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

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

4.3 3
by Robert M. Hazen
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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.)
From the Publisher
***A Kirkus Top 25 Nonfiction Book of 2012***

“With infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Hazen introduces readers to Earth’s defining moments . . . [and] argues that understanding the interplay between Earth’s geological and biological pasts can help us predict and prepare for the future of life on our planet.”
—Saron Yitbarek, Discover 
 

“A fascinating new theory on the Earth’s origins written in a sparkling style with many personal touches. . . . Hazen offers startling evidence that ‘Earth’s living and nonliving spheres’ have co-evolved over the past four billion years.”
Kirkus, starred review
 

“Concise and colourful . . . Drawing on the latest research and influenced by advances in astrobiology, Hazen takes a radical standpoint . . . to tell the amazing tale of our planet’s intertwined living and non-living spheres.”
—Birger Schmitz, Nature
 

“Lively and vivid . . . Hazen is a master storyteller with a great story to tell . . . a sweeping rip-roaring yarn of immense scope, from the birth of the elements in stars to meditations on the future habitability of our world . . . Anyone new to Earth history will find Hazen’s account a revelation.”
A. D. Anbar, Science
 

“I’m not competent to assess the accuracy of Robert Hazen’s thesis about geological and biological history, but I am competent to judge it a fascinating story, far more alive than you might guess if all you knew was the subject was old dead (?!) rocks.”
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
 

“Hazen takes us on one of the grandest tours of them all—the 4.5 billion year history of our planet. From the atoms of the crust of the Earth come our bodies, the entire living world, and this exciting book. Read Hazen and you will not see Earth and life in the same way again.”
Neil Shubin, paleontologist and author of Your Inner Fish
 

“Exceptionally readable [and] user-friendly . . . Science junkies and readers interested in the environment will find Hazen’s arguments compelling and his overview of Earth’s tumultuous history captivating.”
—Carl Hays, Booklist
 

The Story of Earth is that rare book that can transform the way you see the world. By synthesizing a vast span of time and knowledge into crisp, delightful prose, Hazen really does make our planet into a story, and a compelling one. I was left with a new sense of context for our place in this galactic home.”
Charles Wohlforth, author of The Fate of Nature and The Whale and the Supercomputer
 

“A gripping, well-told story . . . [Hazen’s] vivid descriptions of the early Earth’s tortured landscapes are a joy, as is his Carl Sagan-like gift for conveying the sheer age of our world and the vastness of space. A fantastic, stirring read.”
—Michael Marshall, New Scientist
 

“Cramming billions of years of geological evolution into a single book is a daunting challenge, but it’s one that Hazen, a geophysicist, has risen to splendidly.”
—Sid Perkins, Science News
 

“Hazen illuminates the origins of Earth and the origins of life [in] a thoroughly accessible book, mixing a variety of scientific disciplines to tell an unforgettable story.”
Publishers Weekly
 

“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, Library Journal

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:
9780143123644
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/30/2013
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
181,115
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"The Story of Earth is that rare book that can transform the way you see the world. By synthesizing a vast span of time and knowledge into crisp, delightful prose, Hazen really does make our planet into a story, and a compelling one. I was left with a new sense of context for our place in this galactic home.”
Charles Wohlforth, author of The Fate of Nature and The Whale and the Supercomputer

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