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The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0199226320 ISBN-10: 0199226326 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (December 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199226326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199226320
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Michael J. Benton is Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He has written some fifty books, ranging from children's dinosaur and palaeontology books to standard textbooks.

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Customer Reviews

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Thanks to Benton, I now feel I have the big picture.
rockville_reader
He covers a lot of things and yet it all flows easily and is very understandable and well written.
RockHound
The most striking aspect of this history of life for me was the enormity of geologic time.
Robin Friedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 25, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The history of life is a very fascinating subject, with an almost universal appeal. And yet, life itself is scientifically a very complex phenomenon that could fill up libraries worth of books. As such, it is quite remarkable that a succinct book like this one would be even attempted, leave alone published. Michael Benton is commended for accomplishing in this very short introduction to take us along life's evolutionary trajectory and systematize and explain the origins of many major branches in ever changing tree of life. The book is extremely enjoyable to read, and on one level it reads almost as a crime novel: you are constantly wondering what comes next, and what do the clues from paleontology, geology and other disciplines tell us about the particular life forms that arose and perhaps vanished millions or billions of years ago. The view of life that the book presents is the one of progression towards more and more complex life forms, which has fallen out of favor with most evolutionary biologists. It is true that every new life form is just trying to find another suitable niche in the ever-changing ecosystem, but it should also not be overlooked that the complexity of life has increased throughout the history. In a sense Michael Benton is unapologetic in presenting that view, which only adds to the overall readability of this book. Whether you have been studying life for many years or are completely new to the subject, this would be a great book to read. I highly recommend it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By W. Cheung on July 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
In only around 150 pages, this book covers the whole story of life on earth. That's 25 million years per page!

Briefly: biochemical reactions started 4 billion years ago, and genetic materals started to form as well - these provided the basis for single cell organisms to form; multicellular organisms then evolved, conferring the advantage of specialization of cells; skeletons soon developed and with them an explosion and establishment of all major animal groups (The Cambrian Explosion, c. 540 million years ago); afterwards, first plants then animals started to invade the land - including crucially forests and reptiles (The Carboniferous Period, c. 320 Mya); global warming then ensued, resulting in a huge mass extinction in which 96 percent of all species were eliminated (The End-Permian Extinction, c. 250 Mya); the world slowly got recolonized again - radiation of species occurred - and the precusor of mammals (the cynodonts) also came into existence.

Then, a 10-km meteorite struck the earth, depleting sunlight via gigantic dust clouds, killing off large animals - significantly the dinosaurs as well - freeing the stage for small mammals to populate (The Cretaceous-Tertiary Event, c. 65 Mya). From early primates came monkeys, apes and finally us.

The author emphazises the orthodox view that we humans are not the pinnacle of evolution, and evolution is not teleological. Yet he admits that we are special: "no other species on Earth, to our knowledge, writes book, or even reflects on the history of its own species." (page 146) - the reader can interpret and meditate upon this in his or her own way.

Remarkable - short and succinct. Five stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By rockville_reader on May 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
The previous reviews are very good. For my part what I find remarkable about this little book is the amount of detail it provides on how scientists came to arrive at current views on how life developed on earth. At first I was a little put off by the details of who discovered what, particularly when Benton sometimes tells you a bit later that current views are different. But I came to see this as a much better representation of how science works. If you know how ideas were developed, it aids both understanding and retention. Thanks to Benton, I now feel I have the big picture.

I did use and annotate a diagram from another book ("Why Evolution is True," also excellent) to help me keep the time progression straight.

Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
I purchased this item to use as a resource in my 7th grade science classroom. I was disappointed at first that the terminology was way over their head and they would have a hard time understanding it. But then as I started reading it, I was really impressed with the way that it presented and explained the information. My students may not understand it, but I will certainly use what I have gained from it (any maybe some excerpts) in my classroom teachings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By RockHound on January 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a topic that many shy away from, as it seems like it would be too difficult for the average bear, but Benton presents it all in a concise and entertaining manner that is very accessible, even if you don't have a biology or paleontology background. It's a fascinating subject, and Benton has a great sense of humor - the very understated Brit type.

Highly recommend it, and I read it in only a few settings. He covers a lot of things and yet it all flows easily and is very understandable and well written. There's a reason he's so well-known in the field of paleontology - he really knows his stuff and is able to present it in a concise manner anyone can understand. Really opens one's eyes to the true mysteries of how we all came to be.
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