SYMBIOTIC PLANET

A NEW LOOK AT EVOLUTION

Let’s hear it for the bugs— not your creepy-crawlies, but bacteria, the be-all (and possible end-all) of life on Earth, according to Margulis. Here she describes the once radical theory that cells have incorporated bacteria to mutual advantage and uses that as a springboard to summarize a still more radical theory of how species evolve. She calls it serial endosymbiosis theory (SET). It is now conventional wisdom that the energy-producing mitochondria in animal cells were once free-living bacteria. Indeed, they have their own genes—different from nuclear DNA. Margulis provides many examples of fruitful symbioses, including sexual union itself as the merger of sperm and egg cells. According to SET, there are successive steps or mergers that led to multicellular life forms: In steps one and two the oldest bacterial forms—the non-oxygen breathing “archaebacteria” found in deep ocean vents—merged with swimming bacteria two billion years ago to form the nuclear heart of animal, plant, and fungal cells and provide the cilia for swimming. Later steps introduced a third partner able to breathe oxygen and added the ability to engulf and digest food (phagocytosis). The last step involved engulfing yet another bacterium—but one these various new forms of life could not digest: bright green photosynthetic bacteria. The bone of contention here is the origin of ciliated cells—critical to evolution for their vital role as sperm tails, among other things. Margulis has a theory about their origin, but as they say, more research is needed. Margulis’s theory also dictates a change in taxonomy to five kingdoms: bacteria at the base, then “protoctists” (algae, slime molds, ciliates) next, and then animals, plants, and fungi. Finally, she defends Lovelock’s Gaia theory, which she interprets to mean that enormous interacting ecosystems on Earth achieve homeostasis rather than that the planet is in the hands of some benign Mother Earth. This is vintage Margulis—personal, autobiographical, passionate, argumentative, at times over the top, but full of ideas—at least some of which, in the past, have proved to be right.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 1998

ISBN: 0-465-07271-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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