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Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution

(The Science Masters Series)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  631 ratings  ·  43 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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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.
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
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
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.
Niamh Dempsey
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.
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.
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
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
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
The author says that the evolution of life on earth follows the path of symbiosis. But she does not provide any scientific evidence. She repeats a few very simple hypothetical arguments. She sums up the results of some scientific research done by other scientists, but fails to present the results as a set of proofs to support her points.

Worst of all, she is a horrible writer. While talking of details, she often forgets what she was talking about, and sometimes does not even return to the main po
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Eating and reproducing among even the tiniest life forms is made into an incredibly fascinating journey by Lynn Margulis in this skinny publication. I found myself cheering for her explanatory theories of evolution all the way. There is something very compelling about including bacteria in the grand narrative about evolution not just in the case of humans, but in general, after all it was tiny bacteria and simple cell organisms that turned this planet into the blue gem it is today. The details o ...more
Kat Tan-a
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Came across this book on a tab hopping mission one eve, started looking at the earth as a self contained superorganism and Lynn Margulis's work alongside chemist, Lovelock. When I found that she was the ex-wife of one of my favourite physicists, Carl Sagan, I decided that I wanted to learn more about her and came across the Symbiotic Planet. This is an incredible look at the development of living beings and ignited an interest in microbiology that I've never previously cared for. Margulis has a ...more
Daniel Duarte

A great introductory piece to the science that supports the Gaia Hypotesis. An introduction that shields the Gaia hypotesis from 'new age', feminism and rushed conclusions of a global harmony. The book also offers an overall look at the role of symbiosis in evolution. Fascinating examples and thought-provoking rationale. Also some of the cogs behind science are brought to the forefront (a lot of this has a personal flavor as Margulis review her own life). Summing up: A classic Lynn Margulis book
Well I hated this book! I started it believing I am going to read something scientific about symbiosis, but it was nothing like that. This book is like an autobiography of Lynn Margulis. There are so many parts of her personal life combined in between how she evolved to her theory, that becomes tiring. The book is so poorly ordered, it was absolutely difficult to follow the theory. As mentioned before it is full of personal moments and criticism of other scientists that do not agree with her the ...more
Steve Voiles
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
A bit technical, but if that does not put you off, this is a fascinating read, detailing the collaborative nature of cellular evolution. Our own bodies are a world of microbes, we know, but Margulis details the worlds within the very cells of which we are composed, looking at parts of life that we don't normally even consider as living, the protein chains that have collaborated to form the pieces of our DNA and make possible the cellular behavior that make life work!
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a conservation biologist with evolutionary and ecology sciences under my belt, Lynn's symbiotic theory made vast sense and added to my worldview. She writes well and supports her ideas with specificity and exuberance. I've symbiotically incorporated her theory and continue to find supportive evidence in daily life.
Staci C
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book a lot. I'm still skeptical about Ms. Margulis's theory, but I appreciated her explanation and her ability to explain things to someone like me who isn't as well trained in biology as I would like to be.
Stephen Palmer
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Superb book by an acknowledged inspiration and authority in the field. I wasn't disappointed by this. It's short and succinct. It's readable, fascinating, and makes you think. Highly recommended, and not only for "future of life" types like me.
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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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