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Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution

(The Science Masters Series)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  682 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Although Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution laid the foundations of modern biology, it did not tell the whole story. Most remarkably, The Origin of Species said very little about, of all things, the origins of species. Darwin and his modern successors have shown very convincingly how inherited variations are naturally selected, but they leave unanswered how variant organ ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 8th 1999 by Basic Books (first published October 8th 1998)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have, evolution
If we care to, we can find symbiosis everywhere. Physical contact is a non-negotiable requisite for many differing kinds of life.

Symbiosis: interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

What this book is not: A straightforward account of the science of evolutionary biology in the late 20th century; nor is it a textbook approach; nor is it even a journalistic, popular science approach.

What this book is: An account of one woma
Lindsay Miller
I'm confused by a review that describes this book as concise, because I found it to be anything but. It seemed like the entire manuscript had been chopped up into paragraphs and rearranged, then never reworked for logical flow. It jumps from topic to topic in a not-at-all-charming way. It introduces terms 20 pages after the main discussion they were relevant to, if at all. It triggered far too many eye-rolls and sighs of exasperation in me, particularly at the awkwardly syrupy, sweeping, citatio ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
The work presents a concise explanation of the author's Serial Endosymbiosis Theory (SET), which she regards as the key to speciation. She's probably correct for the most part. I appreciated her explanation of the historical (taxonomical) development of the kingdoms among which the various forms of life are distributed, although said explanation would have been appreciated even more had it appeared earlier in the book. Her clarification of the Gaia hypothesis was skillful, but I take issue with ...more
Apr 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
Fascinating concept, irritatingly chatty and discursive execution. Much as I enjoy hearing what it was like to be married to Carl Sagan, the incessant name-dropping of colleagues and family members detracts from a clear narrative arc.
Piotr Klimczak
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Symbiotic Planet is a new look at evolution by Lynn Margulis. Some of the issues which Margulis is hoping to address, clarify and interpret in the language of biology - within a framework of a broadly understood concept and philosophy of Gaia - are far reaching and transcend our common human-orientated species specific arrogance: 'The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self-inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal our sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity ...more
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Margulis presents her theory of evolution -- it happens through symbiosis between and within organisms. We do not just evolve from bacteria but we incorporate more bacteria and other simple life forms into our system. Protoplasmic genes do matter and are important components of our genetic inheritance. She labels her theory "Serial Endosymbiosis Theory." It is a worthy read.
Dec 28, 2020 rated it liked it
A lovely concept. Endosymbiosis as a means of creating new species and higher order organisms. Serial endosymbiotic theory (SET) aims to account for the differentiation of five major kingdoms of life through the composition of multiple types of microbes to allow higher order life to emerge.

It's a broad survey of SET tracing its origins and highlighting challenges, victories, and social response, peppered with personal anecdote and reflection. It feels a bit scattered and difficult to follow with
Jacob Wren
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Two short passages from Symbiotic Planet:


Life is a planetary level phenomenon and the Earth has been alive for at least 3000 million years. To me the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable - the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal a sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.


So far the only way i
Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science
I'm a sucker for popular science books. As a minor member of one of C P Snow's Two Cultures, I am respectful of but in no way conversant with the scientific mind (and even less so of technology), so popular science writings are my way of consuming regurgitated scientific principles without too much indigestion.

Lynn Margulis is a celebrated microbiologist who has, by all accounts, done sterling work on the relationships between bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Her main contribution to science
Jan 30, 2021 rated it liked it
Wowa, scientists really love talking shit about politics without having read a single work in that field, eh? Even when I was a dumb wee genetics kid I knew there was something worth hearing from the counterculture. Seems Lynn Margulis just lumps all cultures together into one big monomyth of ignorance, which her scientific mind cuts through like a prismatic spray.

So the good points.

Lynn Margulis radically challenges Neo-Darwinism with her theory of endosymbiosis. Essentially, Darwinists (though
Bill Leach
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lynn Margulis' Serial Endosymbiosis Theory (SET) proposes that advanced life started with the combination of bacteria that were living symbiotically. There were three steps:

1. Heat and acid tolerant archaebacteria merged with spirochetes, the later forming undulipodia and giving movement. The archaebacteria became the nuclei.

2. The swimming anaerobes merged with oxygen breathing bacteria, becoming the mitochondria that allow the product to cope with increasing levels of oxygen. These are the anc
Paula Koneazny
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Margulis strives in this short book to connect the idea of Gaia with her symbiotic theory of evolution and does so quite convincingly to my mind. I appreciate her scientific explication of the Gaia Hypothesis, as opposed to the widespread, pop-spirituality one of a personified uber-organism. In Margulis's words, "Gaia itself is not an organism directly selected among many. It is an emergent property of interaction among organisms, the spherical planet on which they reside, and an energy source, ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
The ideas were fantastically interesting and thought-provoking (as with Margulis's last book I read, Microcosmos, which was cowritten with her son Dorion Sagan).

The actual writing style and execution, though, were not great. Repetitive, incohesive structure, sometimes unclear. Margulis is not much of a long-form writer. Still, I was definitely interested enough to read the whole book. The writing wasn't bad, just not great.
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: naturalworld
Interesting in that it explained how cells were formed by symbiotic relationships between bacteria, but failing to explain how symbiotic relationships in general speed evolution forward.
Kalani Williams
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
As someone who is currently studying evolution for my PhD, symbiotic theory of the mitochondria was my favorite thing I learned about in grade school. Furthermore, I'm from the same area as Lynn Margulis (which meant I was also a sucker for her perfectly selected Dickinson quotes at the start of each chapter), so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. I had heard before hand that some of her ideas were more extreme and controversial and I was pleasantly surprised by how clearly a ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This is my first introduction to Margulis as an author, though as someone that tries to follow as much of current research in Biology as possible, I was very much aware of her work involving SET theory, without knowing who she was. Having said that though, I do have to say I was a little disappointed in this book overall. My general impression is that Margulis is the type of person that is much smarter than the average Biologist, and has a better grasp of viewing these kinds of concepts in a “bi ...more
Christopher O
Aug 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ooo
more like 3.25.

I found this book lacking most logical continuity or narrative chronology, but I also found it rather insightful. It's a shame, the structure. Margulis is on top of her game and her Serial Endosymbiotic Theory is rich, as is the explanation of scientific Gaia Theory. However, it seems like a tendency to leave it all to hindsight and explain everything really makes The Symbiotic Planet inaccessible. Her prose is, at times, accessible--however, she gives no forewarning before launch
Aug 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"We can group life into three or five or a million categories, but life itself will elude us."

Wowza. This was a read. It wasn't overly long (about 130 pages not including the notes and index sections) which was great for me, because if it was an longer I may not have made it. There were parts I found interesting and even poetic from Margulis, but on the whole I found this to be rather dry and unapproachable for someone who doesn't come from an extensive scientific background.

Definitely not a bo
Scattered but illuminating: for its articulation of symbiogenesis and its centrality to life’s development, for Margulis’s passionate microbe-level view of the world, and for its clearing of the air around Gaia.

The memoirish bits, to my mind, actually add a lot, helping locate these concepts amid networks of scientists, discourses, attitudes at a particular moment. She mentions that one thing she valued in her university training was an emphasis on reading the original writings of pivotal resear
Alexis Williams
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
I loved and hated this book. I loved reading about how bacteria with different traits joined forces to create new species and new kingdoms. I loved reading about the different kingdoms. I loved the bits about mycology. I am glad I read the bit about Gaia theory.

I didn't love reading about her life, or the scientific history of every argument ever made. I usually don't like those parts of biology, but in this case it was consistently arrogant rather than insightful, inspiring or entertaining. It
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All life is interconnected at its most basic level. Life evolves through bacterial invasion. Instead of the host destroying the invader they enter into a sybiotic relationship. Life regulates the earth keeping it fit for life. The author refers to this as Gaia. The book is a middle easy read, that is, is contains many scientifc terms but the author is good at explain these. I enjoyed it.
Mar 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read this years ago, but I still remember it. Some of the ideas took root in my thinking and have shaped my ideas about many things. Want to re-read it here in the COVID-19 pandemic. Might have time.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biodynamic
This was an inspiring read - a totally new perspective on evolution and life on planet Earth. I learned so much... true, groundbreaking science.
Owen Moorhead
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great introduction to Margulis' theory of symbiogenesis. It's a fascinating topic and Margulis is an engaging writer. My only complaint is that, at a slim 120 pages or so, it's pretty cursory. ...more
Erin Miller
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Francisco Valdes
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clarifies a number of grey areas on the evolution of life, its classification and also the role of symbiosis in the evolution of life.
Throws light also on the theory of Gaia.
Great read.
Galen Weitkamp
Jun 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Lynn Margulis is a biologist (currently a professor at the University of Massachusetts). She is well known for her work on symbiogenesis (the evolution of new species through “inheritable” symbiosis). One time her son Zach asked, “Mom, what does the Gaia idea have to do with your symbiotic theory?” At the time she answered, “Nothing...” This book is a somewhat more in depth response to that question.

Most of us have been indoctrinated into the dogma known as the non-inheritability of acquired tr
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
In short: This book lacks focus and is unsure about what it tries to achieve.. The result is that key arguments and examples are not worked out and her ideas don't get the space they deserve. Which is frustrating given some of these are really promising. On the plus side its language is easy and quite lively.

The long: Lynn Margulis is one of the big names of evolutionary microbiology because of her work on endosymbiosis. It was with great interest that I picked up this book, hoping on getting an
Julia Van Etten
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book explained everything to me that was not taught in four years of college biology.
My claim is that, like all other apes, humans are not the work of God but of thousands of millions of years of interaction among highly responsive microbes. This view is unsettling to some. (5)

I really, really wanted to like this book. There was so much possibility here for the late Dr. Margulis to talk in depth about symbiosis, evolution, and the (partially, at least) cooperative nature of Nature, and to explain the evidence for her core hypotheses in an intelligent non-specialist's language. S
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Science and Natur...: July 2014: Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution 2 32 Aug 01, 2014 10:13PM  

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Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) was a Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

Other books in the series

The Science Masters Series (1 - 10 of 21 books)
  • One Renegade Cell: The Quest For The Origin Of Cancer
  • River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
  • Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)
  • The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures About The Ultimate Fate Of The Universe
  • Nature's Numbers: The Unreal Reality Of Mathematics
  • The Origin Of The Universe
  • The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work
  • Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness
  • The Origin Of Humankind
  • The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements

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“Life is a planetary level phenomonon and the Earth has been alive for at least 3000 million years. To me the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable - the rhethoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal a sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.” 6 likes
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