The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth

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9780393321562: The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth

A new edition of the beautifully illustrated depiction of the dramatic story of survival and extinction.

The Book of Life uses an exemplary fusion of art and science to tell the story of life on earth. The text, under the editorship of Stephen Jay Gould, provides a thorough understanding of the latest research and is accompanied by paintings prepared especially for this book. Never before has our planet's evolution been so clearly, so ingeniously explained. History is marked by disaster. The Book of Lifeexplains how mammals, having survived at least one of these disasters―the impact of a massive comet―luckily inherited the earth. Next came the rise of modern humans, who would shape the world as no creature has. As this fascinating history unfolds, gorgeous illustrations allow us to observe climate changes, tectonic plate movement, the spread of plant life, and the death of the dinosaurs. We discover the chains of animal survival, the causes and consequences of adaptation, and finally the environmental impact of human life. Color illustrations throughout.

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Review:

An unusual scientific reference work by any measure, The Book of Life opens with an unusual protest from its editor, Stephen Jay Gould, who worries that it may have left out much of importance discovered between the present and the book's original publication in 1993. Gould's worry is well placed--in the last few years, many advances have been made in taxonomy and genetics, to name just two areas. Still, the book is a lucid, readily comprehensible, and largely up-to-date overview of the origins and evolution of life on earth, from the emergence of bacteria 4 billion years ago to that of Homo sapiens in recent geological time. Written by distinguished scientists, the text proceeds chronologically, giving an in-depth account of the fossil record. It is matched by hundreds of paintings, drawings, charts, and graphs that reinforce the authors' discussions.

More than all that, The Book of Life is a manifesto proclaiming the essential correctness of evolutionary theory, which has come under fire in places like Afghanistan and Kansas. "Life has changed through time," paleontologist Michael Benton observes. "No other explanation will account for the sequence and variety of the life forms preserved as fossils, or the history recorded since humankind began to draw, paint, and carve, about 30,000 years ago." The book's careful documentation of those changes makes it a highly useful reference for high school and university students, and it's a book that rewards casual browsing as well. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

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