Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth (Princeton Science Library)

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9780691120294: Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth (Princeton Science Library)
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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.

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Winner of 2003 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science

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"Andrew Knoll, one of the world's foremost paleontologists, here presents the origin and early evolution of life the way it should be told: a mystery unfolding as an epic. Resonating with the authority of firsthand stories of discovery, his account will be exceptionally enjoyable for scientists and the educated public alike."--Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University


"Here is a firsthand account of one of the most exciting quests in modern science. Knoll writes with the confidence of a distinguished scientist who has devoted his career to unraveling the mysteries of life's origins and the passion of someone who deeply believes in the importance of recent discoveries about life before the Cambrian explosion. From the wilds of Siberia to the ocean floor, from Earth to Mars and beyond, he takes readers on a fascinating personal adventure that may change the way they think about themselves and their place in the world."--Lawrence M. Krauss, author ofThe Physics of Star Trek and Atom


"In a highly personal, gripping narrative, Knoll takes us on the most incredible journey of all journeys--the history of life on Earth."--Donald E. Canfield, Odense University


"This is a truly great book. It is a remarkably readable synthesis of many diverse ideas selected from a breathtaking array of disciplines. The narrative is engaging and entertaining--a travelogue through time that incorporates amusing and informative anecdotes from Knoll's travels to many far-off places."--Sean Carroll, University of Wisconsin, author ofFrom DNA to Diversity


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