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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise and stimulating
I was very impressed by this book which gave me exactly what I needed from an introductory text.

Covering the four billion year development of life on Earth in 160 pages is, to say the least, no easy task. But Michael Benton succeeds in picking out key themes and milestones without appearing superficial. He is particularly good at highlighting current debates...
Published on 24 Mar. 2009 by Slow Lorris

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very disappointing history
Given the reviews for this book, I thought "The History of Life" would be an interesting read. It should be noted that I do realise that a short introduction by definition cannot contain much detail, however, this book fails in its "History of Life". Had this been about the evolution of the vertebrates I would have given it 3 stars, but its title suggests a much bigger...
Published on 18 Jan. 2013 by Prometheus


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise and stimulating, 24 Mar. 2009
This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I was very impressed by this book which gave me exactly what I needed from an introductory text.

Covering the four billion year development of life on Earth in 160 pages is, to say the least, no easy task. But Michael Benton succeeds in picking out key themes and milestones without appearing superficial. He is particularly good at highlighting current debates and uncertainties, drawing attention to just how much evidence on the big issues has emerged over the last few years. This helps bring alive what could, in other hands, be a rather dull sequence of distant geological periods and fossils with tongue-twistingly strange names. For those with an eye to the future rather than past, the chapter on the End-Permian Mass Extinction is as chilling an account of climate change as you will find.

I did feel that some of the later parts of the book were a little too compressed, perhaps as a page limit loomed, and the publishers might have chosen more effective illustrations. And a list of further reading would have helped. But these are minor criticisms of a really handy little work that does "exactly what it says on the tin".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very disappointing history, 18 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Given the reviews for this book, I thought "The History of Life" would be an interesting read. It should be noted that I do realise that a short introduction by definition cannot contain much detail, however, this book fails in its "History of Life". Had this been about the evolution of the vertebrates I would have given it 3 stars, but its title suggests a much bigger story. Ignoring mistakes like typos (e.g. P, 28 3.5 million should be 3.5 billion), the most important areas appeared to be glossed over. A lot of the book is about vertebrates which in terms of Life is not as important as some assume. A major failing in this book is a total lack of references or further reading list. I have a few of these books and this is the only one I have without some form of further reading.

The chapter on the origins of life is poorly done and does not explain sufficiently the various theories. I simply cringed when I read "predicted by Euan Nisbet and Norman Sleep's model for the origin of life". The section on multicellularity wasn't particularly instructive nor helpful. Many undergraduate courses in Biology will cover the various theories of the origin of multicellularity in a number of lectures indicating the complexity and controversial nature of this area.

By the time I got to p.118 and read the section on the runaway greenhouse, my brain could take no more. I think if you are looking for a book on vertebrate palaeontology/evolution then this would be a reasonably simple introduction. But if you are interested in the origin and early development of life, go elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It reads like a novel, 21 April 2011
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Dr. Bojan Tunguz (Indiana, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
The history of life is a very fascinating subject, with an almost universal appeal. And yet, life itself is scientifically a very complex phenomenon that could fill up libraries worth of books. As such, it is quite remarkable that a succinct book like this one would be even attempted, leave alone published. Michael Benton is commended for accomplishing in this very short introduction to take us along life's evolutionary trajectory and systematize and explain the origins of many major branches in ever changing tree of life. The book is extremely enjoyable to read, and on one level it reads almost as a crime novel: you are constantly wondering what comes next, and what do the clues from paleontology, geology and other disciplines tell us about the particular life forms that arose and perhaps vanished millions or billions of years ago. The view of life that the book presents is the one of progression towards more and more complex life forms, which has fallen out of favor with most evolutionary biologists. It is true that every new life form is just trying to find another suitable niche in the ever-changing ecosystem, but it should also not be overlooked that the complexity of life has increased throughout the history. In a sense Michael Benton is unapologetic in presenting that view, which only adds to the overall readability of this book. Whether you have been studying life for many years or are completely new to the subject, this would be a great book to read. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love these books, 22 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I've got 40 of these great little books now and they are an excellent way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. This one is no exception and describes what went before us and how we arrived. We really are insignificant creatures in the great scheme of things!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A useful introduction to current knowledge, 27 May 2011
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
The author, Professor Michael Benton (Palaeontologist) does a good job in describing the history of life as currently understood in just 166 fairly short pages. It didn't take me very long at all to read the entire book and at the end I felt better informed about current knowledge. On less certain points he described the current debate among scientists and this made the book feel more exciting to read. Some of the diagrams were excellent - I particularly liked the diagram of the universal tree of life. At times I was a bit bewildered by the names of all the different creatures mentioned but I just kept going and it made sense. The history of life is a complicated story and Benton is a good story teller. I was not so convinced by his brief closing philosophical comments. However, this is a minor point in this very readable, concise, and informative introduction to the subject.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read, weak in some areas, 4 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
The format of these books plus this author's writing make for a very easy read. However it is a little patchy in what it covers. The vertebrates mostly get plenty of space but groups such as insects and molluscs are relatively neglected. The author seems to have worked on research into the Permian mass extinction and he devotes 20 pages to this, even though the causes for it are still not known for sure. The cretaceous mass extinction (which killed off the dinosaurs) gets just one page despite the fact that much more is known about it's causes. And the birds seem to have been very short changed with just about half a page - a pity since there have been some interesting discoveries of feathered dinosaurs recently.
As a short introduction it's reasonably good, but just a little inconsistent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Makes you start believe in God!, 17 April 2012
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This review is from: The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I am more of a science person and I do believe in evolution. But this book puts life in such perspective that it makes you wonder - Wow, this sounds almost impossible :) So interesting to read about where we all came from, how life started, how complex it is and how such complexity can ever come into being! A very good read :)
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