The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

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Hailed by The New York Times for writing “with wonderful clarity about science . . . that effortlessly teaches as it zips along,” nationally bestselling author Robert M. Hazen offers a radical new approach to Earth history in this intertwined tale of the planet’s living and nonliving spheres. With an astrobiologist’s imagination, a historian’s perspective, and a naturalist’s eye, Hazen calls upon twenty-first-century discoveries that have revolutionized geology and enabled scientists to envision Earth’s many ...

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The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

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Hailed by The New York Times for writing “with wonderful clarity about science . . . that effortlessly teaches as it zips along,” nationally bestselling author Robert M. Hazen offers a radical new approach to Earth history in this intertwined tale of the planet’s living and nonliving spheres. With an astrobiologist’s imagination, a historian’s perspective, and a naturalist’s eye, Hazen calls upon twenty-first-century discoveries that have revolutionized geology and enabled scientists to envision Earth’s many iterations in vivid detail—from the mile-high lava tides of its infancy to the early organisms responsible for more than two-thirds of the mineral varieties beneath our feet. Lucid, controversial, and on the cutting edge of its field, The Story of Earth is popular science of the highest order.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a blend of storytelling and science (from mineralogy and geology to biochemistry), Hazen (Science Matters) illuminates the origins of Earth and the origins of life. Hazen begins some 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system coalesced from a cloud of cosmic debris. Hazen, a professor of earth science at George Mason University, describes the “Big Thwack” from a wandering asteroid that knocked off a piece of molten Earth to make the Moon. The creation of oceans and continents fed by Earth’s “inner heat”; a celebrated 1953 experiment to recreate the Earth’s “primordial soup”; and the discovery of strange creatures living on volcanic vents deep underwater show that life probably began in the water. Hazen moves on to photosynthetic organisms and their impact on the atmosphere, and on the explosive growth of algae in shallow coastal waters. Fossils show that the first primitive animal life evolved at least 545 million years ago and endured despite the threats of natural disaster, mass extinctions, and the extreme cold of the Ice Ages. Hazen enriches his story with details about pioneering researchers like continental drift theorist Alfred Wegener, and his own experiences hunting for meteorites, handling moon rocks, and collecting trilobytes. This is a thoroughly accessible book, deftly mixing a variety of scientific disciplines to tell an unforgettable story. Agent: Eric Lupfer, William Morris Enterprises. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Hazen (senior research scientist, Carnegie Inst.; earth science, George Mason Univ.; Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin) here describes mineral evolution—a sequence of mineral formation common to terrestrial planets. In later stages of this sequence, living organisms contribute to the formation of novel crystalline substances, while minerals make possible the evolution of new life forms; for example, Earth's first photosynthetic bacteria released oxygen into their watery surroundings and the atmosphere above, making possible new chemical reactions that produced a variety of oxygen-rich minerals. Some new minerals, in turn, provided sources of chemical energy that new life forms could exploit. Hazen is confident that life and minerals will continue to interact for millions of years, but he cautions that both natural geologic processes and human activity will probably jeopardize the survival of our own species. VERDICT While some overlap with the author's previous work is inevitable, this title is considerably more focused on geological history. Hazen has a gift for explaining science in lay terms, and even readers with a minimal understanding of geology, chemistry, and physics will find this book riveting.—Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Kirkus Reviews
Hazen (Earth Science/George Mason Univ.; Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins, 2005, etc.) offers startling evidence that "Earth's living and nonliving spheres" have co-evolved over the past four billion years. To support his persuasive though controversial views, the author updates evidence collected by mineralogists over the last two centuries. Describing the "discoveries of organisms in places long considered inhospitable [to life] – in superheated volcanic vents, acidic pools, Arctic ice and stratospheric dust," he argues for the dating of the origin of life more than a billion years earlier than estimates based on Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey's groundbreaking experiments. These appeared to support the view that life originated 2.5 billion years ago in an oceanic environment with the creation of organic molecules. Hazen explains how Urey and his associates were able to re-create "primordial soup" in a simulation, which produced "a suite of biomolecules stunningly similar to what life actually uses." That theory has been challenged in the last two decades, based on the discovery that life "fueled by chemical [rather than solar] energy" exists in extreme environments in astonishing abundance. Hazen and colleagues at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory (with support from NASA) have succeeded in simulating conditions that would have existed on Earth as early as 4.5 billion years ago, while producing biomolecules that are today the building blocks of life. The author situates this latest experimental evidence in a series of discoveries about the earth's geological evolution, sparked by analysis of moon rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts. A report of a fascinating new theory on the Earth's origins written in a sparkling style with many personal touches.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023554
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/26/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 298,814
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert M. Hazen is the Clarence Robinson professor of earth science at George Mason University and a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. The author of numerous books—including the bestselling Science Matters—he lives in Glen Echo, Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Birth The Formation of Earth 7

2 The Big Thwack The Formation of the Moon 31

3 Black Earth The First Basalt Crust 53

4 Blue Earth The Formation of the Oceans 77

5 Gray Earth The First Granite Crust 102

6 Living Earth The Origins of Life 127

7 Red Earth Photosynthesis and the Great Oxidation Event 154

8 The "Boring" Billion The Mineral Revolution 181

9 White Earth The Snowball-Hothouse Cycle 206

10 Green Earth The Rise of the Terrestrial Biosphere 232

11 The Future Scenarios of a Changing Planet 257

Epilogue 281

Acknowledgments 285

Index 280

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 10, 2013

    Commentary on Impressionistic art usually includes the caveat th

    Commentary on Impressionistic art usually includes the caveat that the work must be seen from a distance, the observer should be somewhat removed from the technique. Up close Impressionistic art becomes meaningless blobs of color. Similarly, most textbooks about Earth are simply strings of definitions without any overall thesis about the fundamentals of how the Earth works.
    Robert Hazen has written this little book with the broadest possible and often unabashedly poetic strokes. Conjuring up memories of James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, the author suggests a framework for understanding the Earth; namely, the co-evolution of rocks and life. The approach, however, while in some sense valid and often entertaining, does not lead to any novel insights. Evolution is, after all, a word that predates Charles Darwin. As such, we use it in many different ways. We speak of the evolution of concepts and ideas and, in modern times, of stellar evolution - which most certainly occurs outside of any interaction with life forms. The author fails to explore the distinction between abiotic and biotic evolution. Silicate evolution is predictable and directional and basically irreversible - it is not the result of any kind of process of "natural selection" as biological evolution is.
    Without question, the Earth's lithosphere bears the imprint of life in its surficial rocks. Perhaps some component of that largely sedimentary imprint carries over to the metamorphic and even igneous rocks. However, in terms of the overwhelming mass of the Earth, differentiation would have proceeded much as it did - yielding a granitic continental crust and a mafic/ultramafic sea-floor and mantle - irrespective of whether life had ever evolved on its surface. There are undoubtedly lifeless planets out there where silicates have "evolved" and which exhibit much the same distribution of ore and gem minerals, for example with, perhaps, the exception of iron ores.
    While The Story of Earth was not meant to be a scholarly work, the complete absence of any notes or references (and minimal illustration) is a serious flaw. The author does not often get down to specifics but, when he does (such as in his discussion of elevated oxygen concentrations of the atmosphere), it book would have benefitted the non-scientist reader to have pointed in some way to the source of the author's claims.
    Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 30, 2013

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    Posted November 9, 2012

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