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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  1,629 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Where does DNA come from? What is consciousness? How did the eye evolve? Drawing on a treasure trove of new scientific knowledge, Nick Lane expertly reconstructs evolution’s history by describing its ten greatest inventions—from sex and warmth to death—resulting in a stunning account of nature’s ingenuity.
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 14th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2009)
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Lois Bujold
Nov 10, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lois by: spotted in list of other-books-by

Excellent pop science writing, as absorbing as a novel (I read it in two days). The author has a knack for compelling narrative flow that seems both natural, and accumulating to some sense of Getting Somewhere by the end, always very satisfying.

Lots of new things from recent (and less recent) research that I hadn't yet heard about, which was much of what I was hoping for from this book. It also gives, in passing along the way, a good sense of how science itself evolves. Wow has biology ever adva
I had a lot of fun reading this book up until the end, when I started to worry about the author's propensity towards exaggeration and speculation.
For anyone who wants to learn about cutting edge speculation on the origin of life, Eukaryotas, and sex, it's definitely worth a read!
Anyone allergic to new-age nonsense sociology, just skip the last 9th chapter.
Everyone should take the last chapter with a very large grain of salt, because it's full of speculation, overblown claims, and other lies.

1. T
Courtney Johnston
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways ...

I love Nick Lane's tone, which manages to balance wit and clarity without overusing the analogy button:

Thermodynamics is one of those words best avoided in a book with any pretence to be popular, but it's more engaging if it's seen for what it is: the science of 'desire'. The existence of atoms and molecules is dominated by 'attractions', 'repulsions', 'wants' and 'discharges', to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to write about chem
I found this to be a mixed bag. I found some chapters such as Complex Cells and Hot Blood fascinating and others such as Movement and Consciousness quite tedious. The author does a good job of reducing complex biological processes into simpler terms but I felt he used weird analogies far too often to illustrate his point. When he started comparing muscle proteins into classical music I had to roll my eyes. In addition, a few more illustrations would be useful to show some concepts.
It was nice to
Life Ascending, winner of the 2010 Royal Society prize for popular science books, is one of the greatest of all time. The OEDB list of greatest popular science books is out of date. This is science on the cutting edge, championing theories that have been gaining attention slowly in recent years, among those interested in biology but not in the mass media. Techniques, equipment and insights started with the Human Genome Project, plus the ability to see and model ever tinier structures, have led t ...more
Gavin Drury
"I think that the picture painted in this book is true. Life most surely evolved, along the lines described here. That is not dogma, but evidence tested in reality and corrected accordingly. Whether this grand picture is compatible with faith in God, I do not know. For some people, intimately acquainted with evolution, it is; for others, it is not. But whatever our beliefs, this richness of understanding should be a cause for marvel and celebration. It is a most wonderful thing to share so much ...more
Ioannis Savvas
Ο Nick Lane είναι βιοχημικός και το βιβλίο του Life Ascending κέρδισε το Royal Society Prize for Science Books για το 2010. Διαβάζοντας πρόσφατα ένα φρικτό βιβλίο εκλαϊκευμένης επιστήμης, η σύγκριση είναι αναπόφευκτη. Ο Nick Lane συνθέτει μια συμφωνία επιστημονικών δεδομένων για να παρουσιάσει ένα καταπληκτικό μουσικό έργο με πρωταγωνιστή την Εξέλιξη. Ο συγγραφέας επιλέγει τις δέκα σημαντικότερες «εφευρέσεις» της Εξέλιξης και συνθέτει δέκα κεφάλαια κλιμακωτά. Βήμα-βήμα ανεβαίνει την εξελικτική π ...more
And how did consiousness rise from lifeless matter? His chapter about consciousness has some interesting things to say about that. With that I mean that is has become possible to observe the brain working, seeing specialised regions at work in the brain.
They see how the brain - while the person looks at an object- has 30 to 60 regions of specialised neurons firing. They only fire when their litle aspect is recognised.
E.g. we have neurons specialised in firing only when an object moves from left
Ben Mcfarland
This is the first book I've read by Nick Lane and I already know I'm going to read more. Lane approaches scientific controversy with a light hand, but he talks about the real issues and the real science going on. Lane is a practicing biochemist who writes popular science, and it shows. This book is framed around 10 "innovations" evolved by life: all the way from the origin of life to mitochondria to consciousness and death. A lot of the general issues I've become familiar with from the scientifi ...more
Ralph Hermansen
"Life Ascending" by Dr. Nick Lane is a fascinating adventure. I would not recommend it to you as your first book on evolution and probably not as your second or third. However, if you have read enough to somewhat appreciate the role of DNA and genes in evolutionary science, then you will find this book very worth reading. The author is a biochemist and he looks at evolution through a biochemist's eyes. He stops short of introducing structural formulas of organic compounds and focuses more on des ...more
Before reading Nick Lane I have never had interest in Biology. I didn't even watch Animal Planet. And for a month now I can't stop talking about mitochondria, DNA, evolution, etc.
His books are fascinating. I like the way he structures his statements, his sense of humor, the analogies he makes, the notions that start floating in your head. I like that he obviously likes The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy :)
Somebody here has said that he is speculating too much with unproved theories. May be bec
Todd Martin
In “Life Ascending” Nick Lane discusses in what his opinion are the ten most important developments in evolutionary history. They are:
1. The origin of life.
2. DNA
3. Photosynthesis
4. The complex cell
5. Sex
6. Movement
7. Sight
8. Hot blood
9. Consciousness
10. Death
In each section Lane discusses what we know about the topic, then moves into more speculative and cutting edge research. He does a good job explaining the basics, but does not provide enough information to carry the reader through the end
Cassandra Kay Silva
The details in this book are fascinating! Lots of fun speculation interwoven with intricate descriptions of various facets of living organisms on an almost chemical/cellular level. This makes it very distinct from other books on evolution as the author literally picks his random top favorite topics and just starts discussing. I listed to this on auido and it kind of felt like a podcast in the manner it was presented. It was really fun and I liked the reader a lot. This is a great one to throw on ...more
Saša Tomislav
A truly great book, and a very enjoyable read, it reads like a collection of epic historical stories about battles in our genetic code, viral invasions, ancient molecular defense mechanisms, freak accidents that might've brought a bacteria and an archeon together, how stupid it is to be warm blooded and much much more.

The ten inventions from the title are
1. Origin of Life, 2. DNA, 3. Photosynthesis, 4. Complex Cell, 5. Sex, 6. Movement, 7. Sight, 8. Hot Blood 9. Consciousness , 10. Death

Each c
Devin Jack
Nick Lane has created a long and detailed story about great "inventions" of evolution. Life Ascending goes from invention to invention, explaining and showing what they've done to change life.
Nick Lane talks about the world throughout time. He talks about Life, DNA, and photosynthesis. Four centuries ago, everything about life's emergance was a mystery. Systematic experiment and research has reduced the amount of riddles dramatically. It continues to talk about key features of the natural worl
This is another of those reviews where I say I don't know how to review non-fiction books. So, here it is: I don't know how to review non-fiction books.

I can say two things about this. 1) It had a great deal of information that I was previously unaware of, and in that sense, it was miles beyond the book on evolution I read last year (Your Inner Fish) that I struggled to get through because so much of it was just soooo basic.

This one, while miles away from being difficult to read, did at least p
A pretty amazing read. I did not know exactly what to expect, but thoroughly enjoyed the theories described in this book regarding the origins of life and the milestones along the way that resulted in today's abundant but ever-struggling life in all it's many forms. The science is solid, and the storytelling style of historical events in life's development is both entertaining and enthralling. Here's a brief review I found online that I liked:

The author Nick Lane is a biochemist and he deals wit
This was one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure to read. If you like a book that delves deep into every tiny detail, this is the book for you. If things like ATP, leaky mitochondria, bacteria that can live in strange conditions, how DNA was discovered (and how Crick thought aliens put it on Earth), you will enjoy Lane's wonderful adventure of how life came to be. The science in this book was outstanding.
Yasser Mohammad
this is ghe first book of lane I read. given that I am not a biologist, I cannot judge the accuracy of all the details in this book even though most of the conclusions of the author seemed plausible given the supporting evidence provided by the author.

The book is generally easy to read and engaging even though some parts seem more speculative than the rest (e.g. the evolution oc the code and the vent theory)

One good thing about this book is that it is not written in a defensive tone as the auth
"yasamin yukselisi" seklinde turkceye kazandirilmis cok onemli bir kitap.. tesekkurler ebru kilic... hayatin olusumu ve evrimin "basarisi" uzerine 10 farkli temayi incelemis. aslinda farkli demek dogru degil.. ilk temalari koken, dna, fotosentez ve karmasik hucre bolumleri cok ama cok basrili.. biraz teknik bolumler olsa da konuya merakli herkesin zevkle okuyacagi bolumler... primordiyal corbadan ziyade baca ve menfezler benim cok ilgimi cekti mesela... yazar N Lane bir biyokimyaci oldugundan bu ...more
Michael Kenning
Whether you accept the theory of evolution or not, one thing that puzzles all who dare think about life is its complexity. It certainly perplexed me. This book is the antidote to that condition.

Nick Lane's descriptions of the theories behind the evolution of movement, photosynthesis, respiration, etc., are not condescending. What impressed me most is the use of natural language to express scientific theories unequivocally. This is encouraging. It's the kind of communication which is vital in ens
Jason Mills
Jan 31, 2011 Jason Mills rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who thinks science is a good thing
Recommended to Jason by: The Royal Society
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 ...more
I could read clear writing 4 eva! I actually think that reading popular science prose effects my brain, all-be-it temporarily. For a while after I feel precise and lucid. I see things as components; bread, peanut butter, jam.
Unfortunately, the information contained therein is also fleeting. I found this out to my dismay when I was starting to explain some fascinating discoveries from this book about genes to Theo, and found I couldn't string a coherent sentence together. I lacked the active voca
Harry Rutherford
The ten ‘inventions’ are: The origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. Lane explains how each of these work and how they evolved, at least as far as current knowledge can take us — which in some cases, like the origin of life, is apparently rather further than I had realised. The consciousness chapter, if you’re wondering, was rather less persuasive.

What sets this book apart from most popular accounts of evolution is that Ni
Avi Roy
Nick Lane proves yet again that hardcore scientists (in this case a biochemist) can pen the most sublime/enjoyable text in the world, all this while being both insightful and elucidative. This book is organised as ten "scientific american" cover article length (maybe slightly longer) chapters, all of whom stand on their own, but to receive a cohesive picture of the grandeur (of evolution) one must be read it in series. Each chapter gives a whistle-stop tour about the scientific literature and co ...more
Carol Ryan
Nick Lane has taken on, among other things, the origin and evolution of all life on earth, in his book Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

I have to admit I set myself a goal of reading the book because the rest of my family: my dad and two brothers had already read it. I haven’t opened a book about the physical sciences in years and I began to wonder why. In researching the book before I bought it, I discovered reviewers loved it. But, there was something else that bothered me
Alison Dellit
This book isn't the easiest read, particularly if you, like me, have no background in chemistry and scarcely remember cellular biology. Lane explains each new concept/word as it is introduced, but also introduces them rapid fire, so keeping each in your head in increasingly dense sentences becomes difficult. No doubt had I found the analogies useful, this would have been off-set, but unusually (based on other reviews) I found them often not quite exact enough to be useful, and sometimes off-base ...more
Rachael (RachaelReviewsAll)
Life Ascending is an excellent scientific book on evolution. I was a bit weary picking it up, as evolution has never been one of my favourite topics to read about, but I was pleasantly surprised by this. However, I would only recommend this if you are prepared to spend a lot of reading time mulling over the past bits you have read.

Lane presents a fascinating account of the most important contributors to modern life and how they evolved. It's exceptionally in-depth, and is very well reasoned an
For my money, few subjects are as impressive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as biology and evolution. Is there a greater drama in the cosmos outside the long play of life, its actors emerging epoch by epoch -- many vanishing into the darkness once more, but not before leaving their mark upon those that follow them? The thought that the immense and varied mass of life on this earth, so rich as to beggar description, is ultimately unified by common ancestry still staggers me. Earth's history of lif ...more
Brian Powell
This is a fun journey through the major achievements of evolution that paved the way for complex, sentient life. Lane's presentation is entertaining with about the right amount of technical coloring.

Lane's "inventions" are interesting because they all tend to evade easy explanation. Throughout the investigations of these inventions, we come across many provocative ideas regarding: the origin of the nucleus (proposed as a means of giving the cell more time to remove damaging DNA before translati
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Science of evolution 1 24 Jan 20, 2010 08:55AM  
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
  • What Evolution Is
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
  • The Epigenetics Revolution
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  • The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma
  • The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
  • Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins
  • Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated
  • The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures that Have Ever Lived
  • Evolution: The First Four Billion Years
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World Life in the Frozen State Origins of Life. How Life Began. Abiogenesis, Astrobiology

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