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The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199226320
ISBN-10: 0199226326
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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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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: 6.8 x 0.6 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
I really like the concept behind this series. For those of us without much knowledge of the topics, the "Very Short Introduction" books provide a good introduction. Benton's story is a narrative, but is broken down into eight sections based on major developments in evolution, such as the origin of life, the development of sexual reproduction, the major catastrophes that all but wiped out life on earth, and the origin of humans, etc. He also intersperses discussions of methodologies that paleontologists and others use to develop their findings as well as brief histories of the development of certain theories. I had only two problems with the book. One was a proliferation of references to various prehistoric flora and fauna, each with its own barely pronounceable scientific name. The other was that I read the book on my Kindle. This meant that page sizes were reduced and the print on some of the charts was too small to be read. This was particularly important for the chart that outlined the different geologic ages. Benton made repeated reference to these ages and for those of us who do not know the difference between mezozoic and Jurrasic, being unable to reference this chart was an ongoing handicap.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting book about the eras of life. I like the theories how dna and cells formed from a soup of natural chemicals in water heated by volcanic vents. He talks about how various life forms progressed through the ages from simple cells to corals, early sea creatures, walking onto land, the Permian extinction which killed 96% of all species, and of course humans. Was easy for a non scientist to understand. The only drawback is that it didn't have pictures of the life forms, plants and animals talked about, so I had to keep running to my computer for images.
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