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The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction

Overview


Here is the extraordinary story of the unfolding of life on Earth, told by Michael J. Benton, a world-renowned authority on biodiversity. Ranging over four billion years, Benton weaves together the latest findings on fossils, earth history, evolutionary biology, and many other fields to highlight the great leaps that enabled life to evolve from microbe to human--big breakthroughs that made whole new ways of life possible--including cell division and multicellularity, hard skeletons, the move to land, the origin ...
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The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction

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Overview


Here is the extraordinary story of the unfolding of life on Earth, told by Michael J. Benton, a world-renowned authority on biodiversity. Ranging over four billion years, Benton weaves together the latest findings on fossils, earth history, evolutionary biology, and many other fields to highlight the great leaps that enabled life to evolve from microbe to human--big breakthroughs that made whole new ways of life possible--including cell division and multicellularity, hard skeletons, the move to land, the origin of forests, the move to the air. He describes the mass extinctions, especially the Permian, which obliterated 90% of life, and he sheds light on the origins of human beings, and of the many hominids that went before us. He ends by pointing out that studying the past helps us to predict the future: what happens if the atmosphere warms by 5 degrees? What happens if we destroy much of the biodiversity on Earth? These things have happened before, Benton notes. We need only look to the distant past to know the future of life on Earth.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199226320
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/15/2008
  • Series: Very Short Introductions Series
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 459,657
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael J. Benton is Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He has written some fifty books, ranging from children's dinosaur and palaeontology books to standard textbooks.

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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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