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Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity's Most Pressing NeedsBuilding Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

My Rating★★★★☆

Is Yunus the only practicing (as in the type who never came across the proverbial armchair yet) nobel laureate in economics? (his field is, if not the nobel)

His ideas and beliefs are rooted in and grown from the experience of running what sounds like hundreds of companies and offshoots and sister concerns – almost all successful, launching an entire industry and redefining one of the oldest businesses of the world.

Yet, in spite of full awareness of the credentials of the author, everything inside a reader militates against the seemingly utopian picture Yunus paints. You want to shout at him: all this is fine but REALITY is different! But the reader forgets – Yunus has seen and succeeded in the stark reality of one of the poorest, most torn landscapes in the world and he is proving that the ‘reality’ that economics teaches us is a very constrained reality. All the talk of incentives being the fuel of the human growth engine fall flat. But you don’t give in, you keep drilling deep holes in every cheerful statement of Yunus throughout the introductory chapters, after all you have years of economic training to back you up.

Finally Yunus gets to the case studies, and you read on with growing astonishment that the very principles outlined earlier, the principles that you had in your economic wisdom so thoroughly cut into pieces, all seem to just work on the ground. You scratch your head and try to figure it out. Then you forget your criticism and congratulate yourself on your own positive outlook towards humanity. Until next time.

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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha C. Nussbaum

Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the HumanitiesNot for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha C. Nussbaum

My Rating★★★☆☆


Indian parents take pride in a child who gains admission to the Institutes of Technology and Management; they are ashamed of a child who studies literature, or philosophy, or who wants to paint or dance or sing.

Nussbaum wants to change this situation with this manifesto, with this call to action. With the very poignantly titled Not for Profit, Nussbaum alerts us to a “silent crisis” in which nations “discard skills” as they “thirst for national profit.”: a world-wide crisis in education. She focuses on two major educational systems to illustrate this: one in the grips of the crisis and in its death-row. The other carelessly hurtling towards it, undoing much of the good done before (and worse, the USA is a leader in most fields, and rest of the world may well follow where it leads).

What is this developing crisis? Nussbaum laments that the humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers, parents and students as nothing but useless frills, and at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children.

This is most prevalent and inevitable in the placement-based institutions, especially the IITs and the IIMs and the newspapers that hawk their successes, that measure their success purely on the drama of placements and on the excess of the pay-packages. This sort of a higher education orientation also changes the early school cultures, with parents having no patience for allegedly superfluous skills, and intent on getting their children filled with testable skills that seem likely to produce financial success by getting into the IITs and the IIMs.

Nussbaum says that in these IITs and IIMs, instructors are most disturbed by their students’ deficient humanities preparation. It might be heartening that it is precisely in these institutions, at the heart of India’s profit-oriented technology culture, that instructors have felt the need to introduce liberal arts courses, partly to counter the narrowness of their students.

But it is not really so. Even as professors struggle to introduce such courses, as students at IIM, we have an all-encompassing word for anything that comes anywhere close to the humanities: “GLOBE”, and boy don’t we love using it. This throughly derogatory terms sums up the purely career-minded, profit-driven orientation of education in India’s elite institutions. I now feel a sense of complete despair at every laugh shared in the use of this expression. With the standards of success thus set, is it any wonder that the culture is seeping across the education spectrum?

After this dispiriting survey of Indian education, Nussbaum says that the situation is not as bad yet in the US due to an existing strong humanities culture in the higher institutions, but issues the below caveat:

We in the United States can study our own future in the government schools of India. Such will be our future if we continue down the road of “teaching to the test,” neglecting the activities that enliven children’s minds and make them see a connection between their school life and their daily life outside of school. We should be deeply alarmed that our own schools are rapidly, heedlessly, moving in the direction of the Indian norm, rather than the reverse.

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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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A Companion to Ethics by Peter Singer

A Companion to EthicsA Companion to Ethics by Peter Singer

My Rating★★★★☆

Singer takes a different approach with this book and instead of culling from existing literature, he calls for essays and the result is an eclectic mix of essays that exhibit a wide range of contemporary’s takes on some of the classic and current problems that philosophers wrestle with or theorize about. It consists of some fifty original essays. These essays deal with the origins of ethics, with the great ethical traditions, with theories about how we ought to live, with arguments about specific ethical issues, and with the nature of ethics itself.

As Singer puts it, a quick summary might go like this: in the first part, we see how little we know about the origins of ethics, how ethics in small-scale societies takes forms very different from those it takes in our own, and how the most ancient ethical writings already reflect a variety of views about how life is to be lived. Then the great ethical traditions are put on display; and we find divergence of opinion not only between the different traditions, but within each tradition itself. The history of Western philosophical ethics shows how, from the earliest Greek thinkers to the present day, old philosophical positions have resurfaced at intervals, and old battles have had to be fought out all over again in more modern terms. When, in Part IV, the volume moves from the past to the present, we are presented with many theories of how we ought to live, and about the nature of ethics, all plausible, sometimes disagreeing with other approaches.

The many voices makes this a valuable collection in that the method provides a level of over-all detachment that a single author tackling multiple philosophies might find hard to achieve. Here each of the authors are (presumably) scholars who wanted to make a distinct point and Singer is okay with accepting that the book might not have any coherence beyond being a companion to the many schools; but the reader also develops a sense of convergence of ideas as the book moves from the past to the present and from questions to possible solutions. What is striking at this point is the unexpected extent to which writers who had started from quite different places all seemed to be heading in the same direction.

That is the strength of the book. It lays out the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle but leaves it to the reader to divine if there is an overarching outline connecting them. And a book on philosophy should always endeavor to let that thrill be the reader’s.

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Posted by on August 16, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy

 

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On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World LooksOn the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A collection of entertaining anecdotes. Not particularly mind expanding, not at all knowledge-expanding, unfortunately. One good sample tidbit is that the popular ‘Hic sunt dracones’ (here there be dragons) is just a misrepresentation, those words never permeated medieval maps after all. Another is the origin of the expression ‘orienting oneself’. If the bulk of the anecdotes were similarly obscure or offbeat, the book might have been worth it. The poetical intro by Dava Sobel is the best chapter. Not for Mapheads, this one. Not the right kinda trivia.

Another tidbit for the curious (from the second best chapter in the book): Steinberg’s Manhattanite’s view of the world – the precursor to many of the maps that invade your facebook timelines periodically.

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“The parody has been parodied many times, but the best modern parallel, and certainly the rudest, is to be found in the work of the much travelled Bulgarian graphic designer Yanko Tsvetkov. Tsvetkov, who works under the name Alphadesigner, may well have constructed the most offensive and cynical atlas in the world, all of it stereotypical, some of it funny. His Mercator projection entitled The World According to Americans showed a Russia labelled simply ‘Commies’, and a Canada labelled ‘Vegetarians’. He has also produced the Ultimate Bigot’s Supersize Calendar of the World, which includes Europe According to the Greeks. In this one, the bulk of European citizens live in the ‘Union of Stingy Workaholics’, while the UK is categorised as ‘George Michael’.”

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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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The Economist Presents: Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

Economics: Making Sense of the Modern EconomyEconomics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is easy to be stunned by the manifest foresight that a book like this can showcase. But the reader has to remember that in a magazine like The Economist, a number of contrasting ideas about the current world economy would always be sloshing around. To later make a selective compilation of those articles that proved to be ‘prophetic’ is an exercise in exclusion that is designed to present a false sense of confidence or analytical foresight. Just because a collection of articles from a magazine turned out to be quite close to the mark, there is no reason to believe that any random article you might pick up from this week’s Economist will be of equal predictive value.

I have nothing against the magazine or the book. I greatly enjoy the magazine and to a more moderate extent liked the book as well. But the blatantly triumphant endnotes trumpeting the date of each article and a further note on how the world actually played out was grating to say the least.

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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Books

 

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Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

My Rating★★★★★

It is hard to put a finger on what this book tries to do but it does something important. It narrates history in a detached way without giving any undue importance to the ‘major’ events. It is one of those rare instances when its brevity is the greatest strength of a historical narrative. It is not that lacks in detail detailed, don’t get me wrong here. It does go on about how people did things to each other and developed theories about each other, about how people and nations thought and acted, about large numbers and statistics of war, and about how absurd it all was. It never says in so many words that it was absurd, of course. But it makes you realize that when history is told by someone who has (or seems/ attempts to seem) no agenda or alliances or a spirit of inquiry or even an interest in educating the readers (etc.) but is just told, told as if it is just something that happened – then that narrative has the power to show you how small everything was and how collectively we are a bunch of such magnificent buffoons. There is a touch of Douglas Adams in there somewhere, in that humor and in the sad irony that keeps on putting a half-smile on the reader’s face despite the subject matter being dealt with (Hint: I am not talking of Adams’ sci-fi books here). It is only apt that Ouředník is also the translator of Beckett and Queneau and perhaps most pertinently, of Rabelais.

This should be required reading for students of History – even as we learn about the great nations and the of great wars and of the heroes and of the generals and of the great science and its advances and of turning points and tragedies, we should also learns perspective and learn that history was just about a large bunch of people making decisions that would always seem absurd (like the proverbial best-laid schemes…) to everyone but themselves – either to other countries or at least to posterity . And that would be a valuable lesson… I am not doing justice to this, as I said it is hard to put a finger on what this book does. Just read it?

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha

Makers of Modern India

Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha

My Rating★★★☆☆

To make the Indian experience more central to global debates is one aim of this book. Another, and perhaps greater aim, is to make Indians more aware of the richness and relevance of their modern political tradition.

After such bold claims, I was disappointed to find that the book is in fact an anthology of Indian political writing. I strongly feel a commentary would have been better to meet the professed aims of the book and could have been made more impact-full with short relevant extracts

The questionable set chosen as “Makers of Modern India” include nineteen famous and not-so-famous names:
Rammohan Roy (Part I); Syed Ahmad Khan, Jotirao Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Part II); M.K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, B.R. Ambedkar, M.A. Jinnah, E.V. Ramaswami and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (Part III); Jawaharlal Nehru, M.S. Golwalkar, C. Rajagopalachari, Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and Verrier Elwin (Part IV); and Hamid Dalwai (Part V).

As a contemporary alternative to Argumentative Indian, I am not sure it succeeds – except by showing that a connected tradition built on boldness, challenge, contest and contrast existed in the vast correspondences that contemporary Indian thinkers were capable of producing. Guha illustrates this in a way by showing a connected series of thoughts evolving by bouncing around between the set of characters above, original thoughts arising and then being furiously debated and progressing in dramatic point-counter-point fashion (mostly Gandhian ideas of course, but still…) towards action and sometimes even more dramatic reaction in the crucible of Indian Democracy.

The essentially disputatious nature of this tradition is manifest throughout this book. The pity is that very little of this intellectual ‘tradition’ was meant for mass consumption or was based on a focused and sustained attempt at analyzing and evolving systems of thought but seem to be individual contributions to individual problems – a method that has always plagued Indian political thought and has probably resulted in the poverty of thought post-independence.

That sort of integration is probably what is needed before India can submit the results of her social and democratic experiment to the world and from it evolve a new conception of democracy relevant to a more diverse world than that existed when democracy was originally conceived. Guha has taken a first step in this direction and I sincerely hope a more synthetic attempt will follow one day.

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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion

Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of ReligionMinds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion by Todd Tremlin

My Rating★★★★☆

Non-scholarly musings on a Scholarly work

So it is then established that Gods, Religious concepts and Rituals are natural effervescences of the kind of mind that we posses, parasitic on our cognitive processes. It (our minds) is uniquely suited to imbibe them.

Mark though: We cannot (yet) make a claim that our minds WILL produce Gods and Religions and Rituals if left to themselves (though historical evidence might indicate that this could well be the case) but only that our minds cannot avoid the God Meme once exposed to it. Our society is very efficient at ensuring that.

An Atheist or an Agnostic is in this way, in this fundamental cognitive aspect of the nature of our cognitive construction, indistinguishable from a Theist – once exposed to a God concept they cannot but let their mind’s velcro stick to those burs forever.

The Theist adheres to a theological notion, the Agnostic to a scientific/skeptic’s credo and an Atheist to his own brand of faith in a new-found Religion of Science (reminding one of the Buddhists who tried to go nuclear (agnostic) and ended up as theistic in daily life).

But, we do have two brains inside us (yes, that is quite a ‘new’ finding too)) as Daniel Kahneman elaborates in his new book (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and only our rational brain system (read pathway) can entertain these abstract concepts. Our emotional/instinctive (read pathway) brain will still repeatedly resort to the God Concept we are familial (thus familiar) with in most of our our “on-line” thinking – that is in our daily (non-abstract-thinking) life.

“Deal with it”, the message is: We are all the same – Theists, Agnostics, Atheists or whatever we call ourselves, we are all in the same boat believing in the same agencies “on-line” and professing different versions of our pet abstractions “off-line”.

Not even managing to fool ourselves.

Disclaimer:

The above review is not a summation of the book but more a running with the ball tossed by it. The book is a study and an overview of the new Science of the Cognitive Study of Religion and deals with Religion in a new way – as a cognitive by-product of our psychology and our evolution. It is thoroughly fascinating and can lead to all sorts of ideas just as any new science should.

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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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Review: Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken

Chariots of the GodsChariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken

My Rating★★☆☆☆

Däniken must have won some mighty awards for this one, right? Right?

I have to admit that it was seriously entertaining though, mostly in imagining who it was who played the practical joke on Däniken each time he sticks his neck out on an imagined ‘fact’.

Just to sum up the book: how can anyone imagine a concept like Time Travel without having experienced/seen it? Surely Victorian England was visited and ruled by the Time Lords who then vanished. leaving us to roil in our longing stories. People who have read the book, please laugh along with me…

This is not to deny that there are mysteries in the past, but then so are there in any field of human study – that does not mean that we have to postulate such excesses based on so little evidence. I can’t resist going off on the same vein again – How can anyone imagine talking animals? Surely ancient India was home to intelligent animals as well as the sporadic aliens, all conspiring to befuddle the poor humans into worshiping them and then mythologizing them.

The mistake is to rigidly try to classify the myths as facts or stories. If only Däniken had taken the time to understand the power of symbolism in myth-making… hell, he could have done that purely by reading a few comic books!

By the way, was it only me or was Däniken’s usage of the word “utopia” just all over the place and far away from the accepted meaning?

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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet

Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our PlanetEco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet by Edward Humes

My Rating★★★★★

Eco Barons is a well-written, and profoundly moving collection of inter-linked real-life stories that is surprisingly dramatic and engaging in its concise chronicling of the lives of these heroes who are making it their life’s work to save the planet in their own outrageous, touching and sometimes idiosyncratic, but always genuine ways.

There are thousands of  environmentalists and activists doing important work in America and around the world. But a few of them go farther—these dreamers, schemers, moguls, and coupon clippers; these eco barons. There are others out there, certainly, more all the time; this book is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an inspiring selection. The eco barons depicted here stand out because they are  game-changers, accomplishing  something  extraordinary, raising the bar of  the possible, usually after being told that what they are attempting is impossible. They have undertaken an epic project: to set an example for the rest of us.

Their actions are their message: that there is a clear choice, a difficult choice, a right choice, and to make it is to express the faith that it is not too late to save the world—and that a new way of living can be better, healthier, smarter, and more prosperous.

The first and probably the most inspiring is the story of how the legendary Doug Tompkins, millionaire and the founder of Espirit, abandoned his sprawling fashion empire, found a rugged cabin in the middle of Eden (read Chile), and started saving and restoring paradise, one plot, one fence, and one tree at a time, conquering government antagonism, lobbyists and big industry that wanted to make concrete jungles out of these majestic old-growth forests.

The second story elaborates on two naturalists and lawyers who lived like monks and found a way to use the law to save forests, species, and clean air when no one else could.

Then is the techy tale of a professor and his students building magical cars that burn no gas and trying to redefine the doomsday trajectory plotted by Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Coal and the other leviathans and to set us on a new course. His cars are cleaner, cheaper, faster, more enduring, gives more mileage – how many more boxes do you want your dream car to tick?

Also, there is the story of a cosmetics queen who, like Doug, sold her empire and is spending her fortune to save the last great forests of Maine and having to fight every inch of the way to do it.

Not to be forgotten is the Media Mogul who gave us CNN and Cartoon Network and numerous other entertainments, who owns more land than anybody else in the country and is devoting his real estate might to trying so hard to return the land to its pristine state before humans arrived to despoil it, working step-by-step to re-wilding the lands and to reintroduce native species and to preserve a heritage fast vanishing.

Last, and seemingly the least, but still an eco-baron, is the “turtle lady” who walks along a beach inspecting turtles and single-handedly saved a species – As good a story as the traditional rags-to-riches story that makes for a newspaper headline? Shouldn’t it be?

These eco-barons see, clearly, that what we’re doing as a society is not working. Their response is not to shout about it, or lobby about it, or generate self-aggrandizing headlines about it. Their response is to do something about it, and their results have been spectacular.

Some Resources for the interested/concerned:

To Know more on the Eco-barons:

For the Internet supplement to this book, including photos of the eco barons and their projects, maps, background information, links to their individual Web sites, and more resources, visit http://ecobarons.wordpress.com.

For general environmental information, news, and advice:

Grist: Environmental News and Commentary: www.grist.org and the related blog, http://gristmill.grist.org.

Greenwash Brigade: www.publicradio.org/columns/sustainab….

The Sietch Blog: www.blog.thesietch.org.

Green Options: http://greenoptions.com.

Climate Debate Daily: Get all sides of the global warming debate at http://climatedebatedaily.com.

For advice on ‘living like an Eco-baron”:

Terrapass:  Calculate  your  carbon  footprint  and  find  green  products  at  www.terrapass.com.

NativeEnergy:  Learn  about  and  purchase  carbon  offsets  at  www.nativeenergy.com.

Service trips: Earthwatch Institute and the Sierra Club maintain lists of volunteer vacations that put you to work on conservation and public lands projects.

Earthwatch: www.earthwatch.org/expedition.

Sierra Club: http://tioga.sierraclub.org/TripSearc….

Treehugger: This environmental Web site’s How to Go Green guide offers tips on green home buying, green dishwashers, green gift buying, greening your sex life, and more at www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php.

On “driving like an Eco-baron” 

EPA Green Vehicle Guide: Learn about the greenest cars in America at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Plug In America: www.pluginamerica.com

Green Car Congress: News, reports, and information on sustainable transportation at www.greencarcongress.com.

The California Cars Initiative: www.calcars.org.

Drive Green: Calculate and offset the greenhouse gas emissions for your travel at www.drivegreen.com.

On “eating like an Eco-baron”

Green Daily Green Eating Guide: www.greendaily.com/2008/02/07/eating-….

Eat Well Guide: Find, cook, and eat sustainable food at www.eatwellguide.org.

Sustainable Table: Another excellent resource for local and sustainable food is www.sustainabletable.org.

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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Mirages of Science

Mirages of science and mathematics,

Entice us away with their beauty,

Into strange worlds and dimensions,

To invisible things behaving as waves,

To waves acting on a whim as things;

To cats that walk into boxes,

And are no longer sure of themselves.

Where philosophy, science and poetry,

Mix the headiest of cocktails,

Time’s arrow is directionless,

And the new gods are particles.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Creative, Poetry, Quantum Physics, Thoughts

 

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Book Review: Power, Sex, Suicide

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of LifePower, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

My Rating★★★★☆

The subtitle of the book says “Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life” and the author tries very hard to match up to that high claim. The book promises to show us why mitochondria are the clandestine rulers of our world – the masters of power, sex, and suicide. In the end It does not quiet explain the meaning of life in the traditional terms but does put forward a very strong argument that life as we know it today owes a lot to those little symbiotes that inhabit every single cell in us. Yes, mitochondria has moulded and given direction to life on earth – from the first eukaryotic cell to the complex animals and finally to us. Without the mitochondria in us, we wouldn’t be here to be any the wiser.

Written in a lucid and conversational style, the book makes for very easy reading and even the hard concepts are put across in simple and sometimes quite entertaining style. The strength of the book is in how well planned and tied together it feels. The author knows which questions to ask when so as to lead us to the overall picture and he also knows how to deftly lead us on wrong routes so that when the real theory is revealed it has the whiff of truth to it and the pleasure of solving a detective puzzle.

Keeping with the ambition of the subtitle, the book grapples with some of the toughest questions known to evolutionary science – How did life originate on earth? How did organisms generate energy then? What conditions prevailed to make it possible? Can it be replicated in other parts of the universe? What was the nature of these first experiments in life? How did they evolve? How and when did life evolve beyond the bacterial stage? What was the crucial event that helped the first eukaryotic cell to evolve? Why were eukaryotes able to evolve into large and complex organisms in a fraction of the time that life existed on earth while bacteria remained stuck in an evolutionary rut? Why are bacteria immortals and eukaryotes mortal? How did sex originate for the first time among eukaryotes and why? Why are there two sexes in most known species, unicellular or multicellular? Why did eukaryotic cell come together to form colonies and eventually multicellular organisms? Why has evolution tended towards size and complexity ever since? Why did apoptosis or cell death evolve in multicellular organisms? How is the lifespan of organisms decided? Why do we age? Why do we die? Is there a way to extend our lifespans? Can we ever be truly immortal? Can the whole process be replicated in other parts of the universe? Can there be intelligent aliens?

Such are the wide variety of audacious questions asked and almost answered in this book and the astonishing thing for me was that it was not some five thousand pages longer with this sort of blindingly vast scope. And the answer to all these questions? As you might have guessed, it indeed is “Mitochondria”. How elegant that such a simple answer can be provided for such a variety of fundamental questions. One is almost tended to rekindle hope for the famous 42 now.

I had a full summary of the book prepared for this review which answered one by one all those questions I listed above, but now, as I am about to post it, I realize that I would be subtracting from the gradual suspense of the book that makes it such a joy to read by doing so. Instead, I would only like to point out a few of my issues with the book:

The author claims that the event of the fusion of the methanogens and the proteobacterium that gave rise to the first eukaryote is a very rare event and hence will not be replicated anywhere else in the universe, thus consigning most parts of the universe to a bacterial slime. The reason he advances for this is based on the fact that all eukaryotes derive from the same ancestor and this means that the the fusion that created this common ancestor happened only once in our entire evolutionary history. This is taken as proof concrete that the event of this eukaryotic creation/fusion is so statistically impossible that it has happened only once in the whole billions-of-years old history of the earth and that too only because it coincided with the oxygen enrichment of earth’s atmosphere at that time. This line of reasoning is then extended to argue that since this event is so rare and dependent on a number of steps one following the other, each of which are equally rare, the chances of complex life evolving anywhere else in the universe is next to zero.

This is a patently wrong argument in my view. The reason why the first eukaryotes were so successful was because they were able to/forced to move into the upper reaches of the ocean since all the competition was in the depths and their new chimeric nature allowed them to survive there. Since this was a blue ocean of no competition, they were able to exploit an entire new world of resources and grew and grew and grew and took it over. It was a literal gold rush for them. Now, imagine that in another billion years, another similar chimera was formed. The first chimera had a huge advantage that they were living in a vegetarian world where no one ate any other living being. But this new chimera, if it rises above to the oxygen rich world, which is now dominated by the carnivorous old chimeras and their monstrous descendants, would find a hostile world hard to survive in and will most probably also find itself someone’s easy dinner. The chances for any new chimera to survive is almost nil in this new dog-eat dog world. So on earth the first variety dominated and culled any new competition and this is the reason why another eukaryote never evolved. It is not because the event itself is statistically so unlikely. It is because the survival of such a chimera is statistically unlikely in a world already populated by other such eukaryotes capable of competing more effectively with a new eukaryote.

But, (and this is strangely overlooked by the author though it is firmly fixed in Darwinian principles) the fact that it did not happen a second time on earth in billions of years does not preclude the possibility that in another world where organisms are still primitive enough to be competing to eat external resources and not each other, a new chimera could evolve and move to uninhabited vastnesses where they would then use their eukaryotic nature to found another kingdom of life. It is entirely possible. So here is reassuring all alien buffs dejected by this book that universe has more to offer than mere bacterial slime on its menu.

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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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