The Spark of Life

The Spark of Life

Electricity in the Human Body


'A wonderful book' Bill Bryson

'Ashcroft achieves the sort of rich simplicity most science writers can only dream about ... this book carries the eponymous spark of life' Sunday Telegraph

From before birth to the last breath we draw, from consciousness to sexual attraction, fighting infection to the beating of our hearts, electricity is essential to everything we think and do.

In The Spark of Life award-winning physiologist Frances Ashcroft reveals the secrets of ion channels, which produce the electrical signals in our cells. Can someone really die of fright? How do cocaine, LSD and morphine work? Why do chilli peppers taste hot? Ashcroft explains all this and more with wit and clarity. Anyone who has ever wondered about what makes us human will find this book a revelation.

'A rare gift for making difficult subjects accessible and fascinating' Bill Bryson

'She communicates complex science with engaging passion and eloquence' Helen Dunmore, Observer

'Compelling and very readable, an excellent writer' Literary Review

'Riveting ... she has a stock of good tales' New Scientist

'Lively, conversational prose, refreshingly accessible to any lay reader ... a positively charged little book' Daily Telegraph

Frances Ashcroft is Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Trinity College Oxford. She is also Director of OXION, a consortium of scientists studying ion channels, the heroes of this book. Her scientific research focuses on how a rise in your blood sugar level stimulates the release of insulin and what why this process goes wrong in diabetes. She has won many prizes for her research, most recently the L'Oreal/UNESCO 2012 Women in Science award. She is also a recipient of the Lewis Thomas Prize for Science Writing for The Spark of Life. Her first book for the general reader was Life at the Extremes: The Science of Survival.


  • This is a wonderful book. Frances Ashcroft has a rare gift for making difficult subjects accessible and fascinating
    Bill Bryson

About the author

Frances Ashcroft

Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more