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Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World

Popular Science
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Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World

Oxygen has had extraordinary effects on life.Three hundred million years...

NHBS Price: £9.99 $12/€11 approx
A panoramic view of life on Earth. drawing on geology, cosmology, chemistry, biology, and medicine
Shows how oxygen drove the evolution of sophisticated cells, multicellular organisms, large animals and plants, photosynthesis, predators, giant insects, two sexes, and ageing
Links the extremes of the living world, from bacterial tolerance of cosmic radiation, to the organization of our own bodies, to the extinction of the dinosaurs in a global firestorm
Offers fresh perspectives on our own lives and deaths, explaining why we age and what we can do about it

By: Nick Lane (Author)

384 pages, 13 b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Sep 2003 | Edition: 1 | #143089 | ISBN: 0198607830
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £9.99 $12/€11 approx
Hardback | Sep 2002 | Edition: 1 | #143155 | ISBN: 0198508034
Out of Print Details

About this book

Oxygen is the engine of life and evolution. This book explores the impact that oxygen has had on Earth, and the history of life. Explaining the rise of animals and plants, the origin of two sexes, and the evolution of ageing and death, it offers fresh perspectives on our own lives, explaining why we age and what we can do about it.

Reviews of the first edition:

"[...] 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

"A thought-provoking popularization of evolution and oxygen biochemistry."
New England Journal of Medicine

"A worthy effort with a clearly argued message, full of informative and entertaining details."
American Scientist

"Provocative and complexly argued."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


1: Introduction: Elixir of Life - and Death
2: In the Beginning there was no Oxygen: The Origins and Importance of Oxygen
3: Silence of the Aeons: Three Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
4: Fuse to the Cambrian Explosion: Snowball Earth, Environmental Change and the First Animals
5: The Bolsover Dragonfly: Oxygen and the Rise of the Giants
6: Treachery in the Air: Oxygen Poisoning and X-Irradiation: A Mechanism in Common
7: Green Planet: Radiation and the Beginnings of Photosynthesis
8: Looking for LUCA: Last Ancestor in the Age Before Oxygen
9: Portrait of a Paradox: Vitamin C and the Many Faces of an Antioxidant
10: The Antioxidant Machine: A Hundred and One Ways of Living with Oxygen
11: Sex and the Art of Bodily Maintenance: Trade-offs in the Evolution of Ageing
12: Eat! Or You'll Live Forever: The Triangle of Food, Sex, and Longevity
13: Gender Bender! The Rate of Living and the Need for Sexes
14: Beyond Genes and Destiny: The Double Agent Theory of Ageing and Disease
15: Life, Death and Oxygen: Lessons From Evolution on the Future of Ageing

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