Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review: Life Ascending

A follow up to a previous post - I finished reading Life Ascending by Nick Lane this morning. As I expected, it was fascinating. Subtitled "The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution" - the book is divided into ten chapters, each one focusing on a different great invention. The book was thus logically organized, making it easy to follow, with each concept following the prior one chronologically. There could be some difference of opinion on whether those ten aspects of evolution are truly the greatest, but for a layman such as myself, it made a great read. For those that are interested, the chapters are

  • The Origin of Life

    What interested me most: The general description of early Earth, and the focus on sub sea thermal vents as a likely location for the growth of first life - as opposed to the widely promoted "primordial soup" view of primitive Earth.

    Bonus: The first four chapters tie together the most fundamental concepts for those of us that like to contemplate biogenesis.

  • DNA

    What interested me most: Knowing how cells began to replicate is essential for understanding life.

    Caution: Keep wikipedia handy - there are some chemistry terms and complex concepts that may make you take a break, or may require a second reading.

  • Photosynthesis

    What interested me most: The general ability to convert free matter and energy into usable forms

  • The Complex Cell

    What interested me most: This is really the nut of biogenesis - the evolution from bacteria to cells without nuclei to cells with nuclei, and the surprising role that bacteria may have played in the formation of eukaryotic cells.

  • Sex

    It's not what you think: The theme is "why sex instead of cloning". The answer may be: "protection against detrimental mutations"

  • Movement

    What I liked most: The focus shifted quickly from simple motility (cool word) to how muscles work.

    Surprise Factoid: Cells have skeletons!

  • Sight

    I liked all of this chapter ... it directly addresses the old Creationist saw that "half an eye is useless".

    Surprise Factoid: Half an eye is quite useful - there are deep sea shrimp that have retinas on their backs!

  • Hot Blood

    What interested me most: I liked the further discussion of individual cells ... and really enjoyed the discussion of bird lungs.

  • Consciousness

    What interested me most: This was the most philosophical chapter in the book, as you might guess. The discussion of the frequency of the brain, the locations of the senses, and the coordination of all of these to form perception was a head full.

  • Death

    Money quote: "Only death makes multi cellular life possible"

    Dream on: Life extension is possible

Highly Recommended!

No comments:

Post a Comment