New W&N book probes origin of life on Earth

Rights - NonFiction Monday, 13 August 2018

The Genesis Quest by Michael Marshall secured after auction; book is an exploration of the century-long scientific search to explain how life began

Paul Murphy, editorial director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, bought world rights to The Genesis Quest by Michael Marshall in a competitive auction from Peter Tallack at The Science Factory.

Marshall has science degrees from Cambridge and Imperial, has worked as a journalist for New Scientist and was most recently editor of BBC Earth, the BBC's Webby-winning science website.

According to the acquisition statement: 'Some people have argued that life first appeared in the chemical-rich seas of the early Earth – the famous "primordial soup." Others claim that the first organism was a simple molecule that could make copies of itself. Others still are convinced that life began in strange vents pumping hot water out of the sea floor. Over the years, each idea has attracted fervent believers who have promoted it with an almost religious enthusiasm.

'But the quest to unravel life’s genesis is not just a story of big ideas: it is fundamentally a compelling story about people, rich in personalities, conflicts, and surprising twists and turns. Along the way it takes in some of the greatest discoveries in modern biology, from evolution and cells to DNA and life’s family tree.

'Michael Marshall tells the complete story of a century-long intellectual adventure, and shows how the quest to understand life’s beginning is also a quest to discover its true nature, and by extension our place in the universe.'

Murphy said: "The origins of life on Earth is one of the big unanswered questions that science has to offer, right up there with what happened before the Big Bang and the true nature of gravity, and Michael Marshall is perfectly placed to write the first book to look at the subject in its entirety, from the first tentative theories put forward at the beginning of the twentieth century to the recent breakthroughs that suggest a solution may not be far away. He is a first-class science communicator who has that rare ability to make complex concepts entertaining and accessible, and he will be a great addition to the list and our burgeoning popular-science publishing."

Marshall said: "I have been fascinated by the question of life’s origins since I was a child, when I first read about dinosaurs and other extinct animals and wondered what the first life looked like. The more I dug into the subject as a journalist, the more I realised that there was a gripping and intriguing story that hadn’t been told. I’m delighted to be working with Weidenfeld & Nicolson to bring that tale to a wider audience."

The Genesis Quest by Michael Marshall will be published by W&N in hardback, ebook and audio in August 2020.

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