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on 2 October 2003
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. In the whole, however, it may be considered a book on biochemistry. It also presents the author's convictions to explain a handful of biochemical processes, however controversial they may be. This is an aspect that I cannot judge for myself, as it falls completely outside of my field of expertise. This however was not an impediment for me to read and understand much of the book. But the same is not true for someone lacking some basic knowledge on biology or even biochemistry. The author misuses the terms 'metamorphosis' to refer to 'metamorphism' in rocks, and 'crystal structure' of rocks when this should refer to the minerals that constitutes rocks. However, these are minor details that do not cast any shadow in an otherwise brilliant book.
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on 11 January 2008
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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on 3 August 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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on 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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on 20 March 2016
Most interesting book i've ever read. This should be compulsory reading for all students at A level and beyond. In fact i suggest that everyone read it in their teenage years to get a better understanding of everything. Its all encompassing in scope, from prehistory, through evolution, biological functions at the cellular level and then into genes and DNA. The writing is excellent, clear, very factual whilst accessible to the layman. Each chapter taught me something new and some pages literally had me almost awestruck by the incredible wonder of the universe.
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on 24 June 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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on 28 November 2013
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 govern the human life cycle at the molecular level. The content is generally factual and draws from many disciplines including geology, biology, evolution and genetics, which the author has blended to provide a comprehensive picture of a gaseous element we all depend upon but undoubtedly take for granted. Overall the book is an interesting read, although the latter third is predominantly concerned with genetics and human aging which at times seems to have no direct relevance to oxygen.

A further caveat is that the content in some parts may be considered too academic and difficult to understand for a reader unfamiliar with the basics of bio-chemistry, evolutionary biology and genetics. In this respect - whether by accident or intent - the author cites an appropriate quote attributed to a geneticist who suggests that biochemistry as a subject is unfit for popularization! This is not to imply the book should be avoided by the casual reader as I think it attempts to explain a very complex subject in a manner which avoids excessive use of discipline-specific jargon. However the book is a challenge and demands the reader's attention, if knowledge is to be gained about a molecule that is essential and yet dangerous to humankind. It is only for this reason that I refrain from giving the book the highest rating.
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on 28 June 2011
The book explores in depth the role of oxygen in the history of life on earth, and in ageing. In the process it takes the reader into some quite complex science. It is a tribute to Nick Lane that he keeps everything comprehensible to the non-expert without dumbing down: though at times quite a bit of concentration is required to follow the full detail. He is good on bringing together insights from different scientific disciplines. Above all, he draws out the uncertainties of science, and the way key theories often need to be jettisoned or revised, or may not fit all the evidence. This is popular science writing at its best.
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on 10 January 2012
This book is very well written and informative. There is lots of information here about the role of oxygen in the body. This is too difficult a topic to make for an easy read, but should be well within the capability of any interested person.
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on 17 March 2013
This book pulls together some of the latest scientific thinking about how we all came to be. It can be heavy going in places for a non scientist but but the writing is lively enough to sustain the reader. Best taken in short chunks maybe. However, a fascinating insight into the steps nature has progressed through to get us where w are today. Also has interesting views on global warming & several modern medical issues.
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