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This is yet another book whose authors have joined the quest to understand our origins and what might happen to our species as green house gases rise. Ward and Kirschvink attempt to include the most up to date information of extinction available. Just as epigenetics is currently challenging our understanding of evolution, so too are relatively recent findings in fields related to extinction patterns. The role of Cuvier's catastrophism has seen a resurgence since the discovery of the meteoroid's impact on Earth's organisms. Further findings on how body morphology and function change in response to co2 and o2 are further supporting catastrophism. These authors challenge the notion that there were five extinctions and posit there were actually ten that deserve much greater attention and study, if we are to fully understand how greenhouse gases will affect our future.
In addition to the rise in mapping when and how extinctions happen (including the newest book by Lisa Randall on Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs) researchers are also increasingly interested in mapping out the networks of ecosystems- how might the extinction of species affect the survival of other species. For example, how does fire affect ecosystems? How do oxygen and carbon gas levels shape the bodies of organisms like clams? How does their shape affect burrowing behavior, and how does that burrowing behavior affect Earth's surface? How does Earth's surface then affect the development of future species? One of the best lecture series that also addresses the network/complexity/emergence of ecosystems is The Modern Scholar: Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth's Major Ecosystems by John Kricher.
I am a great lover of detailed books on cell respiration or photosynthesis (ie., Nick Lane's entire collection of books and Paul Falkowski's Life's Engines). This book included quite a bit of the nitty gritty science that I find so exciting and satisfying when trying to really understand what is going on around us, at the tiniest levels that translate to macro organisms and their elaborate ecosystems.
The writing was at times too much like an article. I love authors who hold your hand and assume you have no idea what point they are trying to make. Even when it is very clear to me what their argument is, I really like to be guided along so that I am free to just enjoy what is being discussed instead of trying to understand what point they are making. It's difficult to achieve this type of writing, certainly they do a better job than Nick Lane who seems to alienate much of his potential audience. Yet, they could have done a better job of handholding. On the flip side they painted some wonderful images with their words. I won't soon forget the image that is burned in my mind of the dinosaur who possess fingers, a working thumb, feathers, and was running fast over the earth. Nor will I soon forget the image of clams burrowing the bottom of the sea floor changing the crusts very structure and function. I loved the imagery evoked when discussing the sea floor, plate tectonics, coccolithophores, and subduction zones (This was a focus in at least 3 separate chapters and was magnificent each time. Even if I was starting to get a bit bored, when they included talk of chalk, my interest was peaked!). I would have liked more of that type of writing.
For further reading:
Lisa Randall's Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs
John Kricher's The Modern Scholar: Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth's Major Ecosystems
Nick Lane (all of his books)
Geoffrey West's Scaling in Biology
Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most beautiful
Paul Falkowski's Life's Engines
Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants
20 of 22 people found this review helpful
Where does A New History of Life rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
One of the best audiobooks I've listened to and by far the best science audiobook. Many science audiobooks don't translate well to this format, perhaps because of the writing style or reliance on figures and pictures. A New History of Life, however, is an excellent audio edition.
What about Tom Parks’s performance did you like?
The writing is clear and the reader is engaging; he has a good voice, and pronounces everything correctly (as far as I know!).
Any additional comments?
Firstly, I'm a big fan of Peter Wards previous books, it would be great if some of his earlier works could be translated into audiobook format.
I'm a biologist, and I've recommended this book to many of my colleagues as an introduction to how the biosphere operates over long time scales, providing an accurate summary while referencing the latest research. Don't be put off, however, this isn't a boring technical book. It moves at good pace, never dwelling on one topic so as get tedious, while not skipping past important periods of Earth's history either. Thankfully, like so many other books, this one does not dwell on the long, drawn out process of scientific discovery, fossil digs and academic feuding which unfortunately seem to bog down popular science books on paleontology and the earth sciences.
Anyone familiar with Ward's previous work will likely be aware of what type of perspective he brings to the table- an emphasis on such things as mass extinctions, atmospheric oxygen levels and the self-destructive habits of life itself.
I'd highly recommend those who enjoyed this book follow it up with any of Ward's previous books (which he references), or the books of Nick Lane, or Lisa Randall's Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
What was most disappointing about Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink ’s story?
I purchased this audiobook expecting an interesting survey of Life and its origins. Instead what I appear to have bought is a book by two Global Warming Hysterics.
I do not recommend this book if you're interested in biology. It should be safely hidden away in the Activist Scientist section where it won't mislead anyone about its content.
0 of 3 people found this review helpful