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Life's Engines Audiobook

Life's Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable

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Publisher's Summary

For almost four billion years, microbes had the primordial oceans all to themselves. The stewards of Earth, these organisms transformed the chemistry of our planet to make it habitable for plants, animals, and us. Life's Engines takes listeners deep into the microscopic world to explore how these marvelous creatures made life on Earth possible - and how human life today would cease to exist without them.

Paul Falkowski looks "under the hood" of microbes to find the engines of life, the actual working parts that do the biochemical heavy lifting for every living organism on Earth. With insight and humor, he explains how these miniature engines are built - and how they have been appropriated by and assembled like Lego sets within every creature that walks, swims, or flies. Falkowski shows how evolution works to maintain this core machinery of life, and how we and other animals are veritable conglomerations of microbes.

A vibrantly entertaining audiobook about the microbes that support our very existence, Life's Engines will inspire wonder about these elegantly complex nanomachines that have driven life since its origin. It also issues a timely warning about the dangers of tinkering with that machinery to make it more "efficient" at meeting the ever-growing demands of humans in the coming century.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2015 Princeton University Press (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

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  • serine
    ARDMORE, PA, United States
    28/07/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Best Science Book Ever Written. Period."
    What made the experience of listening to Life's Engines the most enjoyable?

    I am only 2/3 of the way through this book. However, the one and only review for this book has compelled me to write a review before I finish. The only Audible review was by someone who couldn't read more than 30 minutes. From their short sampling, they concluded that Falkowski brought nothing new to the table. This book blew me away with the novelty and brilliance brought to every chapter. Falkowski provides new explanations for why endosymbiosis occurred, why animals evolved, why nanomachines had to evolve basic machinery and then build bodies of animals and plants (consortia), etc.

    Until reading Life's engines, my favorite books in order were:

    Nick Lane's Life Ascending
    Sean Carroll's (physicist) The Particle at the End of the Universe
    Sean Carroll's (biologist) Endless Forms Most Beautiful Caleb Scharf's Gravity's Engines Max Tegmark's Our Mathematical Universe
    Lucretius' On the Nature of Things

    Without question, Falkowski's book has topped that list. It took me a very long time to get through much of this book. I stopped every few minutes to take notes that I can refer to later. This was necessary because I believe this book to be a seminal work on how the world operates. The depth of understanding Falkowski bestows upon his reader will help them understand their host planet on a fundamental level.

    Do you want to understand your planet as one big organism? Then read this book. Every chapter is packed so tightly with an abundance of information about microbes: how they are connected to one another, to groups of microbes, to plants and animals (including humans), and to the earth at large.

    In this book you will learn the langue microbes use to communicate. Think humans are the most intelligent species on the planet? Think again. You will also learn the wonderful story of how mitochondria evolved. Lest you think you have heard it before (ie., as Nick Lane or Lynn Margulis tell it), you will undoubted hear a new tale. Falkowski's idea of mitochondria as a "nutrient trap" and not a workhorse is nothing short of revolutionary. Sheer brilliance!

    I plan to now scour the intent for all of his talks. I want to know everything he is willing to share. LOVE HIM!

    If you like evolution, biochem, microbes, understanding you place in evolution, or are just a lover of really good science, this book is for you!


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    There are so many novel ideas in the book. Each one moved me deeply.


    22 of 23 people found this review helpful
  • Gary
    Las Cruces, NM, United States
    19/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Microbes are incredibly interesting!!!!"

    The author is very good at explaining complex concepts in easy to understand ways. He starts by telling the listener that the nature of science advances by recognizing patterns and then developing tools for finding those patterns.

    Microbes (and all life) contain nano-machines which get their energy from electrons or elements available from the environment and converts that into the universal currency of life, ATP, which every living organism on the planet possesses for its energy source (with maybe just minor exceptions). The author states that there are 1500 or so core genes which most of life share in fundamental ways. He'll step the listener through the steps necessary for creating an oxygen rich atmosphere on earth thus allowing for endosymbiosis (a very specific type of horizontal gene transference) which leads to the development of eukaryotic cells (cells with nucleus). (The author doesn't doesn't mention it, but it's possible that the subsuming of the mitochondria by an archaea was a one time only event and can be one of the large filters which helps explain the Fermi Paradox, the reason why we might be alone in the universe. See, microbes are incredibly interesting!).

    Very rarely do I come across a popular science book where the author knows how to tell a story as clearly as this author did. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in understanding our place in the universe.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • David
    United States
    13/02/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Nifty stuff"

    I am no novice in these matters and the tone at first seemed a bit juvenile. That turned out to be a good thing because the content is not juvenile and provides the best linear progression of cellular development I have heard. I will need to listen again to better absorb the topic but will not be burdened with inaccessible jargon.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • John
    Highland Park, NJ
    11/11/16
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    Performance
    Story
    "An approachable journey through time"

    This book was a really enjoyable experience. I liked how Paul made the complicated subject more approachable by discarding some of the jargon that keeps people away and replacing it with either new more colonial terms or defining his own down to earth jargon for the sake of the book. I have a bit of background in this subject and I have to say that I not only learned new things, but also leaned a new way to describe the concepts that I knew coming in.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • B
    5/10/15
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    Performance
    Story
    "Great book to appreciate microbes"

    This was a great listen. The narration was on point, but more importantly, you'll gain a much deeper appreciation for the microbial world that you inhabit. The build up to the profound question of, "are we alone," was well done and offered seemingly viable theories and ideas.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • firmgrip
    ottawa ontario
    16/11/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "If your a human...this should be mandatory."

    Enjoyed this so much I'm going in for a second helping. 10/10 brilliant on all levels.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Curmud the prof
    12/07/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not for faint hearted"

    This was written by a researcher who is not likely to be a good teacher. Written in a manner the hops around, it is not easy to follow; even for a scientist like myself. The reader confuses magnesium and manganese- not acceptable. The underlying story is important and deserves a better script - and reader.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Libby B.
    Eastern U.S.
    30/05/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Some Experience Necessary"

    Normally, I'm all for scientists being the ones to write their own popular science books. But this book is a good example of the potential problem that arises there: namely, that the scientist has been working with their field for so long that they've forgotten what it's like not to know anything about it. To badly paraphrase from Steven Pinker's wonderful writing style guide: Good writing makes you feel smart, bad writing makes you feel stupid. This book made me feel stupid.

    The author really wanted you to understand the microbial mechanisms in detail, often bringing things down to the sub-atomic level. Which is awesome, but if you want me to really grasp the nuts and bolts of things, you're going to have to back way up, slow down, and take it from the beginning. Instead, he just glazed over things and pushed right on through to the next (admittedly interesting, but hopelessly opaque) topic.

    I've read a smattering of science books, including the truly excellent Great Courses series on Biology by Stephen Nowicki, and I'm glad I have, or I probably would've been even more lost. If you have a degree in biology or chemistry, I'm sure this book is fascinating. But if you're not already comfortable talking about the cleavage of phosphate groups or the pumping of ions across membranes, this probably won't make it any more understandable for you:

    "The basic currency of energy in all cells is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a single nucleic acid molecule that is found in both DNA and RNA and contains a sugar and three phosphate groups linked one after another. When this molecule is used in a biochemical reaction, it is cleaved to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a lone phosphate. The cleavage of ATP produces chemical energy, which is used for many purposes. One of the major functions of ATP in all organisms, especially in microbes, is in the synthesis of proteins. Another is for motility. Yet another is to pump ions, such as protons, sodium, potassium, and chloride, across membranes."

    That's from chapter four, and it doesn't get much more comprehensible from there. I slogged through all of it, because the material itself really is fascinating, but it was a slog.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Oakridge, OR, United States
    28/05/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "good info better as it goes along"

    gteat info, new way of looking at evolution. well worth the read and thinking about.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Dennis
    20/12/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "loved it"

    loved it. very informative. can surely recommend this one.
    no need for a microbiological background although it might help

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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