Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth

Andrew H. Knoll - 2003
    But in the full history of life, ancient animals, even the trilobites, form only the half-billion-year tip of a nearly four-billion-year iceberg. Andrew Knoll explores the deep history of life from its origins on a young planet to the incredible Cambrian explosion, presenting a compelling new explanation for the emergence of biological novelty. The very latest discoveries in paleontology--many of them made by the author and his students--are integrated with emerging insights from molecular biology and earth system science to forge a broad understanding of how the biological diversity that surrounds us came to be. Moving from Siberia to Namibia to the Bahamas, Knoll shows how life and environment have evolved together through Earth's history. Innovations in biology have helped shape our air and oceans, and, just as surely, environmental change has influenced the course of evolution, repeatedly closing off opportunities for some species while opening avenues for others. Readers go into the field to confront fossils, enter the lab to discern the inner workings of cells, and alight on Mars to ask how our terrestrial experience can guide exploration for life beyond our planet. Along the way, Knoll brings us up-to-date on some of science's hottest questions, from the oldest fossils and claims of life beyond the Earth to the hypothesis of global glaciation and Knoll's own unifying concept of ''permissive ecology.'' In laying bare Earth's deepest biological roots, Life on a Young Planet helps us understand our own place in the universe--and our responsibility as stewards of a world four billion years in the making.In a new preface, Knoll describes how the field has broadened and deepened in the decade since the book's original publication.

When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of all Time

Michael J. Benton - 2003
    Far less well-known is a much greater catastrophe that took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago: 90 percent of life was destroyed, including saber-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey on land, as well as vast numbers of fish and other species in the sea.This book documents not only what happened during this gigantic mass extinction but also the recent rekindling of the idea of catastrophism. Was the end-Permian event caused by the impact of a huge meteorite or comet, or by prolonged volcanic eruption in Siberia? The evidence has been accumulating through the 1990s and into the new millennium, and Michael Benton gives his verdict at the very end. From field camps in Greenland and Russia to the laboratory bench, When Life Nearly Died involves geologists, paleontologists, environmental modelers, geochemists, astronomers, and experts on biodiversity and conservation. Their working methods are vividly described and explained, and the current disputes are revealed. The implications of our understanding of crises in the past for the current biodiversity crisis are also presented in detail. 46 b/w illustrations.

Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

David Toomey - 2013
    There were bacteria in volcanic hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, single-celled algae in Antarctic ice floes, and fungi in the cooling pools of nuclear reactors.But might there be life stranger than the most extreme extremophile? Might there be, somewhere, another kind of life entirely? In fact, scientists have hypothesized life that uses ammonia instead of water, life based not in carbon but in silicon, life driven by nuclear chemistry, and life whose very atoms are unlike those in life we know. In recent years some scientists have begun to look for the tamer versions of such life on rock surfaces in the American Southwest, in a “shadow biosphere” that might impinge on the known biosphere, and even deep within human tissue. They have also hypothesized more radical versions that might survive in Martian permafrost, in the cold ethylene lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan, and in the hydrogen-rich atmospheres of giant planets in other solar systems. And they have imagined it in places off those worlds: the exotic ices in comets, the vast spaces between the stars, and—strangest of all—parallel universes.Distilling complex science in clear and lively prose, David Toomey illuminates the research of the biological avant-garde and describes the workings of weird organisms in riveting detail. His chapters feature an unforgettable cast of brilliant scientists and cover everything from problems with our definitions of life to the possibility of intelligent weird life. With wit and understanding that will delight scientists and lay readers alike, Toomey reveals how our current knowledge of life forms may account for only a tiny fraction of what’s really out there.

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People

Neil Shubin - 2013
    Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies. Fully illustrated with black and white drawings.

How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

Wallace S. Broecker - 1995

The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World

Peter D. Ward - 2003
    --Publishers WeeklyScience has worked hard to piece together the story of the evolution of our world up to this point, but only recently have we developed the understanding and the tools to describe the entire life cycle of our planet. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, a geologist and an astronomer respectively, are in the vanguard of the new field of astrobiology. Combining their knowledge of how the critical sustaining systems of our planet evolve through time with their understanding of how stars and solar systems grow and change throughout their own life cycles, the authors tell the story of the second half of Earth's life. In this masterful melding of groundbreaking research and captivating, eloquent science writing, Ward and Brownlee provide a comprehensive portrait of Earth's life cycle that allows us to understand and appreciate how the planet sustains itself today, and offers us a glimpse of our place in the cosmic order.

Earth: An Intimate History

Richard Fortey - 2004
    Vesuvius, whose eruption in Roman times helped spark the science of geology, and ending in a lab in the West of England where mathematical models and lab experiments replace direct observation, Richard Fortey tells us what the present says about ancient geologic processes. He shows how plate tectonics came to rule the geophysical landscape and how the evidence is written in the hills and in the stones. And in the process, he takes us on a wonderful journey around the globe to visit some of the most fascinating and intriguing spots on the planet.

Europe: A Natural History

Tim Flannery - 2018
    In Europe: A Natural History, world-renowned scientist, explorer, and conservationist Tim Flannery applies the eloquent interdisciplinary approach he used in his ecological histories of Australia and North America to the story of Europe. He begins 100 million years ago, when the continents of Asia, North America, and Africa interacted to create an island archipelago that would later become the Europe we know today. It was on these ancient tropical lands that the first distinctly European organisms evolved. Flannery teaches us about Europe's midwife toad, which has endured since the continent's beginning, while elephants, crocodiles, and giant sharks have come and gone. He explores the monumental changes wrought by the devastating comet strike and shows how rapid atmospheric shifts transformed the European archipelago into a single landmass during the Eocene.As the story moves through millions of years of evolutionary history, Flannery eventually turns to our own species, describing the immense impact humans had on the continent's flora and fauna--within 30,000 years of our arrival in Europe, the woolly rhino, the cave bear, and the giant elk, among others, would disappear completely. The story continues right up to the present, as Flannery describes Europe's leading role in wildlife restoration, and then looks ahead to ponder the continent's future: with advancements in gene editing technology, European scientists are working to recreate some of the continent's lost creatures, such as the great ox of Europe's primeval forests and even the woolly mammoth.Written with Flannery's characteristic combination of elegant prose and scientific expertise, Europe: A Natural History narrates the dramatic natural history and dynamic evolution of one of the most influential places on Earth.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

Stephen Brusatte - 2018
    Sixty-six million years ago, the Earth’s most fearsome creatures vanished. Today they remain one of our planet’s great mysteries. Now The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs reveals their extraordinary, 200-million-year-long story as never before.In this captivating narrative (enlivened with more than seventy original illustrations and photographs), Steve Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of the field—naming fifteen new species and leading groundbreaking scientific studies and fieldwork—masterfully tells the complete, surprising, and new history of the dinosaurs, drawing on cutting-edge science to dramatically bring to life their lost world and illuminate their enigmatic origins, spectacular flourishing, astonishing diversity, cataclysmic extinction, and startling living legacy. Captivating and revelatory, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a book for the ages.Brusatte traces the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers—themselves the beneficiaries of a mass extinction caused by volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Triassic period—into the dominant array of species every wide-eyed child memorizes today, T. rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, and more. This gifted scientist and writer re-creates the dinosaurs’ peak during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, when thousands of species thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of modern birds, emerged. The story continues to the end of the Cretaceous period, when a giant asteroid or comet struck the planet and nearly every dinosaur species (but not all) died out, in the most extraordinary extinction event in earth’s history, one full of lessons for today as we confront a “sixth extinction.”Brusatte also recalls compelling stories from his globe-trotting expeditions during one of the most exciting eras in dinosaur research—which he calls “a new golden age of discovery”—and offers thrilling accounts of some of the remarkable findings he and his colleagues have made, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs; monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex; and paradigm-shifting feathered raptors from China.An electrifying scientific history that unearths the dinosaurs’ epic saga, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will be a definitive and treasured account for decades to come.

The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History

David Beerling - 2007
    Will temperatures rise by 2�C or 8�C over the next hundred years? Will sea levels rise by 2 or 30 feet? The only way that we can accurately answer questions like these is by looking into the distant past, for a comparison with the world long before the rise of mankind.We may currently believe that atmospheric shifts, like global warming, result from our impact on the planet, but the earth's atmosphere has been dramatically shifting since its creation. This book reveals the crucial role that plants have played in determining atmospheric change - and hence the conditions on the planet we know today. Along the way a number of fascinating puzzles arise: Why did plants evolve leaves? When and how did forests once grow on Antarctica? How did prehistoric insects manage to grow so large? The answers show the extraordinary amount plants can tell us about the history of the planet -- something that has often been overlooked amongst the preoccuputations with dinosaur bones and animal fossils.David Beerling's surprising conclusions are teased out from various lines of scientific enquiry, with evidence being brought to bear from fossil plants and animals, computer models of the atmosphere, and experimental studies. Intimately bound up with the narrative describing the dynamic evolution of climate and life through Earth's history, we find Victorian fossil hunters, intrepid polar explorers and pioneering chemists, alongside wallowing hippos, belching volcanoes, and restless landmasses.

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

David Christian - 2004
    Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings.Cosmology, geology, archeology, and population and environmental studies—all figure in David Christian's account, which is an ambitious overview of the emerging field of "Big History." Maps of Time opens with the origins of the universe, the stars and the galaxies, the sun and the solar system, including the earth, and conducts readers through the evolution of the planet before human habitation. It surveys the development of human society from the Paleolithic era through the transition to agriculture, the emergence of cities and states, and the birth of the modern, industrial period right up to intimations of possible futures. Sweeping in scope, finely focused in its minute detail, this riveting account of the known world, from the inception of space-time to the prospects of global warming, lays the groundwork for world history—and Big History—true as never before to its name.

Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science

Robert Kunzig - 1999
    The sea contains millions of species of animals and plants, but we have identified only a few thousand of them. The sea controls our planet's climate, but we do not really understand how. The sea is still the frontier, and yet it seems so familiar that we sometimes forget how little we know about it. Just as we are poised on the verge of exploiting the sea on an unprecedented scale—mining it, fertilizing it, fishing it out—this book reminds us of how much we have yet to learn. More than that, it chronicles the knowledge explosion that has transformed our view of the sea in just the past few decades, and made it a far more interesting and accessible place. From the Big Bang to that far-off future time, two billion years from now, when our planet will be a waterless rock; from the lush crowds of life at seafloor hot springs to the invisible, jewel-like plants that float at the sea surface; from the restless shifting of the tectonic plates to the majestic sweep of the ocean currents, Kunzig's clear and lyrical prose transports us to the ends of the Earth.Originally published in hardcover as The Restless Sea. "Robert Kunzig is a creator of what oceanographer Harry Hess once referred to as 'geopoetry.' He covers vast tracts of time and space and makes his subjects electrifying."—Richard Ellis, The Times [London] "The Restless Sea immediately surfaces at the top of the list of journalistic treatments of oceanography. . . .The book opened my eyes to numerous wonders."—Richard Strickland, American Scientist  "When you head for the coast this summer, leave that trashy beach novel at home. Instead, pack Robert Kunzig's book. Because just beyond your rental cottage lies the restless sea, where three-mile-tall mountain ranges criss-cross the ocean floor, and deep trenches harbor mysterious creatures. . . . The book is easy to read, and will bring you up to date on the startling discoveries oceanographers have made during the past few decades."—Phillip Manning, The News and Observer [Raleigh, North Carolina] ] "Anyone who loves the sea should read this book."—Sebastian Junger

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth

Adam Frank - 2018
    Astrophysicist Adam Frank traces the question of alien life and intelligence from the ancient Greeks to the leading thinkers of our own time, and shows how we as a civilization can only hope to survive climate change if we recognize what science has recently discovered: that we are just one of ten billion trillion planets in the Universe, and it’s highly likely that many of those planets hosted technologically advanced alien civilizations. What’s more, each of those civilizations must have faced the same challenge of civilization-driven climate change.Written with great clarity and conviction, Light of the Stars builds on the inspiring work of pioneering scientists such as Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, whose work at the dawn of the space age began building the new science of astrobiology; Jack James, the Texas-born engineer who drove NASA’s first planetary missions to success; Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian geochemist who first envisioned the Earth’s biosphere; and James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who invented Gaia theory. Frank recounts the perilous journey NASA undertook across millions of miles of deep space to get its probes to Venus and Mars, yielding our first view of the cosmic laws of planets and climate that changed our understanding of our place in the universe.Thrilling science at the grandest of scales, Light of the Stars explores what may be the largest question of all: What can the likely presence of life on other worlds tell us about our own fate?

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet

Anthony J. Martin - 2017
    But our burrowing roots go back to the very beginnings of animal life on earth. Without burrowing, the planet would be very different today. Many animal lineages alive now—including our own—only survived a cataclysmic meteorite strike 65 million years ago because they went underground.On a grander scale, the chemistry of the planet itself had already been transformed many millions of years earlier by the first animal burrows, which altered whole ecosystems. Every day we walk on an earth filled with an under-ground wilderness teeming with life. Most of this life stays hidden, yet these animals and their subterranean homes are ubiquitous, ranging from the deep sea to mountains, from the equator to the poles.Burrows are a refuge from predators, a safe home for raising young, or a tool to ambush prey. Burrows also protect animals against all types of natural disasters: fires, droughts, storms, meteorites, global warmings—and coolings. In a book filled with spectacularly diverse fauna, acclaimed paleontologist and ichnologist Anthony Martin reveals this fascinating, hidden world that will continue to influence and transform life on this planet.

The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution

Charles S. Cockell - 2018
    Maybe it's made of silicon! Maybe it has wheels! Or maybe it doesn't. In The Equations of Life, biologist Charles S. Cockell makes the forceful argument that the laws of physics narrowly constrain how life can evolve, making evolution's outcomes predictable. If we were to find on a distant planet something very much like a lady bug eating something like an aphid, we shouldn't be surprised. The forms of life are guided by a limited set of rules, and as a result, there is a narrow set of solutions to the challenges of existence.A remarkable scientific contribution breathing new life into Darwin's theory of evolution, The Equations of Life makes a radical argument about what life can -- and can't -- be.