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I am conflicted about this book. I was ready to give it 4 or 5 stars all the way until the last chapter. I was positive the authors would do a better job of explaining how life might have arisen at the hydrothermal vents.
Let me start with what was good about this book and then move onto some things I felt should have been addressed before publishing:
This book provides a history of science that is entirely focused on origin of life research. Since that is in the top two of my favorite things to read about, I was extremely excited about this book and remained so for the majority of the chapters. Focusing on origin of life studies allowed me to see various scientists in a different light. Their origin of life studies are usually a side story instead of the main event. But, in this book, the authors begin at ancient times and move forward, highlighting each person who became obsessed with explaining the origins of life. It was an extremely satisfying history. The authors were really on hard of Voltaire. His book Candide is my number one favorite book of all time. It was almost crushing to me to see Voltaire portrayed in such a poor light. However, I really understood where the authors were coming from and I delighted in learning new information about all the feuds that took place as various scientists battled it out to see whose hypothesis would be the one to explain where all life originated.
What I did not like about this book was that the authors sandwiched our best possible theory about the origin of life, the vent hypothesis, in between history (including primordial soup) and the RNA World.
They failed to explain why the RNA World and other hypotheses fail. There was not one mention of thermodynamics at the vents and very little focus on the natural acidic conditions which are capable of sending hydrogen through the rocky membrane to assemble amino acids, fatty acids, and DNA. There was no discussion of evolving channels capable of pumping Na+ so the cells could break free from the vents and populate the oceans. If you are looking for a proper explanation of Nick Lane, Mike Russle, and Bill Martin's work, this book is the wrong book for you. The authors don't seem to understand the hypothesis very well. In addition, when covering the RNA world, they never discussed how the theory needs to account for the energy needed to replicate. They tried to *sort of* mention it, but wow, they really messed up there. If a theory doesn't jive with the second law of thermodynamics, and if you cannot account for where the replication energy came from, then the theory is bad. Period. The authors only suggested the RNA World might explain origins of life. I am not suggesting they were sold on the idea. What I am suggesting is that they did not do nearly enough homework on the more current theories to have written a book about them.
The history gets 5 stars
The explanation of the current theories gets a 2
I cannot help but wonder how many stars Nick Lane would give this book.
For a better primer on the hydrothermal vent and RNA World hypotheses, you should read Adam Rutherford's Creation. It was exceptional and really makes Nick Lane's work easy to understand.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
This book walks through how science has and is evolving. Describing with real life stories of how sometimes one step forward, followed by two steps back led to a better understanding life.
One of my favorites.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
A well presented account of the philosophical and scientific history of the understanding of the creation of life. Anyone who is unsure about how life occured (this should be 100℅ of the earth's population) should listen to this book. Anyone who" knows" how life was created should most definitely listen to this book. I would thoroughly recommend Robert Hazen " the origins of life" as a companion to this book as it delves into the modern competing theories on the origin of life.
Excellent account off the historical movers and shakers in the quest to discover our ultimate origin.