Life Ascending

The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
By: Nick Lane
Narrated by: Graeme Malcolm
Length: 13 hrs and 7 mins
4.4 out of 5 stars (375 ratings)

Audible Premium Plus

$14.95 a month

1 audiobook of your choice.
Stream or download thousands of included titles.
$14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy for $24.95

Buy for $24.95

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

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 10 greatest inventions - from sex and warmth to death - resulting in a stunning account of nature's ingenuity.

©2010 Nick Lane (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Royal Society Prize for Science Books, 2010

"Original and awe-inspiring . . . an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology." (New Scientist)

“For about 150 years, we have known how species evolve. The emergency of life itself remains more obscure. But as Lane shows with clarity and vigor in Life Ascending, fascinating studies on the subject abound.” ( The New York Times Book Review)
“In this wonderful book….Lane does a masterful job of explaining the science….” ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Life Ascending

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    241
  • 4 Stars
    75
  • 3 Stars
    45
  • 2 Stars
    5
  • 1 Stars
    9
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    173
  • 4 Stars
    61
  • 3 Stars
    19
  • 2 Stars
    5
  • 1 Stars
    5
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    184
  • 4 Stars
    49
  • 3 Stars
    23
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    5

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Great and informative but with prior knowledge

This was an interesting and fun listen. I have been interested in evolution for most of my adult life, and while this book takes for granted that evolution is real (who, in their right minds, doesn't?), it does so with great inquiry. Many of the topics held within evolution are discussed here, such as the eye and if evolution was slow and gradual or fast and abrupt.

The book can seem to drag at points, more so if the reader (listener) does not have a firm grasp on many of the scientific terms (I didn't). Because I listened to this book commuting in 2 hour chunks, it was easy for my brain to tune out a lot of the scientific trains of thought. Not a good thing, if that's what you are expecting from this book.

All in all a decent listen and read. I would recommend this to anyone interested in evolution, but without the need to prove it's existence to themselves.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great book!

This was a great book. I think I understood maybe half of it, but that half was fascinating. I used to be a science teacher, but I've been retired for a while now, and I've let my subscriptions to science magazines lapse, and I have fallen behind. He lets us in on the newest theories about a number of scientific theories, and they are fascinating: How did life begin? How was DNA, photosynthesis, cells, sex invented? Will we ever be able to overcome old age and death? There are ten chapters on ten topics, and the information in each one is mind boggling. I kept thinking, "Gee, I wish I'd known this when I was still teaching." But actually, much of it hadn't been discovered then. This is really fresh stuff.

You will have to concentrate to understand this book. I don't commute anymore, so I usually play computer games while I listen to Audible books--games that don't require a lot of thought. But even solitaire was too complicated to play while listening to this book. I plan to listen to it again, but I'm going to get the Kindle version to read along with the audio version.

This book is difficult but very rewarding. I recommend it highly.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

An Extraordinary Experience !

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Certainly would recommend this to friends - and have - especially somewhat brainy friends, curious about the biggest questions - the nature of the universe, how life got started and become what we see around us.

What did you like best about this story?

The depth of explanation and the reasoning behind evolutionary explanations laid out clearly with frank discussion of uncertainties; Lane presents the evidence across all of the scientific disciplines - genomics, paleontology, numerous areas of biology and mathematical modelling - and his book appears not to have been possible much before today, based on the technical advances in genomics and molecular analysis. Apart from being a noted scientist in the area, Lane must have broad cultural interests to inject into his style much humor and stylistic commentary that provides entertaining respites from places where he has found it appropriate to do a deep dive (from the layman's perspective) to get to the heart of the science on a matter.

Have you listened to any of Graeme Malcolm’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, This is a very good one.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Stranger and more exciting than any Sci-Fi.

Any additional comments?

Those familiar with the Drake Equation - that which derives the probability of extra-terrestrial development of intelligent life from a handful of inputs, may want to revisit their calculations. Life on earth - from its start to where it is today seems a very odd mixture of remarkably fortuitous happenstance (the nature of just one type of sub-sea vent and its related chemistry, e.g.) and near or actual inevitabilities.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

technical but enlightening

The most technical of the many science/biology books I've read to date--not for those who hated biology class.

It was particularly good on the theories origins of life/DNA, photosynthesis, and eukaryotic cells. Not so great on consciousness (I think it's hard to make a case that that is one of the greatest "inventions" of evolution from the overall picture of life) and death (really a chapter about how we can avoid the degenerations/infirmations of old age--SPOILER: eat less).

I thought I had, at last, a science book that doesn't try to persuade us that evolution is true but, alas, in the final chapter the author made his pitch. It was a powerful one, though, so I'll excuse it.

Definitely moments where I started to drift off but, overall, this is a good read for those who love biology.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Fascinating and infuriating

At times the book makes its points clearly and it is fascinating. but so much of the time it is unfocused, not content with describing natures greatest inventions, the author insists on giving equal weight to the history of thought surrounding each "invention". When he is focused, he can be witty and compelling, but you turn around for a moment, and he has put down his rifle and is wielding a blunderbus.
For large periods it is like listening to an orchestra in which every instrument is being played at exactly the same volume; it kind of makes sense, but with no modulation, no shape to it.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Life Began As a Porous Rock

Nick Lane has become one of my favorite science writers. Graeme Malcolm is a fantastic narrator. Here's a bit from my favorite passage: "Life must have evolved a surprising degree of sophistication in its rocky hatchery. This paints an extraordinary portrait of the last common ancestor of all life on earth. If [William] Martin and [Michael] Russell are right, and I think they are, she was not a free living cell, but a rocky labyrinth of mineral cells lined with catalytic walls composed of iron, sulfur, and nickel, and energized by natural proton gradients. The first life was a porous rock that generated complex molecules and energy right up to the formation of proteins and DNA itself."

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely Amazing

I loved this book. After nearly 2 decades of Physics being my science learning of choice I needed a change. After a particularly interesting Mindscape podcast episode with a physicist turned biologist, biology is what called out to me. Before this book my only biology knowledge came from HS and a few YouTube videos here and there. I wanted a book that got into the details on a variety of biological topics as a starting off point. And on that this books seriously delivered. Make no mistake, this book is dense. I had to listen to a chapter or even part of a chapter and then go watch YouTube videos and read articles to better understand what I just learned. But that is what I wanted. Biology is an enormous discipline and having this book gave me various grounding points so I could get started which is exactly what I needed. I feel in the last month I’ve gone from a total biology noob to a biology novice. I cannot wait to learn more. As soon as I am done with this review I plan on listening to the entire book again, this time armed with considerable more knowledge before but undoubtedly i will find more detail that will send me on many more learning adventures. As for the narration, once I bumped it to 1.25x speed it was perfect. I swear they slowed it down .25 as nobody talks THAT slow.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Well worth the listen

I enjoyed his next book on the more detailed look at the origin of life more but this is a great overview of that and other interesting developments in evolution including muscle, hot blood, consciousness and death. Well worth your time

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating but challenging.

Well written and well narrated, The first few chapters grabbed my interest, but then it started getting difficult (at least for me). I returned to it after listening to 'Biology: The Science of Life - The Great Courses' (excellent) and was able to understand and appreciate the wonder of Life Ascending all the better for it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent treatment of life's drivers

Lane does a great job organizing and discussing important events in life's history. If you love biology, then you will find this to be a great synthesis of big ideas.