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Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (1997)

by Richard A. Fortey

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1,2211513,082 (3.99)38
By one of Britain's most gifted scientists: a magnificently daring and compulsively readable account of life on Earth (from the "big bang" to the advent of man), based entirely on the most original of all sources--the evidence of fossils. With excitement and driving intelligence, Richard Fortey guides us from the barren globe spinning in space, through the very earliest signs of life in the sulphurous hot springs and volcanic vents of the young planet, the appearance of cells, the slow creation of an atmosphere and the evolution of myriad forms of plants and animals that could then be sustained, including the magnificent era of the dinosaurs, and on to the last moment before the debut of Homo sapiens. Ranging across multiple scientific disciplines, explicating in wonderfully clear and refreshing prose their findings and arguments--about the origins of life, the causes of species extinctions and the first appearance of man--Fortey weaves this history out of the most delicate traceries left in rock, stone and earth. He also explains how, on each aspect of nature and life, scientists have reached the understanding we have today, who made the key discoveries, who their opponents were and why certain ideas won. Brimful of wit, fascinating personal experience and high scholarship, this book may well be our best introduction yet to the complex history of life on Earth. A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection   With 32 pages of photographs… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Enjoyed Richard Fortey's presentation of life on earth, especially his last chapter. While I knew some aspects of his topic, he brought it all together in one book with sly comments showing a wry sense of humor. Great book for me to read before going to sleep.
  Elizabeth80 | Jun 19, 2022 |
The Folio edition of this book was published in 2008, and follows the 1998 first publication, with some emendations. Fortey is a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History in London. He has a chatty voice, his text contains as much about his own history as that of natural history. The many color photographs are linked well to the text, and create a very beautiful volume.
Some facts and quotes that I found worth noting:
“When phosphorus was used to make matches, employees in match factories often suffered a ghastly and rotting disease known as ‘phossy jaw” (page 39)
Graptolites - fossilized in Ordovician deep sea mud, the appearance is of a double saw blade joined at one end. They probably floated near the surface and collected plankton. (Page 129-130)
“Sheep are legendarily near the bottom of the league, quivering dullards animated by nervousness alone, dunces of the mammal class, dolts and dimwits. It is grudgingly acknowledged that these allegedly obtuse animals can survive in places and conditions where sparkling wits are useless, but somehow the poor sheep acquires no credit for this performance.” (Page 299)
“A review of the history of life should provoke awe, above all else. As Goethe said, Zum Erstaunen bin ich da - I am here to wonder.” ( )
  neurodrew | Feb 1, 2022 |
Ein groß angelegter Spaziergang durch die Evolutionsgeschichte. Der Autor pflegt einen erzählerischen Stil, flechtet häufig literarische Assoziationen ein, eigene biographische Details und solche über historische und aktuelle Forscher. Das macht das Buch einerseits abwechslungsreich, manchmal führt es aber auch zu unnötigen Längen, wenn der Autor etwas zu sehr in's Schwafeln kommt.

Der fachliche Teil ist sicher sauber recherchiert, vom Niveau auch für ein nicht studiertes Publikum verständlich (daher aber für ein studiertes Publikum manchmal etwas zu fluffig), aber heute nicht mehr ganz up to date, da es im Original von 1997 stammt.

Was dem Buch sehr geholfen hätte wären mehr Abbildungen: der Autor beschreibt Kontinente, Landschaften, Tiere ohne Zahl - wo sind die Landkarten, Zeichnungen, Photos? ( )
  MrKillick-Read | Apr 4, 2021 |
Professor Fortey takes the reader on a chronological tour of the the biological history of earth. However, his story is not a boring slog through the strata, but an eclectic stroll among fascinating organisms. Fortey includes many asides in his narrative, including important aspects of geology, portraits of eccentric paleontologists and personal anecdotes about fossil hunting is unusual locations. This book manages to summarise paleontological controversies in a fair manner without bogging down the story. I found the author's descriptive writing style to be rich and lyrical. ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
Another really excellent piece of natural history writing by Fortey, this a clear, readable account of life on Earth from the beginning. ( )
  JBD1 | Aug 17, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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For Jackie, with my love
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Salterella dodged between the icebergs.
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Later subtitle: A natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth.
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By one of Britain's most gifted scientists: a magnificently daring and compulsively readable account of life on Earth (from the "big bang" to the advent of man), based entirely on the most original of all sources--the evidence of fossils. With excitement and driving intelligence, Richard Fortey guides us from the barren globe spinning in space, through the very earliest signs of life in the sulphurous hot springs and volcanic vents of the young planet, the appearance of cells, the slow creation of an atmosphere and the evolution of myriad forms of plants and animals that could then be sustained, including the magnificent era of the dinosaurs, and on to the last moment before the debut of Homo sapiens. Ranging across multiple scientific disciplines, explicating in wonderfully clear and refreshing prose their findings and arguments--about the origins of life, the causes of species extinctions and the first appearance of man--Fortey weaves this history out of the most delicate traceries left in rock, stone and earth. He also explains how, on each aspect of nature and life, scientists have reached the understanding we have today, who made the key discoveries, who their opponents were and why certain ideas won. Brimful of wit, fascinating personal experience and high scholarship, this book may well be our best introduction yet to the complex history of life on Earth. A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection   With 32 pages of photographs

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The senior paleontologist at London's Natural History Museum presents an account of life on Earth from the Big Bang to the advent of humankind, based entirely on the evidence of fossils, stones, and other natural artifacts.
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