In 1982, the philosopher Karl Popper suggested that ‘science may be described as the art of systematic simplification’. In this mind-stretching book, Philip Ball seems to wish to prove Popper’s statement both wrong and correct. On the one hand, Ball is a clarifier supreme. It is hard to imagine a more concise, coherent, if also challenging, single volume written on the discoveries made in the life sciences over the past 70 years. The author is a former editor of Nature and has been privy to the flow of cutting-edge results coming from the world’s leading research programmes over the past decades. How Life Works has a sense of up-to-the-minute authority.