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Snowball Earth: The Story of the Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know it Hardcover – 7 Apr 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First edition. Hardback. Dust jacket. edition (7 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074756051X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747560517
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.6 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 884,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The idea that the Earth has been completely frozen over by ice and snow might seem fanciful and deeply worrying, if true. Gabrielle Walker's Snowball Earth is the remarkable story of the theory, the evidence for it, the geologists who are behind it and those against it. The bad news is that it is highly likely to be true. As Gabrielle Walker expertly explains for the general reader, there have indeed been several such runaway glacial events. Polar ice caps, continental ice sheets and sea ice grew to such an extent that they all met in the tropics and our green and pleasant planet was whited out.

The good news is that it all happened a very long time ago, the last time around 650 million years ago and is highly unlikely to happen again, even in the distant future. Snowball Earth theory has been gathering strength over the last few decades and is one of the most remarkable discoveries in Earth science at the end of the last century. You might wonder why such major Earth encompassing and catastrophic events have gone unnoticed for so long. Well, it is a complicated and interesting story and Gabrielle Walker is well qualified to tell it as she has a science doctorate and has worked as an editor for Nature and New Scientist, so she has seen this idea grow over the years. More importantly, as she acknowledges has been a Snowball Earth groupie attending conferences, field trips, lectures and campsites around the world. Consequently, she has been at the coal face, seen the critical rocks which are now scattered around the world, thanks to an ongoing process known as plate tectonics which opens and closes oceans and shuffles the continents about. Walker has talked to the scientists involved about the evidence and the problems of their interpretation, so we hear directly from the mouths of the various horses. It's a fascinating story, well told and there are notes and further reading for those that want more details and a very useful index. --Douglas Palmer


"Walker does a superb job ...Her prose, like her story, is likely to engage both scientists and general readers equally." -- Publishers Weekly, Janury 20th 2003

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 18 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
I was really looking forward to this book, given Ms Walkers work on New Scientist and I was intrigued by the theory, but was yet to be convinced, so this I hoped would help me make my mind up.
But I am sorry to say that I found the book disappointing making me wish for another book on the subject, written in a different way.
My problem is that the book goes into huge detail on the personalities, academic arguments and even the athletic activities of Paul Hoffman. Fine, but I was interested in the theory and did not want a biography of the scientist concerned as I fail to see what relevance it had to the theory.
Now that would have been OK, had the book contained photographs of the rock formations, diagrams of the strata and paleo tectonic maps for example. The book contained none and in an expensive hardback science book I find this a major omission. While given my lack of expertise I may not have been able to read too much from the pictures, I would have liked at least to have had the choice. Compare this to Michael Benton's masterly work on the Permian extinction and this book, while enjoyable simply is in a lesser class.
That said I would certainly look out for Ms Walker's future books.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 26 Mar. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Gabrielle Walker's first book portrays the struggle of a renegade scientist to establish a theory of evolution's progress. Charles Lyell's established "uniformitarianism" in geology, followed by Charles Darwin's application of it in his theory of evolution by natural selection. The concept of gradual change in life as reflected in the fossil evidence is being challenged by some scientist. Paul Hoffman's research in Namibia indicated that Earth was subjected to an intense Ice Age prior to the Cambrian, severely interrupting life's progress. Walker introduces us to Hoffman and other major contestants in this game of reading the rocks. She presents him and the arguments with dynamic style, giving the book a certain panache.
Even under Walker's admiring scrutiny, Hoffman doesn't appear as an endearing figure. Yet, the very characteristics some find irritating are the same drives that kept the theory of Snowball Earth alive. Walker shows how combative science can be, with contenders sniping and quarreling like feuding families. They all have fossils, climate mechanisms and glacial processes on show. Walker attempts to give them all a hearing, but the opponents make but cameo appearances. She gathered her evidence by extensive journeys - her travel budget must have been prodigious. Walker reveals their peccadilloes and their strengths. When you are done, you feel a sense of identity, even intimacy with them.
Whether you are convinced of the thesis remains problematic. Walker's own sketchy knowledge forces a pause, wondering about the validity of her presentation. Her admission of being a "Snowball Earth groupie" erodes credibility. She offers many assertions as givens, such as the asteroid dinosaur extinction thesis. Theory popularity is good journalism, but sketchy science.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Sept. 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable story describing the background to the Snowball Earth hypothesis. Rather than just covering the science, it gives pen portraits of the key protagonists in the development of the theory. It also includes stories about how the author researched the book. I particularly enjoyed her encounter with an angry elephant in Namibia. While these aren't strictly relevant to the topic, they make the book hugely entertaining rather than just being an informative read. By reading this book, I got a clear idea of how the Snowball Earth theory has developed, but I also learnt what geologists do in the field, what happens when controversial ideas are proposed, and how scientific theory progresses in general. There are no doubt scientific quibbles that could be made about parts of the book - surely the "slushball earth" hypothesis needs more than a couple of pages? Aren't the biological arguments that it "spawned life as we know it" rather weak? But this is not to detract from the fact that this is an excellent book aimed at entertaining and educating the general public. It succeeds admirably. (Anyone wanting just the science should read the original scientific reviews)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Sept. 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book of Gabrielle Walker is among the type of science books that I normally ignore or just do not consider worth reading. However, I must admit that I was pretty much satisfied with it. I became curious about the Snowball Earth hypothesis some time ago, so this is what drove me to buy this book in the first place. The story on the Snowball Earth hypothesis is described more like a novel frequently referring the author's involvement with the main scientist responsible for unburying this somehow forgotten hypothesis, first stated by a British geologist in the 60's. The book is sometimes very much descriptive on some personal episodes, but despite this fact the science is introduced smoothly and with rigour. I did not find any misunderstanding or serious errors when it deals with the geology and related subjects relevant for the understanding of the hypothesis. So prepare yourself to dwell into this book very softly. I believe most people will find it engaging, mostly because the Snowball Earth hypothesis is daring enough to shake some common beliefs we personally have about the world we inhabit. This is Catastrophism making another attack to the gradualistic view in the Earth Sciences. The treatment of the opponent view to the Snowball Earth hypothesis is perhaps too short, but the evidence is also too strong to easily rebut it. You should not expect also to find here a thorough description on the discovery process, as the narrative is quite linear and straightforward.Read more ›
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