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review 2017-03-28 15:30
When Life Nearly Died by Michael J Benton
When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time - Michael J. Benton

This is a nicely written book that investigates the Permian mass extinction event approximately 250 million years ago that wiped out 90% of all species on Planet Earth.  The author starts with the history of geology and paleontology, and describes the various historical means of approaching geological problems.  The author also takes a look at the Cretaceous mass extinction which killed the dinosaurs.  This is an up-to-date (2015) edition of the book that includes new information on what caused the Permian mass extinction and how life recovered afterwards.  There is a fair amount of technical terminology at the beginning of the book, but this doesn't detract from the beautiful writing and fascinating information.

 

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review 2017-03-20 08:27
TRILOBITE! Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey
Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution - Richard Fortey

Trilobite! (with the exclamation mark) is Richard Fortey's passionate account of trilobites - their physiology, their crystal eyes, legs, development, evolution and history.  This book grew out of the author's love of trilobites.  His stated aim is to invest the trilobites with all the glamour of the dinosaur and to see the world through the eyes of a trilobites.

This enthusiastic account of trilobites is written in a colourful narrative style that mixes science with personal anecdotes and historical stories.  The chapter on trilobite eyes was especially fascinating.  There are a few technical terms to be learned, but nothing excessive that would be difficult for the lay reader.  The book also includes numerous black/white photographs and diagrams.

Trilobites are interesting creatures, but I wanted more focus on the trilobites and fewer anecdotes. I would also have like more information on what may have caused their extinction.  However, this book is still fascinating and a joy to read.

 

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review 2017-02-17 06:25
Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane
Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (Popular Science) - Nick Lane

This is an extremely interesting and well written book about oxygen - how oxygen spurred the evolution of life, the functioning of oxygen in biological systems, aging, how oxygen relates to everyday life (besides breathing), amongst others. The nice thing about this book is that the author assumes his readers are intelligent and so doesn't simplify his writing or the concepts so much that it practically turns into gibberish.

 

NOTE:

The author's view of junk DNA is a bit dated - the book was published in 2002 and research on junk DNA has advanced since then. Some other information might also be dated, but that is simply how science and science writing work.  If you are intelligent enough to read this book, you should also be intelligent enough not to swallow everything you read - hook, line and sinker.

 

OTHER RELATED RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

* The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History by David Beerling

* Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine by Randolph M. Nesse, George C. Williams

* Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future by Peter D. Ward

 

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review 2016-05-02 18:26
The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Search for Ancient DNA
The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Search for Ancient DNA - Martin Jones

In the last three or so decades, modern scientific advances have led to a revolution in archaeology, arguable with the most significant change due to the use of biochemistry to shed more light on long standing questions. 

 

In this enjoyable and informative book, Martin Jones show how the use of molecular analysis techniques has revealed information previously assumed to be indeterminate.  Martin Jones takes a look as such diverse subjects as the origins of plant cultivation, the origins of animal husbandry, population movements, the plague, family ancestry, species ancestry, neanderthals, mummies, detailed mundane details of past lives and a host of other interesting subjects.   This book also provides an interesting insight into how bioarchaeology got started and how it developed over the past decades to its current form as practiced today. 

 
The book could be improved by including diagrams, photographs or any type of illustration.  I'm fairly sure, that since the book's publication in 2001, additional discoveries and techniques have been made.  An updated version or sequel to this book would be welcome.
 
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review 2016-04-06 09:07
Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere by Peter D. Ward
Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere - Peter D. Ward,David W. Ehlert

 

Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere by Peter D. Ward hypothesizes that changing atmospheric and oceanic oxygen levels over the last 600 million years have caused significant evolutionary development, including changes in body plan (morphology), physiology and diversity of animal life. 

 

 

The author hypothesizes that with high levels of atmospheric oxygen, animals can grow very large, and do so because it protects them from predators.  When oxygen levels drop, extinctions occur, and the numbers of organisms of any surviving species drop, but body-plans proliferate as species strive to adapt.  More than any other required resources, oxygen is absolutely necessary for the survival of animals, their ability to meet the requirements of survival, and their ability to reproduce successfully.  As atmospheric oxygen levels have fluctuated over geological time, evolution has followed suit, with mass extinctions and certain evolutionary radiations occurring as oxygen dropped, and more evolutionary radiations occurring once oxygen began to rise.

 

I found the material in this book fascinating, informative and thought provoking.  The author provides many testable hypothesis and well as a large number of examples involving the structure and comparative functioning of lungs, gills, livers, feathers, hearts (four-chambered vs three chambered), bones, types of metabolism (endothermic vs exothermic), reproductive strategies (eggs vs live-birth) and body posture (bipedal vs lizard and mammal quadruped) in various atmospheric conditions.  The impact of plate tectonics and geochemistry (sulfur and carbon cycles) on oxygen levels are also explored. 

 

The black and white illustrations and graphs were also helpful, though it would have been even better if more animal illustrations of all the strange creatures had been included.

 

This book is written for intelligent adults and assumes that the reader has some knowledge of the various branches of science, such as biology, physics, chemistry, climatology, and geology. 

 

Overall, a good book and quite insightful, but an editor would have been useful to smooth out the occasional clunky language.  I hope the author updates this interesting book with new information soon.

 

 

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