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Book review: The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is? by Nick Lane

By Philip Ball   May 2015

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Natural selection is one of the most elegant, powerful and convincingly verified theories in science. But it has remarkably little predictive power. We can rationalise in retrospect how it made life the way it is, but we can’t calculate what it holds for the future. We can’t, as biochemist Nick Lane points out, explain why life is the way it is.

For several years Lane, sometimes in collaboration with evolutionary biologist Bill Martin, has been arguing that regarding evolution as a Darwinian battle of genes overlooks a crucial constraint on…

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