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

by Robert M. Hazen
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The Story of Earth: The First 4. 5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
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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