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The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet [Hardcover]

by Robert M. Hazen
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 26, 2012 0670023558 978-0670023554 First

Earth evolves. From first atom to molecule, mineral to magma, granite crust to single cell to verdant living landscape, ours is a planet constantly in flux. In this radical new approach to Earth’s biography, senior Carnegie Institution researcher and national bestselling author Robert M. Hazen reveals how the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere—of rocks and living matter—has shaped our planet into the only one of its kind in the Solar System, if not the entire cosmos.

With an astrobiologist’s imagination, a historian’s perspective, and a naturalist’s passion for the ground beneath our feet, Hazen explains how changes on an atomic level translate into dramatic shifts in Earth’s makeup over its 4.567 billion year existence. He calls upon a flurry of recent discoveries to portray our planet’s many iterations in vivid detail—from its fast-rotating infancy when the Sun rose every five hours and the Moon filled 250 times more sky than it does now, to its sea-bathed youth before the first continents arose; from the Great Oxidation Event that turned the land red, to the globe-altering volcanism that may have been the true killer of the dinosaurs. Through Hazen’s theory of “co-evolution,” we learn how reactions between organic molecules and rock crystals may have generated Earth’s first organisms, which in turn are responsible for more than two-thirds of the mineral varieties on the planet—thousands of different kinds of crystals that could not exist in a nonliving world.

The Story of Earth is also the story of the pioneering men and women behind the sciences. Readers will meet black-market meteorite hawkers of the Sahara Desert, the gun-toting Feds who guarded the Apollo missions’ lunar dust, and the World War II Navy officer whose super-pressurized “bomb”—recycled from military hardware—first simulated the molten rock of Earth’s mantle. As a mentor to a new generation of scientists, Hazen introduces the intrepid young explorers whose dispatches from Earth’s harshest landscapes will revolutionize geology.

Celebrated by the New York Times for writing “with wonderful clarity about science . . . that effortlessly teaches as it zips along,” Hazen proves a brilliant and entertaining guide on this grand tour of our planet inside and out. Lucid, controversial, and intellectually bracing, The Story of Earth is popular science of the highest order.


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The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet + Origins: The Evolution of Continents, Oceans and Life + 101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See (Geology Underfoot)
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Editorial Reviews


***A Kirkus Top 25 Nonfiction Book of 2012***

“With infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Hazen introduces readers to Earth’s defining moments . . . [and] argues that understanding the interplay between Earth’s geological and biological pasts can help us predict and prepare for the future of life on our planet.”
—Saron Yitbarek, Discover 

“A fascinating new theory on the Earth’s origins written in a sparkling style with many personal touches. . . . Hazen offers startling evidence that ‘Earth’s living and nonliving spheres’ have co-evolved over the past four billion years.”
Kirkus, starred review

“Concise and colourful . . . Drawing on the latest research and influenced by advances in astrobiology, Hazen takes a radical standpoint . . . to tell the amazing tale of our planet’s intertwined living and non-living spheres.”
—Birger Schmitz, Nature

“Lively and vivid . . . Hazen is a master storyteller with a great story to tell . . . a sweeping rip-roaring yarn of immense scope, from the birth of the elements in stars to meditations on the future habitability of our world . . . Anyone new to Earth history will find Hazen’s account a revelation.”
A. D. Anbar, Science

“I’m not competent to assess the accuracy of Robert Hazen’s thesis about geological and biological history, but I am competent to judge it a fascinating story, far more alive than you might guess if all you knew was the subject was old dead (?!) rocks.”
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Hazen takes us on one of the grandest tours of them all—the 4.5 billion year history of our planet. From the atoms of the crust of the Earth come our bodies, the entire living world, and this exciting book. Read Hazen and you will not see Earth and life in the same way again.”
Neil Shubin, paleontologist and author of Your Inner Fish

“Exceptionally readable [and] user-friendly . . . Science junkies and readers interested in the environment will find Hazen’s arguments compelling and his overview of Earth’s tumultuous history captivating.”
—Carl Hays, Booklist

The Story of Earth is that rare book that can transform the way you see the world. By synthesizing a vast span of time and knowledge into crisp, delightful prose, Hazen really does make our planet into a story, and a compelling one. I was left with a new sense of context for our place in this galactic home.”
Charles Wohlforth, author of The Fate of Nature and The Whale and the Supercomputer

“A gripping, well-told story . . . [Hazen’s] vivid descriptions of the early Earth’s tortured landscapes are a joy, as is his Carl Sagan-like gift for conveying the sheer age of our world and the vastness of space. A fantastic, stirring read.”
—Michael Marshall, New Scientist

“Cramming billions of years of geological evolution into a single book is a daunting challenge, but it’s one that Hazen, a geophysicist, has risen to splendidly.”
—Sid Perkins, Science News

“Hazen illuminates the origins of Earth and the origins of life [in] a thoroughly accessible book, mixing a variety of scientific disciplines to tell an unforgettable story.”
Publishers Weekly

“Hazen has a gift for explaining science in lay terms, and even readers with a minimal understanding of geology, chemistry, and physics will find this book riveting.”
—Nancy R. Curtis, Library Journal

About the Author

Robert M. Hazen is the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University and a Senior Scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. The author of numerous books—including the bestselling Science Matters—Hazen lives with his wife in Glen Echo, Maryland.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First edition (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023554
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour de Force June 11, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To tell a story spanning 4.5 billion years in one book? It's a hard ask, but Robert Hazen does it and does it well, striking the right balance between too little detail and too much. The section on how competition for rock surfaces drove the organisation and concentration of complex biomolecules, the building blocks of life, was intellectually stunning. That natural selection might have been at work before life even existed came as a profound revelation, as is the thought that the same processes may have laid the foundations for life on other planets and moons (Europa for example).

Would that all those mired in superstition, fear, and ignorance might read this book with open, enquiring, and rational minds.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How our home was built July 30, 2012
In this excellent volume, Robert Hazen tells us the story of how earth came to be, a real story that is grander than any creation myth. He starts with the Big Bang and then leads us through the formation of stars, galaxies, the solar system and finally to the evolution of earth. Hazen is a geologist by training so he especially excels in recounting the the formation of the planet from minerals and elements and their subsequent differentiation into the core, magma and crust that define the structure of our planet.

But this is where the story is just getting warmed up. The upheavals that earth faced during the next 4.5 billion years have been tremendous and Hazen documents them exceedingly well. Earth has seen huge transitions that crucially contributed to the evolution and extinction of life. These included massive tectonic shifts, the famous continental drifts, intense periodic cycles of thawing and freezing, the waxing and waning of oxygen levels in the atmosphere and the constant churning and renewing of earth's raw materials through volcanic, oceanic and tectonic activity. The magnitude of these events is illustrated for instance by the fact that at one point in time the Appalachians were submerged in the ocean. The movement of entire continents across thousands of miles, the rise and fall of imposing mountain ranges and the obliteration of thousands of species and landscapes by the impact of meteorites is almost impossible to imagine. But the evidence is incontrovertible.

The real strength of the book is in describing the influence of this grand geological drama on the evolution of life, and how this evolution would have been impossible without the crucial interplay between geology and biology.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I am very interested in the history of the earth. I remember years back when Carl Sangan mentioned on his TV show Cosmos that oak trees and humans have almost identical DNA and that we are certainly made out of the same stuff. I was amazed. Now reading Robert Hazen I find that a major catalyst for life was rocks and that life has had its own profound effect on the "evolution" of minerals. Again I am in awe of the interrelationship of geology and biology. Just like we humans are a collection of amoeba like cells all working for a common purpose, it appears the earth is a collection of rocks, water, atmosphere, and life all contributing to geo-evolution. It is fascinating how all earth stuff is connected and have profound effects on each other. I highly recommend this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fluid Earth October 12, 2013
By Ryan
Format:Audible Audio Edition
I enjoyed this book. Robert Hazen starts from the beginning and describes how the Earth formed from starstuff, its crust and minerals crystallizing from cooling magma. He covers the planet's storied relationship with its moon, the importance of tectonic plates, the formation of the seas, and the magnetosphere. We learn about the chemistry that provided a basis for proto-life-as-we-know-it, and, eventually, the real deal. We learn about the complex feedback loops that govern the climate system, the revelation that the entire planet may have once been covered in ice.

Hazen emphasizes the interdependence of the planet's features and life itself: "geology influences life and life influences life". Eons of metabolizing, respiring, and dying plants and animals have unquestionable altered the features and chemical makeup of the Earth's surface, and, more importantly, the climate. Hazen also takes some time to identify instances of past natural climate change, triggered by imperfections in the Earth's rotation, changes in the sun, volcanic activity, feedback loops caused by clouds/ocean/ice, and the emissions of the biosphere. Deniers of man-made climate change often refer to such events (usually with limited understanding of what caused them) to minimize the idea that human activity makes any difference, but Hazen points to the past as evidence that the equilibrium is delicate and *can* be changed, sometimes with catastrophic consequences for the ecosystem.

Finally, I've often wondered how scientists *know* about things that happened millions or billions of years ago -- I mean, I was aware that they had methods, but I couldn't have explained them in much depth. Well, this book provides some good answers.

A worthwhile read. Informative and sweeping without being too dense.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great popular overview of a huge subject, with a twist. October 22, 2012
This has to be about the most coherent and readable book about the formation of our planet that I have read. It made the processes that formed Earth make sense in ways that no other book has (and I've read some good ones). But it also reads like a family album, or the biography of a beloved friend. For those reasons alone I recommend it.

The bonus of the book (and the area most likely up for debate) is the fresh viewpoint that the author brings to the symbiotic connection between biological life and geology. We all understand that without the basic elements that were gathered from the cosmos by the Earth, life could not have begun. But it also appears that it was life itself that then began to alter "lifeless" geology, mainly in the form of minerals that then became the further building blocks of ever-evolving life forms.

Life exists in many forms and in many places on and in the earth. We tend to think of the things that live and crawl on the surface, or swim in the sea, but the roots of living plants facilitate chemical reactions in rocks and soil to a degree that their actions must be considered a significant shaper of landscape -- more so than erosion by wind and rain.

It is a way to see our planet that has an elegant and fascinating complexity to it. Our life story is not one of life simply springing up on a watery planet that just happened to be the right distance from an energy-supplying sun, but of an interplay between chemistry, environment, time and chance that has played out over and over and over again through extinctions and near extinctions, changes in atmosphere and the chemical composition of the oceans as well as the surface of the planet to arrive at the biologically-rich world that we know today.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand composition of disciplines.
Like the book, 'Here on Earth', I recommend this book for anyone planning to live here.

I found the combined consideration of geology and biology logical, thrilling and... Read more
Published 3 days ago by russell collier
4.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful account of earth's history for the lay person
The story of earth's history is fascinating and the author's telling of it is captivating. Why the moon, where did oxygen come from, and the oceans?
Published 6 days ago by Hal Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and very informative
I knew little to nothing about the subject, but was well informed in an easy to read and understand manner.
Published 10 days ago by david kivlin
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppily written ... tangential, redundant, gramatically deficient etc...
Despite my love of earth sciences I, with great relief, eventually discontinued this book at 61% due to multiple inadequacies. Read more
Published 12 days ago by John Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars How did we get here?
The best overview of the formation and development of earth and the solar system I have read. Easily understood by those of us with limited science backgrounds - and complete... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Thomas Thibault
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Everything is there: from astrophysics to biology, from geology to climate change, from plate tectonics to mineralogy, from chemistry to evolution, this book links all these... Read more
Published 1 month ago by W. Cheung
5.0 out of 5 stars Learned about the formation of the moon.
Covered the evolutionary process thoroughly from day one to today. I learned of eras I had no idea existed. Seems like our schools can't go back beyond dinosours. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Frederick C. Caruso
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding for a geology enthusiast
This is a very hard book to put down, but there is so much wonderful information that I do have to takes breaks from the book to digest it all. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ellen E. Hrabovsky
4.0 out of 5 stars Had To Pay Attention
I have the Audio version of this and listened to it on a plane. It made the journey much less boring. But I probably should listen to parts of it again to get it firmly in mind. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars The History of History
This book takes you on a journey that effectively dispels the notion that the Earth was created recently and just for us. Read more
Published 2 months ago by W. Fliris
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