The Vital Question

  • by Nick Lane
  • Narrated by Kevin Pariseau
  • 11 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

To explain the mystery of how life evolved on Earth, Nick Lane explores the deep link between energy and genes.
The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies, and cities. Yet there's a black hole at the heart of biology. We do not know why complex life is the way it is or, for that matter, how life first began. In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists.
For two and a half billion years, from the very origins of life, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic forms. Then, on just one occasion in four billion years, they made the jump to complexity. All complex life, from mushrooms to man, shares puzzling features, such as sex, which are unknown in bacteria. How and why did this radical transformation happen? The answer, Lane argues, lies in energy: All life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt.
Building on the pillars of evolutionary theory, Lane's hypothesis draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology in order to deliver a compelling account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms while offering deep insights into our own lives and deaths.
Both rigorous and enchanting, The Vital Question provides a solution to life's vital question: Why are we as we are, and indeed, why are we here at all?

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A must read for the interested, literate nonscientist

Nick Lane is that rare combination of deep thinker, lucid writer and passionate advocate for the messy business of science.

The Vital Question's wonderful epilogue reminds you just how down the rabbit hole he's taken us as he lays out the case for BioEnergetics as as a key driver of the interactions that led to the rise of multicellular organisms. I finished it and went right back to the start to retake the guided tour.

Kevin Pariseau's voice and engaged delivery is a perfect complement to Lane's clear, personalized narrative.

Not an easy book by content, but a remarkably well told story and one and well worth your time.
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- Irfan Khan

Top Tier Presentation

What made the experience of listening to The Vital Question the most enjoyable?

The author's concise, entertaining, and intelligent presentation of the material. And then Kevin Pariseau gave it some further propellant in his slick narration.


What was one of the most memorable moments of The Vital Question?

This is not one of those "memorable moments" presentations. Instead, it was a compelling and multi-layered treatise, building basic science first then expanding eloquently into the great questions under study, the main one of course being a discussion of how life might have emerged out of inorganic structure. I really enjoyed his explanation of the bioenergetics behind each hypothesis. On the other hand one must bear in mind that much of this material is speculative in nature due to the great gulf of deep time that lies between the emergence of life and the present moment.


Which character – as performed by Kevin Pariseau – was your favorite?

The mighty mitochondrion, of course.


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, a rare breath of fresh air compared to a lot of books.


Any additional comments?

Kevin Pariseau took this brilliant material and made it smooth and enjoyable. I had to nick one star off a complete five star rating in all categories because of a few moments of redundant rambling that occurred here and there, but these interludes were rare.

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- Richard

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-20-2015
  • Publisher: Audible Studios