Life's Engines

  • by Paul G. Falkowski
  • Narrated by Nick Sullivan
  • 7 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

For almost four billion years, microbes had the primordial oceans all to themselves. The stewards of Earth, these organisms transformed the chemistry of our planet to make it habitable for plants, animals, and us. Life's Engines takes listeners deep into the microscopic world to explore how these marvelous creatures made life on Earth possible - and how human life today would cease to exist without them.
Paul Falkowski looks "under the hood" of microbes to find the engines of life, the actual working parts that do the biochemical heavy lifting for every living organism on Earth. With insight and humor, he explains how these miniature engines are built - and how they have been appropriated by and assembled like Lego sets within every creature that walks, swims, or flies. Falkowski shows how evolution works to maintain this core machinery of life, and how we and other animals are veritable conglomerations of microbes.
A vibrantly entertaining audiobook about the microbes that support our very existence, Life's Engines will inspire wonder about these elegantly complex nanomachines that have driven life since its origin. It also issues a timely warning about the dangers of tinkering with that machinery to make it more "efficient" at meeting the ever-growing demands of humans in the coming century.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Best Science Book Ever Written. Period.

What made the experience of listening to Life's Engines the most enjoyable?

I am only 2/3 of the way through this book. However, the one and only review for this book has compelled me to write a review before I finish. The only Audible review was by someone who couldn't read more than 30 minutes. From their short sampling, they concluded that Falkowski brought nothing new to the table. This book blew me away with the novelty and brilliance brought to every chapter. Falkowski provides new explanations for why endosymbiosis occurred, why animals evolved, why nanomachines had to evolve basic machinery and then build bodies of animals and plants (consortia), etc.

Until reading Life's engines, my favorite books in order were:

Nick Lane's Life Ascending
Sean Carroll's (physicist) The Particle at the End of the Universe
Sean Carroll's (biologist) Endless Forms Most Beautiful Caleb Scharf's Gravity's Engines Max Tegmark's Our Mathematical Universe
Lucretius' On the Nature of Things

Without question, Falkowski's book has topped that list. It took me a very long time to get through much of this book. I stopped every few minutes to take notes that I can refer to later. This was necessary because I believe this book to be a seminal work on how the world operates. The depth of understanding Falkowski bestows upon his reader will help them understand their host planet on a fundamental level.

Do you want to understand your planet as one big organism? Then read this book. Every chapter is packed so tightly with an abundance of information about microbes: how they are connected to one another, to groups of microbes, to plants and animals (including humans), and to the earth at large.

In this book you will learn the langue microbes use to communicate. Think humans are the most intelligent species on the planet? Think again. You will also learn the wonderful story of how mitochondria evolved. Lest you think you have heard it before (ie., as Nick Lane or Lynn Margulis tell it), you will undoubted hear a new tale. Falkowski's idea of mitochondria as a "nutrient trap" and not a workhorse is nothing short of revolutionary. Sheer brilliance!

I plan to now scour the intent for all of his talks. I want to know everything he is willing to share. LOVE HIM!

If you like evolution, biochem, microbes, understanding you place in evolution, or are just a lover of really good science, this book is for you!


Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There are so many novel ideas in the book. Each one moved me deeply.


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- serine

Microbes are incredibly interesting!!!!

The author is very good at explaining complex concepts in easy to understand ways. He starts by telling the listener that the nature of science advances by recognizing patterns and then developing tools for finding those patterns.

Microbes (and all life) contain nano-machines which get their energy from electrons or elements available from the environment and converts that into the universal currency of life, ATP, which every living organism on the planet possesses for its energy source (with maybe just minor exceptions). The author states that there are 1500 or so core genes which most of life share in fundamental ways. He'll step the listener through the steps necessary for creating an oxygen rich atmosphere on earth thus allowing for endosymbiosis (a very specific type of horizontal gene transference) which leads to the development of eukaryotic cells (cells with nucleus). (The author doesn't doesn't mention it, but it's possible that the subsuming of the mitochondria by an archaea was a one time only event and can be one of the large filters which helps explain the Fermi Paradox, the reason why we might be alone in the universe. See, microbes are incredibly interesting!).

Very rarely do I come across a popular science book where the author knows how to tell a story as clearly as this author did. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in understanding our place in the universe.
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- Gary

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-27-2015
  • Publisher: Audible Studios