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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 members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Joshua
  • Flint, MI, USA
  • 07-06-10

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.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Lucas
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 02-17-11

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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Tim
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 07-14-10

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 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant writing + lapses of impenetrable writing

In its best moments, this book is beautiful and actually quite funny, delivered just right by Graeme Malcolm's wizardly British accent. It felt like hanging out with Newton in his study, listening to him reveal the secrets of the world.

And then, in moments, Lane seems to give up on any pretence of speaking to a wider audience, using terminology few outside of biology will follow. I found it baffling, because elsewhere, he takes such care to explain things in terms anyone could grasp. It's unclear to me whether he truly didn't realize what concepts others wouldn't know, or whether he just got lazy in places. From reading reviews of his other books, this seems to be an ongoing problem he has.

Unfortunately, these moments are most common in the earlier chapters, when he's discussing metabolism, the origin of life and photosynthesis. My advice? Just let the tangled bits glide past you, because there is a TON of fascinating material throughout the book, and the latter chapters offer few hiccups.

I do absolutely recommend this book, despite the caveats. Learning about the origin of life alone was worth the price, and the chapter on eyes is brilliant. The section on consciousness is also a nice speculative bonus.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • emmett
  • Skillman, NJ, United States
  • 09-23-12

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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informative and entertaining

i laughed a few times, and learned a lot more about what I thought I already knew about. good read.

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inspiring

like his other two books oxygen and power sex and suicide they open new worlds to you that you never knew existed I can see these books inspiring people too become scientists . the narrator was superb

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Clever packaging and insightful explanations but..

one of the very few problems that I have with some of the narrations from Audible.com's popular science offerings is the difficulty that some of the performers are obviously struggling to understand the material. It often manifests itself in the guise of a yogi, one who knows whereof they speak. Given that many, if not most of their readers for these types of books are likely to be educated and/or trained as an actor. Enunciation does not help, especially when it seems obvious that they don't sound like they are capable of even grasping this simple point, let alone the contents of what they are, as the Master Thespian once said, acting! I would rather listen to a bone head who does both the proper enunciation and proper pronunciation than one whom I imagine can spew quite a volume of spittle as they roll along. This one want quite as bad as a few others but it is still lacking. But, I will reiterate that the material itself was quite fascinating. These ten 'major developments' of the march of evolution were not surprising but the examinations and explorations are where this piece excels. From DNA to quantum mechanics, these run quite the gamut. While there may be one or two selections that you might find interesting, especially with regards to mechanisms and processes that more recent research has begun to answer. All in all it is an entertaining and very informative.

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Remarkable book!

This is a truly remarkable piece of nonfiction. It is beautifully written, very well researched,and extremely well narrated. A truly fascinating read from start to finish.

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