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Secret Chambers: The Inside Story of Cells & Complex Life

Popular Science

By: Martin Brasier(Author)

306 pages, 8 plates with 15 colour photos and 1 colour illustration; 35 b/w photos and b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Aug 2013 | #207275 | ISBN-13: 9780199683499
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £10.99 $15/€13 approx
Hardback | May 2012 | #195020 | ISBN-13: 9780199644001
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.99 $22/€19 approx

About this book

In the follow-up to Darwin's Lost World, Martin Brasier's book Secret Chambers introduces the quest for the missing history of life and the cell. Through a series of journeys it emerges that the modern plant cell is one of the most deeply puzzling and unlikely steps in the whole history of life.

Decoding this puzzle is a great adventure that has mainly taken place over the last half century. Brasier puts the big questions into context through lively descriptions of his explorations around the world, from the Caribbean Sea and the Egyptian pyramids, to the shores of the great lakes in Canada, and to the reefs and deserts of Australia.

Covering the period from 1 to 2 billion years ago – a period he once dubbed 'the boring billion' – he demonstrates how it in fact involved great evolutionary potential with the formation of the complex (eukaryotic) cell. Without this cell there would be nothing on Earth today except bacteria, and the formation of this cell was a fundamental turning point in the history of life on Earth.

Weaving together several threads, Brasier emphasises the importance of single-celled forms to marine ecosystems; symbiosis and coral reefs; and the architecture and beauty of single-celled Foraminifera and what they tell us about evolution. From a master storyteller comes a vivid description of the earliest biological forms and a set of fascinating tales of travels and research.

Martin Brasier, Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford, talks about his book Secret Chambers: The Hidden History of the Cell.


"Bursting with almost boyish enthusiasm, Brasier takes us on an adventure with lively vignettes from his career."
– Henry Nicholls, New Scientist


1. The Secret Chamber
2. The Gower Street Mystery
3. Sargasso
4. A Phantom Island
5. Mouth of the Dragon
6. Wheels of Fortune
7. Mangrove Tree
8. Riddle of the Sphinx
9. Gunflint
10. The Far from Boring Billion
11. Life's Little Game

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Martin Brasier is an English paleontologist made known from his study of microfossils, the origin of life, and Precambrian fossils such as the Ediacara biota. He is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford. He has worked on the Cambrian Explosion and was leader of the UN 's IGCP project on defining the Cambrian geological period. His own book on the subject, Darwin's Lost World: The Hidden History of Animal Life was published in 2009 as part of the Charles Darwin centenary.

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