Life: 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


From the Hardcover edition.
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About the author

Richard Fortey is a senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. He is the author of several books, including Fossils: A Key to the Past and The Hidden Landscape, which was named the Natural World Book of the Year in 1993. In 1997 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Mar 23, 2011
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Pages
400
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ISBN
9780307761187
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Natural History
Science / Paleontology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Log line : Imagine if your old granddad suddenly became the nations hottest new rock idol...Imagine no longer...Viagra snuff and rock ‘n’ roll.

When Charles Clark’s wife passed away, he thought life without his beloved Mary would be unbearable. Charles knew that his middle-aged children, who had families of their own, didn’t want him burdening them, which is why they dumped him into Fossdyke Old Folks’ Home. However, unbeknownst to Charles, this is not the end of his life story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter.

What started out as fun for the four elderly musicians of a band called Fossils, has now, thanks to Kipper, spiralled out of control. Record companies, fans, and the nation’s media scour the country in search of the elusive, young, vibrant, four-piece band, unaware they have a combined age of 280 years.

The old rockers, fearing their families would be ridiculed when the truth comes out, need to find a way to avoid attention in the UK until things can be resolved.

Fortunately, Steve has a plan...          

Meet the Fossils:        

Charles Clark (Nobby) – Keyboard and lead vocals – Prone to nodding off...often.

Steve Baker (Strat) – Lead guitar and vocals – Extremely irritable bowels...and I do mean extremely.

Wayne Logan (Sticks) – Percussion and songwriter – Selectively deaf, randy old sod.

Elvin Stanley (Chippers) – Bass – Digitally challenged, also a randy old sod.

Kevin Nutley (Kipper) – Local DJ and manager – As smart as a bag of rocks.

Dave Corrigan (Cosmo) – Pub landlord and manager – Claims to be an honest businessman who, according to him, had nothing to do with the dodgy DVDs circulated around town...honest.

Follow their antics as the band tours the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand as they attempt to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. They discover a new and carefree way of life, which they enjoy to its fullest. 

From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.
 
Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.
 
Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
Australopithecines, dinosaurs, trilobites--such fossils conjure up images of lost worlds filled with vanished organisms. 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.

From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.
 
Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.
 
Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
'I travelled to Haverfordwest to get to the past. From Paddington Station a Great Western locomotive took me on a journey westwards from London further and further back into geological time, from the age of mammals to the age of trilobites... Under the River Severn and into Wales, I was back before the time of the dinosaurs, to a time when Wales steamed and sweated with the humid heat of moss-laden and boggy forests in coal-swamps, where dragonflies the size of hawks flitted in the mist; and then on back still further in time, so far back that life had not yet slithered or crawled upon the land from its aqueous nursery.'

So begins this enthralling exploration of time and place in which Richard Fortey peels away the top layer of the land to reveal the hidden landscape - the rocks which contain the story of distant events, which dictate not only the personality of the landscape, but the nature of the soil, the plants that grow in it and the regional characteristics of the buildings. We travel with him as our guide throughout the British Isles and as the rocks change so we learn to read the clues they contain: that Britain was once divided into two parts separated by an ocean, that Scottish malt whisky, Harris tweed, slate roofs and thatched cottages can be traced back to tumultuous events which took place many millions of years ago. The Hidden Landscape has become a classic in popular geology since its first publication in 1993. This new edition is fully updated and beautifully illustrated.

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