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A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth

4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

Henry Gee

St. Martin's Press

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In the tradition of E.H. Gombrich, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Weisman—An entertaining and uniquely informed narration of Life's life story.

In the beginning, Earth was an inhospitably alien place—in constant chemical flux, covered with churning seas, crafting its landscape through incessant volcanic eruptions. Amid all this tumult and disaster, life began. The earliest living things were no more than membranes stretched across microscopic gaps in rocks, where boiling hot jets of mineral-rich water gushed out from cracks in the ocean floor.

Although these membranes were leaky, the environment within them became different from the raging maelstrom beyond. These havens of order slowly refined the generation of energy, using it to form membrane-bound bubbles that were mostly-faithful copies of their parents—a foamy lather of soap-bubble cells standing as tiny clenched fists, defiant against the lifeless world. Life on this planet has continued in much the same way for millennia, adapting to literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter and thriving, from these humblest beginnings to the thrilling and unlikely story of ourselves.

In A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, Henry Gee zips through the last 4.6 billion years with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigor. Drawing on the very latest scientific understanding and writing in a clear, accessible style, he tells an enlightening tale of survival and persistence that illuminates the delicate balanc… More…

In the tradition of E.H. Gombrich, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Weisman—An entertaining and uniquely informed narration of Life's life story.

In the beginning, Earth was an inhospitably alien place—in constant chemical flux, covered with churning seas, crafting its landscape through incessant volcanic eruptions. Amid all this tumult and disaster, life began. The earliest living things were no more than membranes stretched across microscopic gaps in rocks, where boiling hot jets of mineral-rich water gushed out from cracks in the ocean floor.

Although these membranes were leaky, the environment within them became different from the raging maelstrom beyond. These havens of order slowly refined the generation of energy, using it to form membrane-bound bubbles that were mostly-faithful copies of their parents—a foamy lather of soap-bubble cells standing as tiny clenched fists, defiant against the lifeless world. Life on this planet has continued in much the same way for millennia, adapting to literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter and thriving, from these humblest beginnings to the thrilling and unlikely story of ourselves.

In A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, Henry Gee zips through the last 4.6 billion years with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigor. Drawing on the very latest scientific understanding and writing in a clear, accessible style, he tells an enlightening tale of survival and persistence that illuminates the delicate balance within which life has always existed.

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Praise for A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth

"This is now the best book available about the huge changes in our planet and its living creatures, over the billions of years of the Earth’s existence. Continents have merged and broken up; massive volcanic eruptions have repeatedly reset the clock of evolution; temperatures, atmospheric gases, and sea levels have undergone big swings; and new ways of life have evolved. Henry Gee makes this kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? Everybody!"
—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Upheaval

"Don’t miss this delightful, concise, sweeping masterpiece! Gee brilliantly condenses the entire, improbable, astonishing history of life on earth—all 5 billion years—into a charming, zippy and scientifically accurate yarn. I honestly couldn’t put this book down, and you won’t either."
—Daniel E. Lieberman, Edwin M. Lerner II professor of Biological Sciences, Harvard University and author of Exercised

"A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers. As a senior editor at Nature, Henry Gee has had a front-row seat to the most important fossil discoveries of the last quarter century. His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us."
—Steve Brusatte, paleontologist, University of Edinburgh and New York Times bestselling author of The Rise an… More…

"This is now the best book available about the huge changes in our planet and its living creatures, over the billions of years of the Earth’s existence. Continents have merged and broken up; massive volcanic eruptions have repeatedly reset the clock of evolution; temperatures, atmospheric gases, and sea levels have undergone big swings; and new ways of life have evolved. Henry Gee makes this kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? Everybody!"
—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Upheaval

"Don’t miss this delightful, concise, sweeping masterpiece! Gee brilliantly condenses the entire, improbable, astonishing history of life on earth—all 5 billion years—into a charming, zippy and scientifically accurate yarn. I honestly couldn’t put this book down, and you won’t either."
—Daniel E. Lieberman, Edwin M. Lerner II professor of Biological Sciences, Harvard University and author of Exercised

"A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers. As a senior editor at Nature, Henry Gee has had a front-row seat to the most important fossil discoveries of the last quarter century. His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us."
—Steve Brusatte, paleontologist, University of Edinburgh and New York Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

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Henry Gee

HENRY GEE is a senior editor at Nature and the author of several books, including Jacob’s Ladder, In Search of Deep Time, The Science of Middle-earth, and The Accidental Species. He has appeared on BBC television and radio and NPR's All Things Considered, and has written for The Guardian, The Times, and BBC Focus. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets.

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