Secret chambers

Martin Brasier

Why I looked at this book

Multicellular organisms arrived rather late in the history of life on earth - life first evolved around 4 billion years ago while the first large, complex multicellular organisms only appeared about 0.58 billion years ago. I'm interested in finding out what was going on before that. Was such a long time required before cells evolved a sufficient level of complexity in order to form larger organisms? I'm hoping this book will shed some light on this subject, with particular reference to the incorporation of organelles such as chloroplasts and mitochondria.

First impressions

I'm not sure about this book. It starts with the history of cells, rather than a chapter on symbiosis and organelles to grab the reader's attention. It looks interesting, but the style suggests to me an academic trying to *liven up* an academically structured work. I've have to see whether the rest of the book is aimed more at the academic or non-academic reader.

Main review

I to say that I struggled with this book for a while. I couldn't quite see where it was going. Was it leading up to the discovery of organelles, or was the reader supposed to know about such things at the beginning. There's a lot about green and blue water systems, and it's hard to see what relevance they have. Also, presumably in an effort to make an academic subject more accessible, the book sometimes introduces autobiographical episodes. Now an autobiographical approach can be a very successful way of making an academic subject more accessible, but in this case I just found it distracting. For instance the author says how the 'tree of life' is generally thought has the structure of a cactus. But rather than show a picture of a cactus he tells of how a donkey once threw him into a prickly pear bush. An in those long chapters about blue and green water, he compares the insides of a cell to the insides of a ship - I felt this taught me more about the insides of a ship than about the insides of a cell.

A bit over halfway through the book, though, it began to make more sense and become easier to read. I saw that what the book was telling how the symbiosis that created organelles happened over a billion years ago, but then asks why such things haven't happened since. Symbioses have happened quite a bit in the last billion years, but they haven't led to a deeper relationship. Then the chapters on blue and green water systems began to make a lot more sense. Maybe other readers won't be put off so much by the style of the first half, but I feel that it would have been a much better book if it had started in Lynn Margulis' kitchen, rather than leaving this until page 129, and taken it from there.
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