1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2010
This book is probably a publisher's nightmare: it contains chemical formulas - and organic chemistry for that -, the subject is not really 'sexy' (biomarkers, petroleum chemistry, paleontology) - yak. And yet, it reads like a detective novel. I've read it almost uninterrupted for 2 days, and for me this is the standard any popular science book should aim for, for it's all documented, founded in the scientific litterature, it doesn't shy away from controversy or what is unkown today, and all the while it stais extremely readable. The tricks are that serious science is introduced in a narrative, showcasing real people, real scientists, and second, that it has a logical order where the oldest science is used as a stepping stone to introduce more recenty developments. This happens because the main author is a writer with a scientific background in this matter. And if you are ready and accepting to immerse yourself in this wonderful world of technical developments in analytical chemistry and its application to geology, boy what a wonderful world it introduces it you to. You can follow step by step how analysis developed, where these strange molecules came from, and, most of all, what they tell us about earth's history. You understand on a new level what popular science tells you about, say, the oxygen content of the aerth's atmosphere, because the science that backs these data up is explained. The subject of this detective novel is earth itself, how it developed, what strange creatures inhabited it, ande what traces they left. You don't need to be a scientist to read this book, any interested amateur can read this. There are indeed formulas, but they are well explained, you don't need any knowledge of organic chemistry to understand them, and they are not necessary to read the book. If Steven J Gould's story of the Burgess Shale (a wonderful life) interested you, or if the earth's history interests you, ot if simply you want to know how science works and builds up its knowledge, you will love this book.