Review of “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution”

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of EvolutionLife Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a new respect for life. I’m have a pretty mechanistic outlook at this point, a ‘scientific materialist’ – there is no creator, no animating force. My wife probably got some chuckles as I shared passages of this book with her and talked about how reading this book is the best argument for creation I had encountered in some time. Certainly the book does not espouse such things but it does beautifully illuminate the earliest moments and tiniest details of life, all of which is mind-blowingly amazing. It was a wonderful read (I mean sure, science makes me sleepy but I read before bed so that’s perfect, and also science can make for interesting dreams #bonus). I thought a book with the title “10 great inventions of evolution” might be like, “Chapter 3: Thumbs” but this was well serious and way beyond anything like that. According to the Kindle I highlighted 94 passages. It was stunning read for me. The first chapter (life’s first great invention) is “life” — how life came to be on this planet (maybe, probably) and then throughout the book it’s made clear how we share so much in common with everything living. The last bit on the evolution of consciousness was riveting. In the end, great book about science, how we got here, what we (might) know and how we can know it. Fascinating and YAY SCIENCE! “The story that unfurls is more dramatic, more compelling, more intricate than any creation myth.”

“And that is why I said that, for the first time in history, we know. Much of our growing body of knowledge is provisional, to be sure, but it is vibrant and meaningful. It is a joy to be alive at this time, when we know so much, and yet can still look forward to so much more.”

“This world of marvels, it seems, springs from two deep accidents. On such tender threads hangs fate. We are lucky to be here at all.”

“a ‘consensus’ [genetic] tree can be built, giving the most probable relationship between all eukaryotic organisms. Such an approach is a far cry from gaps in the fossil record: we can see exactly how we are related to plants, fungi, algae, and so on (see Fig. 4.2). Darwin knew nothing about genes, but it is the fine structure of genes, more than anything else, that has eliminated all the distasteful gaps from the Darwinian view of the world.”

“Let me say that again, as I don’t know any other fact as shocking in all of medicine: a tiny change in the mitochondria halves our risk of being hospitalised for any age-related disease and doubles our prospects of living to 100.”

“The most specialised cells of all are the neurons of the human brain. Unlike more mundane cells, neurons are practically irreplaceable, each one wired up with as many as 10,000 synaptic connections, each synapse founded in our own unique experience.”

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