- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (March 18, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0609609734
- ISBN-13: 978-0609609736
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,846,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Snowball Earth: The Story of the Great Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know It Hardcover – March 18, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Part biography and part scientific detective story, this debut by British science journalist Walker (a features editor for New Scientist) tells the story of Paul Hoffman, the brilliant, cantankerous Harvard geology professor most responsible for promoting the concept of "Snowball Earth." This controversial hypothesis asserts that about 600 million years ago, the entire planet was encased in ice that was thicker and lasted millennia longer than in any previously recognized ice age. Instantaneously in geologic time, the hypothesis continues, the planet moved from temperatures averaging minus 40 degrees centigrade to sweltering heat unlike anything seen since. These extreme climatic fluctuations may have been responsible for the origination of multicellular life at the beginning of the Cambrian Era and thus, ultimately, for most life on Earth today. Walker does a superb job of relating both the scientific and the human side of the controversy. Her prose, like her story, is likely to engage both scientists and general readers equally. All will be able to appreciate the importance of the issues while gaining greater insight into the process of scientific advances. Walker has written an important, provocative book that is a joy to read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Cambrian explosion, which occurred about 600 million years ago when organisms graduated from single-celled monotony to multicelled exuberance, has defied causal explanation. But its coincidence with the ending of an ice age harbors a possible clue. This Precambrian ice era, which froze the entire surface of the earth for 200 million years or more, has, over the past 15 years, become an accepted if startling fact in geological circles, and like many upstart theories in science, its adoption contains stories of research and rivalry. Walker chronicles them through the principals in the debate, focusing mainly on one Paul Hoffman. Walker characterizes him in an unflattering light but presents a positive picture of Hoffman's relentless advocacy of the frozen-earth theory. She also dramatizes with fairness the opponents' alternative interpretations of the main geologic evidence, creating narrative tension that shows science in action. Including vignettes about fieldwork, Walker registers the feel of doing the actual work of geology, especially the thrilling hunt for traces of a frigid apocalypse. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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The book really, really needs illustrations (there are NONE), and it's astonishing that it does not have them, given the opportunities. There are the stunning landscapes of Namibia and Svalbard that could appear. There really should be photos of the Hamelin Pool, of Stromatolite fossils, of the minerals and rock formations, and of the geologist protagonists. I'd recommend fifty color photos, and I will buy another copy if a new edition is produced that way.
Minor gripe: There's only one place in the world one can have an "intercontinental train" -- and it's not Canada. Proofreader, hello?
All in all, a very worthwhile read.
For those who may wish to study the matter further, there is a "snowballearth.org" with a lot of bibliography, photos, etc. Increasing interest in Precambrian glaciation has resulted in many new scientific papers in the last few years.
It's not that I don't have an interest in the personalities of men of science and history, nor do I expect them to be less "human" and more "above it all" than other people. Goodness knows Newton was a little crazy and more than a little petty, Di Vinci and Michelangelo were both difficult people, Pasteur was a patent scene stealer, and Tycho Brahe and Kepler both more than a little eccentric. It all makes interesting reading and reassures one that no matter how goofy one thinks oneself to be, there are others who are far worse and even more productive despite it all! Unfortunately Ms Walker's style is a bit "over the back fence" gossip. She seems to have an opinion about each of the characters about whom she writes and puts that opinion front and center. One comes away from the book wondering if the character of the players was more important to her than the subject of their discoveries and differences. As a result, one has to really work to get the information one bought the book for. Like Tolstoy, she exacts her price!
I'm not too sure to whom I'd recommend the book. I might suggest it for adolescents interested in the sciences and possibly in geology as a career, but I'm not too sure that the childish behavior of the scientists involved would be very encouraging to a young person. It would certainly be a reality orientation though: adults, even educated ones, can act immature; field geology and geologic theory are careers for the solitary and socially inept, so there's hope for the most introverted student; to achieve in academia, one must be as competitive as a barracuda, etc. On second thought, maybe the book isn't so good for kids.
As far as those interested in a topic that is fairly complex, the information about geology that the author interlaces into her text is quite accurate and comprehendible to even the most uninitiated on the subject, so the theory should make abundant sense. The book might even encourage such an individual to do a follow up on the field itself. Certainly there are a number of books on geology and earth history on offer on the Amazon.com web site.
For those with a background in geology and an interest in the topic of global glaciation, I think one would be better off with the journals: Science, Geology, Scientific American, and others. Most of these will be available in any university library, and some of them should be available in large urban libraries. Hitting a reference section should help one to find the relevant topic and reprints are often available.