A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us--The Evolution of Life on Earth

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9780471317005: A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us--The Evolution of Life on Earth
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Imagine a walk where every step forward transports you a few million years in time. Just such a mind-expanding premise inspired this landmark book, developed from the acclaimed "Walk Through Time" exhibit on tour around the world.

Here, in one lavish volume, is the remarkable drama of the history of the universe and life on Earth. Travel from the furious blast of the Big Bang to the first pulse of life, and on through the rich pageant of life's evolution from primordial microbes to the rise of Homo sapiens. Span 15 billion years to discover life's greatest mysteries emerging. Over 130 beautiful four-color illustrations and an absorbing narrative highlight significant events and themes in Earth's life story. The original exhibit itself is re-created as a timeline that runs throughout the book, pinpointing key stages in the evolutionary drama and where they fall in the vast sweep of time.

One result is a new appreciation of the rich complexity of the life processes of the planet aeons before the appearance of large-scale plants and animals. On the mile-long scale of the original "Walk," for example, microbial life appears 4,000 feet in the past and remains the sole life-form for most of the mile. Humans appear merely three feet ago. The last ice age concludes only one-tenth of an inch in the past, and the world's population currently doubles each half a thousandth of an inch.

By relating life's story according to the accurate timeline of evolution, A Walk Through Time highlights just what latecomers we humans are to Earth's family of life, and showcases the surprising ingenuity and stamina of the microbial life that preceded us and still supports the life all around us. The book also reveals the stunning effects the human species has wrought in so short a span of time, precipitating what may become the largest species extinction in 65 million years.

All along the way, we are informed of the most important recent discoveries. We explore the exuberant creativity of microbial life-forms and learn about their surprisingly cosmopolitan lives, interconnected in a teeming web of symbiotic relationships described as the first World Wide Web of information exchange. We learn about the many mysteries being unraveled as we probe the code of DNA; how the universe coalesced into galaxies and planets; and how microscopic animals can survive in such superheated environments as deep-sea vents and deep inside the Earth. Most importantly, we learn that we can no longer perceive Earth as an inert lump of rock with an assembly of different life-forms, but must understand that our planet comprises one comprehensive, intricately woven life system.

Those who take this walk through time will gain a new understanding of the wondrous history of how life developed, a feeling of awe and inspiration for the complexity and beauty of the processes that have made life possible over billions of years, and a greater appreciation for the growing impact the human species is having on the future of all the myriad forms of life, including our own.

Imagine taking a walk where every step transports you a few million years through time! A Walk Through Time takes you on just such a journey. In addition to the informative main text, which tells the lively story of the evolution of life, the book contains the original text and illustrations of the acclaimed "Walk Through Time" exhibition on tour around the world. This innovative exhibition tells the story of life's evolution in a mile-long walk highlighting the major developments.

In the book, the text of the exhibition runs along the bottom of the pages, along with a timeline to show how many millions of years have passed. Beautifully written and lavishly illustrated, A Walk Through Time allows you to both savor the astonishing story of life's evolution through the engaging narrative of the main text and to enjoy the exhibition in the comfort of your own home.

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Review:

Every step you take in A Walk Through Time moves you millions of years forward in Earth's history. Inspired by the idea of a one-mile stroll through the evolution of life, Sidney Liebes recruited some terrific writers and artists to create a traveling museum exhibit; A Walk Through Time summarizes the experience in book form, with the help of fascinating photos and intelligent, enjoyable text. The most profound realization along this temporal journey is just how small a part human history plays in the big time line. In the museum exhibit, where one foot equals one million years, human presence takes up all of one-thousandth of an inch; in the book's time line, we merit barely a speck. Our tiniest living fellows--the bacteria and blue-green algae, the amazing arthropods, the merging microbes--are the real stars of the show. Readers are treated to intriguing views of bizarre organisms like tardigrades, velvet worms, and lichens ("Taking everything we know about algae and fungi, we still never would have predicted the outcome of their synergy"), along with the microbes that once ruled the earth. Only at the very end of the line, long after the development of sexual reproduction, after the great Cretaceous extinction, after the development of flight and fur, will you find humans. Taking this walk is a great lesson in perspective, a cautionary tale about hubris and longevity that every human should read. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

SIDNEY LIEBES, Ph.D., is a physicist with research and teaching careers at Princeton and Stanford Universities. He recently retired as a research manager and senior scientist at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories.

ELISABET SAHTOURIS, Ph.D., is an evolutionary biologist and a consultant to the United Nations. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as a science writer for the Horizon/Nova television series.

BRIAN SWIMME, Ph.D., is a mathematical cosmologist, the author of The Universe Story (with Thomas Berry), the creator of the video series Canticle to the Cosmos, and a member of the graduate faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

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