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Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life
Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life by Adam Rutherford (Hardcover - 4 April 2013)
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