Gr 7-9-Crowded pages, thick with graphics and photos reproduced in gray scale, give these six uniform but independent volumes a relentlessly academic look that might repel all but the most serious students. Written by authors who are never clearly identified, each title takes up a separate strand in the development of life on this planet, from a discussion of scientific theories of cosmic and planetary origins in Before Life to the rather dim view of our future chances that rounds out First Humans. The books all have the same page count, which means that their scope has been cut or padded to fit; where On the Land is essentially a tally of animal types ("Animals Without Backbones," "Amphibians and Reptiles," etc.), for instance, In the Air includes an entire chapter on bats alone, and another on aerial migration. Each topical spread features side comments or facts, along with several line drawings, labeled diagrams, or digitally re-textured, monochromatic photos. The writing is similarly drab: "Nowadays there are about 20,000 species of teleosts spread through sea and freshwater habitats. As you might expect, they are enormously varied in shape, size, and habits-" (Sea). Despite the unappealing presentation, these books might merit consideration as circulating alternatives for upper level, specialized reference tools, but only collections supporting intensive science programs will find them much used.-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.