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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 ...
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.
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
Posted February 10, 2013
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
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Posted November 9, 2012
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