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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution Hardcover – 16 Apr 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (16 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861978480
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861978486
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 433,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

Boldly tackling some of these apparently irreducible complexities... 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 2009-06-20)

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)

A clever concept is carried through with a clarity and enthusiasm that belies the sophistication of the science (Guardian Summer Reading 2009-07-18)

Excellent and imaginative and, similar to life itself, the book is full of surprises.... Life Ascending is a fascinating book for anyone interested in life and evolution, and how these discoveries were made (Lewis Wolpert Nature 2009-07-23)

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

An excellent book. It is great fun, readable, bubbling over with enthusiasm, and not afraid of controversial, even weird, ideas... Hopeless as a bedside book: you'd never sleep (Chemistry World)

With clarity and vigour... Lane shows how thoroughly, if provisionally, we can reconstruct evolutionary developments (Peter Dizikes New York Times Book Review 2009-08-30)

The emergence of life itself remains obscure. But as Lane shows with clarity and vigor, fascinating studies on the subject abound (Peter Dizikes New York Times Book Review 2009-08-30)

Lane is that particularly rare breed: a scientist who can not only offer a bird's-eye view of an entire field but also tell you about his own very interesting ideas (Carl Zimmer Science)

Review

'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

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book. Nick Lane is a consummate communicator who manages to (mostly) demystify the most esoteric and obscure ideas in biochemistry and evolution. It is full of difficult and often controversial concepts but he manages to strike a good balance between writing for the lay reader and drawing the reader's attention to the scientific disagreements while still justifying his own view of the evidence. He also includes quotes and anecdotes from a wide range of scientific and non-scientific authors that, all in all, adds to the general feeling of erudition as well as injecting some humour into what could a very dry subject. Having said that, however, the from print to the Kindle edition suffers from some appalling and distracting errors. To give a few examples: almost every apostrophe is preceded by a space; many hyphens betray the existence of line breaks in the printed edition which are absent in the digital edition. Worst of all is the haphazard linking of footnotes in the text; the first few chapters are largely accurate but then it breaks down with some non-existent links and some links pointing to completely the wrong footnote. This is such a shame as it spoils the enjoyment and smooth flow of is otherwise an extraordinarily well written and researched book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
With his clear and accessible writing style and with many facts to throw about, the author succeeds in keeping my attention all the way. Also extremely appreciated is that the author presents all the different points of view, before arguing for one, which may not always seem to be clear to other popular science book writers. Must read!
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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think that if your interested in evolutionary biology you have probably read Dawkins which is informative, well explained and easily digested, this book goes much deeper into the subject into the biochemistry of life, all the big subjects are here and Nick Lane explains them as clearly as possible. But this is not an easy read, a few chapters I had to reread, hard work but rewarding .
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting and readable
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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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By Sir Barnabas VINE VOICE on 18 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Life Ascending

In Life Ascending, biochemist Nick Lane examines his particular candidates for the top ten "inventions" of evolution. These are; the origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the eukaryotic cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death.

The book itself is a fascinating account of some of the central themes of life, from the origin of life itself, through to consciousness and, finally, death. It is extremely well written by a passionate scientist and provides a clear and lucid insight into current scientific thinking regarding the evolution of the subjects selected for inclusion in the book. While the whole book is comendable, one of my favourite chapters is the very first, which explains how the discovery of submarine hydrothermal and alkaline vents, their structure and chemistry have transformed our understanding of the origin of life on this planet.

The author isn't afraid to tackle some difficult concepts head on and the first 3 chapters in particular deal with some pretty complex biochemistry. Whilst this is obviously intended as a popular science book, I would suggest that it possibly isn't all that suitable for the evolution/science novice.

Overall, a fascinating and well written account of our current understanding of the evolution of the chosen subjects, although if you are looking for a more "introductory" text, or a more general overview of evolution, I would suggest something like Jerry Coyne's excellent; "Why Evolution is True" or Dawkins' most recent offering; "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution".
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