Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth

Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth

Richard Fortey

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 037570261X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"Extraordinary. . . . Anyone with the slightest interest in biology should read this book."--The New York Times Book Review

"A marvelous museum of the past four billion years on earth--capacious, jammed with treasures, full of learning and wide-eyed wonder."--The Boston Globe

From its origins on the still-forming planet to the recent emergence of Homo sapiens--one of the world's leading paleontologists offers an absorbing account of how and why life on earth developed as it did. Interlacing the tale of his own adventures in the field with vivid descriptions of creatures who emerged and disappeared in the long march of geologic time, Richard Fortey sheds light upon a fascinating array of evolutionary wonders, mysteries, and debates. Brimming with wit, literary style, and the joy of discovery, this is an indispensable book that will delight the general reader and the scientist alike.

"A drama bolder and more sweeping than Gone with the Wind . . . a pleasure to read."--Science

"A beautifully written and structured work . . . packed with lucid expositions of science."--Natural History


















heedless of the brief time over which they would make their mark upon the Earth. Something about the tropical seas of Tethys encouraged gigantism. Could it have been the result of the unusually hot climate? Even single-celled foraminiferans became colossal by their normal standards. From their beginnings in the Carboniferous there was a progressive diversification of a remarkable group of these normally inconspicuous organisms. These relative giants are known as fusulines. They are

other arthropods, too, seemed less strange when they were interpreted through what they shared with other, known arthropods, rather than being celebrated only for their peculiarities. None was as strange as a present-day barnacle, nor as grotesque as a queen termite. To be sure, there remain many problematic animals, but their problems seem more to do with how they are assembled than with doubts about common ancestry. The jointed limbs of arthropods are arranged in different ways, often having

Surely the first plants would have hovered tentatively at the water’s edge, ever vulnerable to just too much roasting by the sun, crisping when the conditions deteriorated, plumping up with rain or dew. Breathing through such a waxy covering then presented a different set of problems—after all, what retains moisture also excludes air. The compromise is a special arrangement of cells in the surface of the plant to make stomata, minute holes guarded by sausage-like cells which can admit air but

early and distant relative of the spiders, a trigonotarbid, painstakingly reconstructed from sections by Jason Dunlop of Manchester University 34. Part of the skeleton of “Boris” from the late Devonian of Greenland, the many-fingered early land vertebrate. Its scientific name is Acanthostega gunnari. 35. Jawless fish, Spizbergaspis, from the Devonian of Spitsbergen. The head of this animal clearly shows the paired eyes behind the forward nose. 36. A spiny trilobite, Ceratarges, from the

seen more or less clearly, themselves composed of banks of pebbles, and then, into the mist, dimly perceived, more distant beaches, impalpable, remote, the outer reaches of Precambrian time. And, alongside, the sea, the eternal sea, linking pebble with pebble, framing time itself. Then at least we could appreciate the immensity of time, its countless instants, the fossil record perhaps a litter of shells upon the shore, a scattering of jetsam. There are two scales of time: a relative one and an

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