The Vital Question by Nick Lane
The Vital Question didn’t feel all that vital to me. I still wonder who is the intended audience for this book since it had so much hard science.
Publisher’s Description: 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 form. 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?
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Agent Annie says…
I can appreciate the author’s ability to construct a logical argument and walk us through the work that’s being done to determine how life came into existence and what’s happening on the forefront of evolutionary science.
Part One set the stage for why this question was even important and how other research would effect or be affected by the answers. I liked how the author made the statement that life on other planets could be determined if it was proven how life formed here and that having the right answer would make it that much easier to predict life elsewhere in the universe. I was expecting the final chapters to be about just that. Unfortunately, that’s not what the author did.
The audio version of this book really fell apart for me since there ware many references to graphics to look at. It was very clear that those were available in .pdf and easy to access, but this is where the audience is so crucial. I am not a student or a researcher and had no intention, nor the time, to go find a link and open a .pdf and review the graphic in order to enhance my understanding.
It did help that the narrator, Kevin Pariseau, was familiar to me from the Baroque Cycle series by Neal Stephenson. I felt I was listening to a science fiction thriller. Unfortunately, it just didn’t thrill me. I give it a 3.
If you like this book…
…you might try The Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner.