`'. . . popular science writing at its very best - clear yet challenging, speculative yet rigorous. The book is a tour de force which orchestrates a seamless story out of both venerable ideas and very recent discoveries in several disparate fields.'' Bernard Dixon
`'. . . a breathtaking, broad vision of the role of a single gas in our life, from the origin of organisms, through the emergence of creatures, and to their deaths . . . packed full of interesting life- and death-stories . . . A wonderful read.' ' Peter Atkins
`'. . . one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.'' John Emsley
`Nick Lane's chapters are dispatches from the frontiers of research into Earth and life history, but they contain nothing that will lose the patient reader and much that will reward.' The Guardian Review
`a brisk revelatory study' Christopher Hirst, The Independent
`. . . Nick Lane marshals an impressive array of evidence - [an] ambitious narrative . . . This is science writing at its best.' Jerome Burne, The Financial Times
What a beautifully written and fascinating book. Thanks to Nick Lane for putting this together. Definitely a keeper. I read pieces out to my (long suffering) husband and he too was enthralled with some of the things-we-thought-we-knew-and-didn't revealed in this book. This is one of the few books I haven't purchased from Amazon (I borrowed it form the library) but I will do so as I really found it to be excellent.
I really enjoyed this book even though a lot of the chemistry was difficult for me to follow. Luckily, Mr Lane has a great prose style and is adept at explaining things so, except for a few brief sections, I was able to read the book through without skipping over too much. Obviously, oxygen is crucial to our life-form but I would never have remotely at guessed some of the more startling things I learned about this enigmatic element. A great read.
The story of Oxygen in the earth environment is detailed, but goes further in its side explanations of the many various subjects related to this story. The mystery of photosenthesis was clearly explained at the molecular lever in such detail as were the other submentioned processes of this book. I found this man to be a genius of knowledge, seeming to know something about everything. I do not know how to write books, but If I did, it would be this way. You will never go wrong remembering the author and buying what he writes. A 10+ in my experience.
Nick Lane's book, Oxygen The Molecule that made the World, is a surprising volume. It mixes organic and inorganic chemistry with evolutionary studies, paleontology, research medicine, and even a little engineering to explain how the world got to be as it is. The first half of the book is dedicated to what our early atmosphere was like and how it changed as a result of biological activity. It also discusses how the evolving atmosphere, particularly the presence of oxygen, affected the complexity of early life and the sudden flourish of biological diversity after the Precambrian. The last half of the volume deals with the recent research on free radicals and their effect on health and on the phenomena of aging and of immortality. Doctor Lane's own background is in biochemistry, and his research focus has been on oxygen free radicals and metabolic function in organ transplants. Not surprisingly he went into some detail about the free radical cascade that affects cellular metabolism and DNA integrity. I found this somewhat difficult to understand as I have only a very rudimentary grounding in organic chemistry. Still I have to admit that I know somewhat more about the process than I did before reading this book. Probably because I know significantly more about geology and paleontology, I enjoyed more fully the author's synthesis and analysis of what we know of the geological and biological development of our atmosphere and our planet. Some of this material was familiar to me from other sources: Certainly that O2 can actually be a "poison" I know from managing patients with ARDS (adult respiratory distress syndrome) on mechanical ventilators with 100% O2; that the earth went through a series of green house earth/snowball earth phases early in its history I had learned from Ward and Brownlee's book Rare Earth; that life had begun almost as early as it was able and much earlier than had been previously believed, I was aware of from works by Gould, Schopf, and others; and that the mitochondria may once have been free-living, aerobic organisms that formed a symbiotic relationship with anaerobic organisms was known to me from my past exposure to microbiology in a nursing class. New to me however, was the concept that gigantism may have been a means of limiting the negative effects of a periodic increase in oxygen in the environment, as Dr. Lane suggests in his chapter on The Bolsover Dragonfly. Although I had read an article that suggested that the immense sizes achieved by some of the dinosaur species might have been due to a higher percent of O2 at the time, I had also understood that it was because oxygen was a "good" thing, an opportunity of sorts. Lane points out that the negative effects of oxygen on tissues and DNA through the free radical cascade might have been ameliorated by an increased size. An animal--or one presumes also a plant--that increased its size might have been able to distribute negative effects over a greater body mass. One wonders if the rise of the mammalian mega fauna of the ice ages and their sudden almost catastrophic disappearance might not also have been due to some temporary fluxuation in the oxygen level of their atmosphere. (In which case the early Native Americans could be once and for all exonerated of having liquidated them, since their demise would have been dictated by a return to a baseline oxygen level!) If this were the case, one might also question what type of changes might be expected among our own kind as a result of such an increase and decrease of atmospheric oxygen. I found the doctor's ideas on the trade off between sexual reproduction and immortality a unique approach to the topic of aging. Some of this information--the studies of animal reproduction rates, predation, and age at death, for instance--was known to me. Dr. Lane's discussion brought it together in a much more complete way. Certainly the concept of sexual reproduction being one of life's mechanisms of perpetuating the fragile, complex organic molecules (DNA) in an oxidative environment was interesting. I had read Ridley's proposal that sexual reproduction evolved as a means of resisting bacterial infection, but Lane's suggests why it began as early as the DNA swapping behavior among early single eukaryotic cells. That the massive increase in biological diversity was an indirect product of the release of oxygen into the atmosphere, is truly an amazing thought. In the event as Lane makes claim in his subtitle, oxygen was truly "The Molecule that made the World."