It takes a brave writer to tackle the truly Herculean task of describing The Variety of Life: The Meaning of Biodiversity
with the astronomical numbers of organisms living today, let alone all those that have fallen by the wayside over the billions of years of life on Earth. No one is quite sure how many living species there are, but it is estimated to be somewhere between 10 and 100 million. Fortunately, since the days of the great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, around 250 years ago, life has been grouped and classified into hierarchical schemes. As a result, it is possible to encompass this enormous variety of life by describing the relatively few groups into which it can be clustered. And, since the mid-19th century and the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution by natural selection, classification has taken on an extra, evolutionary dimension.
Colin Tudge is a well-known British science writer, whose last book was Neanderthals, Bandits, and Farmers. With a training in whole animal biology and a self-proclaimed love for the natural-historical foray among our fellow creatures, he is well placed to attempt this survey. The first part (all of 90 pages) of this big book deals with the thorny problems of what Tudge rightly calls the craft and science of classification. Since the 1950s, the word cladistics has terrorised many traditional naturalists and biologists. But it is here to stay and Tudge provides a very welcome guide that will be invaluable to both lay people and students.
The bulk of the text, nearly 500 pages, forms part II and the descriptions of the main groups from the most primitive (alpha proteobacteria) prokaryotes to Eupatorium, a large group of 1800 or so species of plant, which includes the hemp agrimony, common in ditches...In between these two groups, at either end of the biological spectrum, lie all the more familiar bugs and beasts, including ourselves. Inevitably, given so many millions of organisms, difficult choices have to be made, some groups are only dealt with at phylum level (for example, brachiopods) while others are detailed down to family level (for example, primates). Some extinct groups, not surprisingly the dinosaurs, get a look in but not many overall. The short epilogue concerns conservation and is followed by a useful reference list of sources and an index. Altogether, the 600-odd pages are enlivened with a large number of excellent black and white drawings of individual organisms and diagrams illustrating evolutionary relationships. For all natural historians and anyone interested in biology the The Variety of Life is a must. --Douglas Palmer
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Review from previous edition
The first part of The Variety of Life
provides an excellent discussion and explanation of the systematisation of life, which is far from being static and boring. (The Herald 09/02/00
This is much more thatn a beautifilly illustrated, engagingly written catalogue (The Independent 09/03/2002
..wonderful encyclopedic "labour of love". (The Herald 09/02/2000
Hopefully, the success The Variety of Life
deserves will help encourage us "to share (our planet) with so many goodly creatures". (The Herald 09/02/2000
)The Variety of Life
is far more than just another good popular science book. It's a celebration of the "huge privilege" it is to share the planet with so many fantastical creatures. (Independent Weekend 08/04/00
Taxonomy may sound dull, but Tudge makes a brilliant case for it. A seasoned science writer with a delightfully light touch, he can make the most arcane subject appealing... a beautifully illustrated introduction to everything that's ever lived. (Independent Weekend 08/04/00
...exceptionally clear, user-friendly, and up-to-date...a valuable introduction to the higher classification of organisms and an easily accessible reference work to the entire spread of biodiversity. (Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
...For all natural historians and anyone professing biology The Variety of Life
is a must (Douglas Palmer, Amazon.co.uk January 2000
Throughout the book, which one might expect to be dryly taxonomical, he inserts adjectives like "fascinating", "marvellous", and "extraordinary". I will let his own words describe his book. (Richard Ellis, The Times 16th March 2000
This book is a remarkable achievement, giving an authoritative overview of the whole of life in a readable way that should be accessible to anyone with an interest in natural history. Find an excuse to buy it. (Bulletin of the British Ecological Society 2000
...this is a lovely and accessible book...It will be hugely valuable as a source-book for student libraries, and highly informative for any enthusiastic lay naturalist curious about the life around them and the fossils beneath them. (Nature September 2000
The book is excellently produced, can be recommended unreservedly to all interested in the life sciences (especially molecular biologists), and is remarkably good value for money. (Galton Insitute Newsletter September 2000