Life: An Unauthorised Biography: A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth
What do any of us know about the history of our planet before the arrival of man? Most of us have a dim impression of a swirling mass of dust solidifying to form a volcanic globe, briefly populated by dinosaurs, then by woolly mammoths and finally by our own hairy ancestors. This book, aimed at... show more
What do any of us know about the history of our planet before the arrival of man? Most of us have a dim impression of a swirling mass of dust solidifying to form a volcanic globe, briefly populated by dinosaurs, then by woolly mammoths and finally by our own hairy ancestors.
This book, aimed at the curious and intelligent but perhaps mildly uninformed reader, brilliantly dispels such lingering notions forever. It guides us from the barren globe spinning through space, through the very earliest signs of life on the rims of volcanoes, the appearance of cells, the creation of an atmosphere and the myriad forms of plants and animals (happily including dinosaurs) which could then evolve and be sustained, right up to the first appearance of homo sapiens. In doing so, Richard Fortey ranges across a great multiplicity of scientific disciplines, delicately analysing their findings and their arguments – about the origins of life, the causes of extinctions and the first appearance of man – in a wonderfully clear and refreshing way. He also shows us how, on each of these matters, we have reached the understanding that we have, whose the discoveries have been, whose the arguments. (Many of the most important scientists in this story themselves stalk his pages like hot-blooded creatures.) At the end of the book we understand the complexity of the history of life on earth, and the complexity of how it has come to be understood as, perhaps, from no other single modern volume.
But it is not simply what Richard Fortey has to tell us that makes this book so distinctive. His grasp of the significant detail and his power of allusion make him as one of the finest scientific explicators. His book seeks to entertain his readers as much as to inform them. The result is entertaining.