A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth

Henry Gee

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16 September 2021
9781529060560
336 pages
Synopsis

‘A dazzling, beguiling story . . . told at an exhilarating pace’ Literary Review

'Henry Gee makes the kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? - Everybody!' Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel


For billions of years, Earth was an inhospitably alien place – covered with churning seas, slowly crafting its landscape by way of incessant volcanic eruptions, the atmosphere in a constant state of chemical flux. And yet, despite facing literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter, life has been extinguished and picked itself up to evolve again. Life has learned and adapted and continued through the billions of years that followed. It has weathered fire and ice. Slimes begat sponges, who through billions of years of complex evolution and adaptation grew a backbone, braved the unknown of pitiless shores, and sought an existence beyond the sea.

From that first foray to the spread of early hominids who later became Homo sapiens, life has persisted, undaunted. A (Very) Short History of Life is an enlightening story of survival, of persistence, illuminating the delicate balance within which life has always existed, and continues to exist today. It is our planet like you’ve never seen it before.

Life teems through Henry Gee’s lyrical prose – colossal supercontinents drift, collide, and coalesce, fashioning the face of the planet as we know it today. Creatures are engagingly personified, from ‘gregarious’ bacteria populating the seas to duelling dinosaurs in the Triassic period to magnificent mammals with the future in their (newly evolved) grasp. Those long extinct, almost alien early life forms are resurrected in evocative detail. Life’s evolutionary steps – from the development of a digestive system to the awe of creatures taking to the skies in flight – are conveyed with an alluring, up-close intimacy.

A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers . . . His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us.

Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

This is now the best book available about the huge changes in our planet and its living creatures, over the billions of years of the Earth’s existence . . . Henry Gee makes this kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? Everybody!

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

Henry Gee’s whistle-stop account of the story of life (and death — lots of death) on Earth is both fun and informative. Even better, it goes beyond the natural human inclination to see ourselves as special and puts us in our proper place in the cosmic scheme of things

John Gribbin