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Life: an Unauthorized Biography Paperback – 6 Apr 1998
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‘This is not a book for people who like science books. It is a book for people who love books, and life… [Fortey] has written a wonderful book.’
Tim Radford, Guardian
‘Read this book because it is, indeed, the best natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth.’
John Gribbin, Sunday Times
‘Fortey writes beautifully and this is a wonderful biography of rock and life… He has restored palaeontology to its rightful place in the pantheon.’
Lewis Wolpert, Observer
‘Richard Fortey is a scientist… but his big, rich history of four billion years of evolution is written with an artist’s zest for life and language… In his last chapter Fortey quotes Goethe:
“Zum Erstaunen bin ich da – I am here to wonder.”
Richard Fortey has the rare gift of making his readers share that wonder. Anyone who wants to understand how we came to be here on earth, 4,000,000,000 years after life began, should read this sparkling book.’
Maggie Gere, Daily Telegraph
‘The tale of life needs constant retelling. Thank some happy accident of history that we have Fortey to tell it to us anew.’
Ted Nield, New Scientist
From the Back Cover
What do any of us know about the history of our planet before the arrival of man? Most of us have a dim impression of a swirling mass of dust solidifying to form a volcanic globe, briefly populated by dinosaurs, then the woolly mammoths and finally are own hairy ancestors.
This book, aimed at the curious and intelligent but perhaps mildly uninformed reader, brilliantly dispels any such lingering notions forever. It guides us through the barren globe swirling through space, through the very earliest signs of life on the rims of volcanoes, the appearance of cells, the creation of an atmosphere and the myriad forms of plants and animals (happily including dinosaurs) which could then evolve and be sustained, right up to the first appearance of Homo Sapiens. But it is not simply what Richard Fortey has to tell us that makes this book so distinctive. His grasp of the significant detail and his power of allusion mark him as one of the finest explicators; his book seeks to entertain his readers as much as to inform them. The result is enthralling.
“Richard Fortey is a scientist… but his big, rich history of four billion years of history is written with an artist's zest for life and language… There is a Darwinian grandeur of imagination in his retelling of the history of our planet, from the first solidifying of debris circling the sun, across the long millennia… Anyone who wants to understand how we came to be here on earth, 4,000,000,000 years after life began, should read this sparkling book.”
MAGGIE GEE, 'Daily Telegraph'
“Richard Fortey is something much rarer than an eminent palaeontologist. He can write too… The tale of life needs constant retelling. Thank some happy accident of history that we have Fortey to tell us anew.”
TED NIELD, 'New Scientist'
“Read this book because it is indeed, the best natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth.”
John Gribbin, ' Sunday Times'
“Fortey writes beautifully and this is a wonderful biography of rock and life… He has restored palaeontology to its rightful place in the pantheon.”
LEWIS WOLPERT, ' Observer'
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Top customer reviews
Quite simply, this book is what it claims to be: a history of 3 500 million years of earth's plant and animal inhabitants. Fortey achieves masterful balance between presenting general themes with illustrative details. In one example, he shows the value of mites in soil development and what their loss would mean to global environment. The unspoken message about the use of pesticides is a silent outcry for us to recognize such details.
Merged with the scientific work of many researchers are Fortey's accounts of his personal experiences as a paleontologist. His scenario of the scientific conference makes compelling reading for anyone wishing to grasp the underlying themes of scientific conflicts. Reaching beyond his own work, he introduces us to many noteworthy colleagues. Few are criticized for the value of their work, but their personal habits are subjected to pointed comments. None of these are out of place; Fortey clearly mourns the loss of colleagues who would have continued producing welcome results had they not been lost. On the other hand, some
contemporaries are given short shrift: although Graham Cairns Smith's proposal of clay crystals providing the template for replicating molecules is well described, his name appears neither in the text nor the brief bibliography.
Fortey's chapter on mammalian evolution among the finest in print. His awareness is global, not limited to a few well-known sites. He ranges over both time and place with skilled ease, giving the reader vivid pictures of scenarios in life's past. He's comfortable with geology, biology and genetics. In particular, the Australian conditions over time are well drawn, an exception to many of the books of this genre. Australia, of course, brings up the issue of marsupials contrasted with placentals. The adaptive strengths of marsupials should have given them a competitive edge with placental species, but remained mostly isolated on the island continent.
"Life" tries to be non-scientific, and Fortey keeps on quoting poetry and history, which some readers may enjoy. However, I prefer to see more diagrams, tables, graphs, maps, etc to visualise some quantitative data. This book is also pretty much useless as a reference book. If you forgot when the Jurassic started and ended, then you'll have a hard time using this book to find it out.
So, this book is well written and very fun to read, but does not answer a fraction of the scientific/factual questions it stimulates. An apetizer to the history of life, and a very interesting read for the non-scientists.
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