Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death
by Nick Lane
When I saw this book being offered up on NetGalley, I was particularly interested in the subject, having majored in Biology/Human Anatomy and Physiology in college. Besides, the Kreb’s Cycle (and my favorite organelle, the mighty mitochondria) is one of the most important processes in the human body, one that provides the energy that allows it to hum along.
Evolutionary biochemist Nick Lane details the discovery of the Kreb’s and other cycles that contribute to the production of energy for the body. He brings to life the scientists who toiled in the laboratories to eke out the secrets that the energy cycles kept hidden. He also explores how the early organisms may have produced energy and how they may have led to the Kreb’s cycle.
I thought the best part of the book was how the author detailed the scientists’ quest to discover those elusive secrets. I also quite enjoyed the appendix and source material that he used. Rather than just a list of articles and books, the author took the time to review most of the research material in detail, giving the reader many starting points should they wish to further investigate the subject on their own.
Despite my praise of parts of the book, I found it a slow-going read, especially when the author detailed the Kreb’s and other cycles. I am the first one to admit that it is difficult to take a complex subject such as biochemistry and explain it in a text-heavy scholarly medium like a book. Despite the illustrations, which I don’t find all that compelling, it was still difficult to follow, and I had the advantage of already understanding how it all worked.
This brings me to ask the question: “For whom was this book written?” It’s not a book that a casual reader can pick up and merrily go on their way to understanding the complexity of the Kreb’s cycle. Conversely, I’m not sure if someone who is well-versed in the subject is going to enjoy it either, except for the history of the discoveries that the even a more learned reader may not have known.
I reluctantly rate this book 3.5/5. It’s really well-written and enjoyable in spots, but I found myself slogging through the rest. I wouldn’t say that this is a book in search of an audience, but the audience has to be carefully found.
[Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the advanced ebook copy in exchange for my honest and objective opinion which I have given here.]