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Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth Hardcover – October 5, 2009

4.9 out of 5 stars 149 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Condensing millions of years of life on earth into a 512-page single-volume encyclopedia, this ambitious work presents earth’s history from its formation through the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age). Divided into three sections, Prehistoric Life begins with a brief look at “Young Earth.” Two-page spreads examine topics such as plate tectonics, fossils, and the geological timescale. The bulk of the volume discusses “Life on Earth” and is divided by era from the Archean through the Quaternary. Each section introduces the plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates (as applicable) representative of that time period. The final section delves into “The Rise of the Humans” and discusses human relatives, ancestors, origins, and migration patterns. Although a wealth of scientific information is provided, the illustrative material is the star of this volume. The collection of full-color photographs of fossils (ranging from spore to dinosaur) and skeletons show amazing detail and clarity. Visitors to a natural history museum could not explore the number of examples contained here. Where actual photographs are obviously not available, DK commissioned 3-D images, “modeled using scientific research” to bring life-forms to the page for readers. Photographs and other images are accompanied by information about the creature such as name, group, date, and location. Scaled images (of either a thumb, a hand, or a human) are used to help readers visualize actual sizes. Geared to adults, this work will find popularity with science enthusiasts and browsers alike. Because of the relatively low cost, public libraries will likely want more than one copy. High schools with a strong science program will want to consider purchase for their library or science department. --Shauna Yusko
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: DK; 1 edition (October 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0756655730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0756655730
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.6 x 12.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (149 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harold W. Miller on October 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
DK has certainly made a name for itself in producing a long line of visually stunning, reference books. Prehistoric Life is a good example of a genre that DK seemed to have invented. The visuals are perfect. DK has some secret printing method that allows its pictures to be excitedly fine textured and vivid. The writing which could be quite pedestrian is well done and done at a adult level. The material is very current and original. It presented material that was totally new to me: the prototaxites on pages 114-115 which look like an eerie spike that was over 26 feet tall and could be either a plant or a fungus. I also liked that DK didn't dwell on dinosaurs (although it has a lot of material about them) but also spent time on plants and invertebrates. At 512 pages it covers a lot of territory. And at the bargain basement price it carries, if you are going to get one book about ancient life, get this book. My only quibble is that the maps showing the distribution of the continents are needlessly simplified. However, that said, I am going to give this my highest recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is your typical coffee table book from DK Publishers. Massive in size as well as scope, it covers everything from the beginnings of the planet until we settled down and started farming. With breathtaking CG images as well as real pictures of fossils, "Prehistoric Life" will entrance younger members of the family, while its informative text and nicely-arranged narrative will give adults all the prehistory they can handle. What you have here is a high-quality tome, printed on thick, glossy paper. It gives the impression that you should have paid $100.00 or more for it. Quite a value at the price offered here. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
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By Bombshelter64 on November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This work is a masterpiece. It tells the whole story of our planet, life here and the causes and effects of changes through time. It is both highly scientific and highly visual. It should be the founding text of any life sciences curriculum. I can't put it down.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the most beautiful,informative and spectacular books on Natural History ever made. It deals with everything from the origins of life in the sea to the evolution of man. I am fascinated with the subject. I am especially fascinated with the Natural History of Dinosaurs and yes the book does go into the history but it also takes you back to their origins. Mammals, Insects, Aquatic animals. Just about everything you need to read about the ancient Earth is here. This book is worth alot more than I paid for. Anyone interested in The Natural History of Life On Earth NEEDS to get this book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In general I agree with many of the other reviewers. It's a well-illustrated book, discussing each time period, with beautiful photographs of fossils. I also enjoyed how plants were featured, a vital component of any environment, which are frequently shortchanged in these sorts of tomes. There was also detailed information about featured lifeforms, as opposed to the 'Evolution: Story of Life' book, which this has been compared to.

However, unlike others I was not impressed with the CGI illustrations. Few seem very lifelike, some barely 'adequate', and many are in static poses on an unremarkable backdrop (i.e. blue water, green grass, ect). Additionally, there's far too much emphasis on small fossils in the photographs. The giant arthropods of the Paleozoic are barely even mentioned. I suppose it's easier to prominently photograph a half-inch long trilobite rather than a six-foot eurypterid, but to fail to include these remarkable creatures even in CGI reconstruction? Hardly 'definitive'.

Despite these shortcomings, it IS a wonderful book, especially for the pricetag. However, I recommend 'Evolution: Story of Life' as a companion book, as it's better for full environment reconstructions. I purchased both, and the two compliment one another very well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a big fan of visual presentations of information and over the past few years have purchased all of the major biology, wildlife, and evolution books that appealed to me. This one stands head and shoulders over them all. It is comprehensive, colorful, well-organized, entertaining, and informative. No, not just informative--that makes it sound like a government pamphlet. It is thrilling. Life on earth has been so varied, so fantastical and stunning, that who would have thought that any book could adaquately capture it? But "Preshistoric Life" manages to. So good are the organism reconstructions that my girlfriend asked me how they could "get photos of those animals if they're extinct?" And she's the smartest person I know, so if she was fooled by their verisimilitude, you can believe the quality was exceptionally high. And at the risk of sounding like a carnival barker, this book is fun for all ages. I can't imagine a kid not becoming rapt by the astounding dinosaurs and other early animals, but it's also sophisticated enough to act as a reference tool for adults. Best in class; highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth

This is a sumptuous and learned book. But it is also unreadable. It serves as a visually beautiful reference book, and a thick-volume to be thumbed through, read in parts, consulted, and used as a stimulus to the sense of wonder.
“Prehistoric Life” consists of about 500 richly illustrated colored pages that include many explanatory units of boxed-in text. The book starts with the origin of the Earth, and has separate sections for each of the geological time periods, starting with the Archean, four billion years ago, and ending with the history of our species, Homo sapiens. Every page you open to is colorful and filled with images of fossils, plants, animals or artistic reproductions of life forms, and every page has scientific text amplifying each separate picture. The scope of this book and the level of knowledge that it contains is astounding and leaves the reader struck with both the artistry of book-making and the rigor of science that is involved with the creation of this text. There is no single author, and as is usual with DK Books, there are many authors, scientific consultants, editors, designers, illustrators, and photographers who had to cooperate to make this rich compendium. Unfortunately, as again is usually true with DK Books, the reader does not know which author or authority wrote the particular prose passage that one is reading. The acknowledgments alone take up three pages of four columns each.
Partly because of the encyclopedic information that is discussed, and partly because of the use of text to accompany illustrations, rather than the creation of a continuous single author narrative, this book can be read only in a halting, jumping, discontinuous manner.
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