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Life's Engines:
How Microbes Made Earth Habitable
Paul G. Falkowski

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2015

Paperback | 2016 | $18.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691173351
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 22 line illus. 16 tables.
Hardcover | 2015 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691155371
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 16 halftones. 22 line illus.
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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 readers 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 book 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.

Paul G. Falkowski holds the Bennett L. Smith Chair in Business and Natural Resources at Rutgers University, where he studies how microbes have shaped the history of Earth.


"[Life's Engines] is full of surprises . . . [I]mmensely rewarding."--Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books

"Entertaining, easy-to-read and historically rich."--Adrian Wolfson, Nature

"Personal stories, hard facts, and illuminative illustrations each contribute to this engaging examination of our microbial overlords . . . Paul Falkowski's decades of study in various earth and life sciences fuel this excellent addition. . . . Falkowski effectively uses analogies to convey abstract and complicated ideas."--Rachel Jagareski, Foreword Reviews

"Falkowski's loving examination sets out, life on this planet is organized by and for bacteria--the rest of us are just along for the ride."--Brian Bethune, Macleans

"Falkowski brings a formidable breadth of scientific understanding to the task of explaining this, having worked as a biologist, an oceanographer and an astrobiologist. He moves easily between biological and earth sciences to help us understand the steps microscopic single-celled organisms took to make the planet habitable."--Cosmos

"[The] wonderful and awe-inspiring universe of the microbes, unseen creatures that have shaped the planet such that we may live in it, is engagingly presented by Paul Falkowski in a remarkable text entitled Life's Engines. . . . The book's success is its utter simplicity. It tells the story of the history of life on our planet from a very personal perspective. . . . I was so enthralled by this book from the get-go that I invite you to have a short taste of it."--Roberto Kolter, Cell

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Prologue 1
CHAPTER 1 The Missing Microbes 9
CHAPTER 2 Meet the Microbes 23
CHAPTER 3 The World before Time 40
CHAPTER 4 Life's Little Engines 47
CHAPTER 5 Supercharging the Engines 68
CHAPTER 6 Protecting the Core Genes 91
CHAPTER 7 Cell Mates 108
CHAPTER 8 Supersizing in Wonderland 124
CHAPTER 9 The Fragile Species 145
CHAPTER 10 The Tinkerers 161
CHAPTER 11 Microbes on Mars and
Butterflies on Venus? 173
Further Readings 187
Index 191

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