"Fossils are the fragments from which, piece by laborious piece, the great mosaic of the history of life has been constructed. Here and there, we can supplement these meager scraps by the use of biochemical markers or geochemical signatures that add useful information, but, even with such additional help, our reconstructions and our models of descent are often tentative. For the fossil record is, as we have seen, as biased as it is incomplete. But fragmentary, selective, and biased though it is, the fossil record, with all its imperfections, is still a treasure. Though whole chapters are missing, many pages lost, and the earliest pages so damaged as to be, as yet, virtually unreadable, this—the greatest biography of all—is one in whose closing pages we find ourselves."—from OriginsIn Origins, Frank H. T. Rhodes explores the origin and evolution of living things, the changing environments in which they have developed, and the challenges we now face on an increasingly crowded and polluted planet. Rhodes argues that the future well-being of our burgeoning population depends in no small part on our understanding of life's past, its long and slow development, and its intricate interdependencies.Rhodes’s accessible and extensively illustrated treatment of the origins narrative describes the nature of the search for prehistoric life, the significance of geologic time, the origin of life, the emergence and spread of flora and fauna, the evolution of primates, and the emergence of modern humans.
"It's impossible to grasp the whole planet or integrate all the descriptions of it. But because we live here, we have to try. This is not just an artistic compulsion or an existential yearning, still less an academic exercise. It's a survival issue. This is the only planet we have. We're stuck here, and we don’t own the place—it would be the height of arrogance to assume that we do. We’re tenants here, not owners, but we’re tenants with hope for a long-term tenancy. We want to extend our lease just as far as we can."—from Earth: A Tenant’s Manual

In Earth: A Tenant’s Manual, the distinguished geologist Frank H. T. Rhodes, President Emeritus of Cornell University, provides a sweeping, accessible, and deeply informed guide to the home we all share, showing us how we might best preserve the Earth’s livability for ourselves and future generations.

Rhodes begins by setting the scene for our active planet and explaining how its location and composition determine how the Earth works and why it teems with life. He emphasizes the changes that are of concern to us today, from earthquakes to climate change and the clashes over the energy resources needed for the Earth’s exploding population. He concludes with an extended exploration of humanity’s prospects on a complex, protean, and ultimately finite world.

It is not a question of whether the planet is sustainable; the challenge facing life on Earth—and the life of the Earth—is whether an expanding and high-consumption species like ours is sustainable. Only new resources, new priorities, new policies and, most of all, new knowledge, can reverse the damage that humanity is doing to our home—and ourselves. A sustainable human future, Rhodes concludes in this eloquent, sobering, but ultimately optimistic book, will require a sense of responsible stewardship, for we are not owners of this planet; we are tenants.

Surveying the systems, large and small, that govern Earth’s processes and influence its changes, Rhodes addresses the negative consequences of human activities for the health of its regulatory systems but offers practical suggestions as to how we might effect repairs, or at least limit further damage to our home.

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