Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: Life Ascending

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 scientific literature (Lane himself writes on these topics for Nature and refers to those articles throughout the book), but this book is at the Goldilocks level of enough but not too much detail. Sometimes I feel like the book gets a little too scientific for a general audience, and once in a while I wonder if the study Lane is highlighting is really "all that"; for example, I'd like to see the findings replicated that he reports as a tiny change in mitochondria causing a huge change in human lifespan, but it appears to rest on one paper from Japan. I do give Lane props for addressing consciousness with fairness, arguing for his interpretation rather than disparaging the Pope as he quotes him, little things like that. As interesting as the content of this book is, it's the tone that really impresses me and is something I'd like to emulate from my viewpoint.

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