Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

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US hardcover.

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution is a popular science book by Nick Lane describing the biochemistry of what he believes are the 10 most important results of biological evolution. It was first published on 2009-06-22. The 10 topics covered in the book are: life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness, and death.


I started reading this book because I love evolution. Although interesting at times, I found it to be a difficult slog of a read. I finished it on 2021-01-28.


I do not own this book. I listened to the audio book read by Graeme Malcolm.



  • The book covers the evolution of several important scientific topics in great detail.


  • The author is quite dull at time. On several occasions I found my attention wavering while reading a long drawn out sentence of some abstract scientific process.
  • Although this book is meant for a general audience, I found several sections to be too technical to understand. I think this is a combination of failing to keep my attention on the topic and trying to cover so many independent topics in the span of a single book.
  • In the chapter on death, Lane says that all age-related illnesses have the same cause, and, we could eliminate them all in one fell swoop by heavily researching the topic for only a couple decades. Granted, my understanding of geriatric diseases are weak, but this seems ridiculously optimistic.


  • Although Lane clearly understands the facts about evolution, I found him to be much too conciliatory to the religious for my tastes, often using Christian metaphors and similes that have no place in a book about science. He really goes off the rails in the chapter on consciousness, essentially claiming that, because neurologists can't explain how neurons give rise to feelings, religious explanations for consciousness are just as valid as scientific ones.