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The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction

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  • Posted April 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    It reads like a novel

    The history of life is a very fascinating subject, with an almost universal appeal. And yet, life itself is scientifically a very complex phenomenon that could fill up libraries worth of books. As such, it is quite remarkable that a succinct book like this one would be even attempted, leave alone published. Michael Benton is commended for accomplishing in this very short introduction to take us along life's evolutionary trajectory and systematize and explain the origins of many major branches in ever changing tree of life. The book is extremely enjoyable to read, and on one level it reads almost as a crime novel: you are constantly wondering what comes next, and what do the clues from paleontology, geology and other disciplines tell us about the particular life forms that arose and perhaps vanished millions or billions of years ago. The view of life that the book presents is the one of progression towards more and more complex life forms, which has fallen out of favor with most evolutionary biologists. It is true that every new life form is just trying to find another suitable niche in the ever-changing ecosystem, but it should also not be overlooked that the complexity of life has increased throughout the history. In a sense Michael Benton is unapologetic in presenting that view, which only adds to the overall readability of this book. Whether you have been studying life for many years or are completely new to the subject, this would be a great book to read. I highly recommend it.

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