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The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet First Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 146 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670023554
ISBN-10: 0670023558
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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First edition (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023554
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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