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on 5 October 2008
A wide range of readers with some scientific knowledge and anyone concerned about the effects of climate change should find interest and stimulation from this well written book.
The presently short span of life on earth of our species and the record of the changes we are responsible for are put into the geological context.
I bought this book as a geology student but found it very much more thought provoking than any text book.
Never before have I felt moved to give 5 stars to a book on Amazon but this is the one I would recommend.
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on 9 April 2009
This is a thought-provoking book. On the one hand it reduces the human span of life to its rightful place in the universe, ie. a passing phase.
The subject is tackled in a logical manner and also attempts to instruct the non-geologist in a way that leads to an understanding of what has happened to the earth in the past and linking that to likely events in the, for most people, distant future. It reinforced my decision to have my cremated ashes tossed into the sea; in that way my bits and pieces will make it up the geological elevator that much quicker. I would not say it is an easy read, but certainly interesting and worthy of the 5-star rating.
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on 22 November 2009
The Urban Stratum

The Urban Stratum is the provocative stratigraphic name that Jan Zalasiewicz gives to our remains in The Earth After Us - What legacy will humans leave in the rocks? Perhaps reflecting the current global issues that cause us to contemplate our mortality and vulnerability as a species, there are several books around (Year Million, The Earth After Us) that focus on the post-human earth. However, this one is written by a geologist, a paleontologist and stratigrapher. His perspective is from 100 million years hence - without doubt long post-human. The structure is from the point of view of future geologists/archeologists/anthropologists - re-evolved editions of ourselves or alien, it doesn't matter - attempting to discern and reconstruct the nature of the species which dominated the planet for a brief time in the distant past. Along the way, there is a highly readable narrative of the methodologies and the trials and tribulations of stratigraphy and paleontology, all eminently accessible to the non-specialist.

To geologists, the fact that this account is a humbling one will come as no surprise, but the poverty of our legacy, thoroughly thought through and documented in the book, is, nevertheless, humbling. While, in this year of Darwin festivities, the imagery of the "tree of life" is under profound revision, our view of our superiority and dominance at the head of that tree is enduring, the arrogance of our species seemingly in-built (if cockroaches were to construct their tree of life, guess who would be perched at the top). Zalasiewicz cleverly examines our understanding of life 100 million years in the past - and its many limitations - to shed light on how thin, paltry, discontinuous and incomplete the "Urban Stratum" will be. Even if we assume, heroically, that our species will accomplish more than few thousand years on the planet, how thick will the stratum representing that period be in the stratigraphic section of 100 million years hence?

Essentially none of our infrastructure, creations, and artifacts will survive 100 million years of erosion, burial, diagenesis and tectonics in their original compositional and structural form, and we ourselves, inhabiting the erosional land rather than the depositional marine realms are poor fossil candidates - think of the extent (or lack of it) of the record of our ancestors in the African Rift Valleys. And, given that the final circumstances of personkind may well have led to the mass evacuation of cities, there will be relatively few of us potentially preserved in the arguably more durable cellars, basements and subways of today's subsurface levels. And direct evidence of our social structures, our thinking, our arts will be entirely lacking - what, after all, do we really know of the daily life of a dinosaur family? Furthermore, as Zalasiewicz points out, while we may regard the mighty dinosaurs as icons of the Jurassic, there was much more to life at that time and perhaps the future investigators will take a similar view: "They may well regard the myriad tiny invertebrates, or the bacteria of the world as much more important to that (in planetary terms) rare phenomenon, a stable, functional, complex ecosystem. ... Take away humans, and the present world would also function quite happily ... Take away worms and insects, and things would start seriously to fall apart. Take away bacteria and their yet more ancient cousins, the archaea, and the viruses too, and the world would die."

Zalasiewicz entertainingly explores the idea that trace fossils, the evidence of creatures' activities rather than the creatures themselves, will be potentially preservable and informative. The remains of an interstate highway might be fragmented and discontinuous in a future outcrop, but they will have stories to tell. And, an intriguing idea; perhaps the most durable trace fossils will be the thousands of deep oil and gas wells, lined with corrosion-resistant steel and penetrating deep into the geology - equivalents of fodinichnia or domichnia? Trace fossils fall into various classifications, depending on whether they represent tracks, burrows, feeding paths and so on, but all reflect the Greek for a track or a trail, ikhnos. Zalasiewicz proposes a new class: frivolichnia, pleasure traces of movie theatres, baseball diamonds and cricket grounds, museums, libraries, all of which might be completely inexplicable to our future investigators. Given that this blog is primarily about sandy topics, what might be made of the traces of a golf course? Strange, isolated bodies of sand distributed unnaturally in a soil horizon.

Overall, it's a great, beautifully written and thought-provoking book, but, while each chapter is introduced by a fragment from the reports of our future investigators, I found myself wishing that it had concluded with an outright foray into science fiction - a longer selection from those journals, illustrating the challenges and pitfalls involved in the reconstruction of things long gone. What if, for example, the most likely survivors of our artistic efforts would be stone statues (made, as they are, from already long-lasting geological materials)? What if, as a result of differential preservation and the general serendipity of discovery, rather than an idealized human form from classical Greece, our future investigators excavated one of the figures from Easter Island or the voluptuous Venus of Willendorf? How would this influence their other interpretations? Or what if they unearthed a Henry Moore or Salvador Dali statue?
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on 9 March 2017
This is the very first book on geology I have ever read and I was amazed that I was able to stick with it - indeed enjoy it throughly - throughout. Cleary written for the general reader, rather than the specialist, it's an engaging read but honestly, it does make me wonder what will be the legacy of the human race? One day we won't even be history...
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on 10 July 2014
I have a basic, Hollywood-fed interest in this sort of post-human apocalypse type thing and in truth this book was a little advanced for me. I’d sort of hoped for a book that basically expanded on that bit in Planet of the Apes when they find the Statue of Liberty (!) The Earth After Us goes into much more detail about the minutia of geological process, but that said, it never got so deep as to stop me pursuing the next chapter.
The author is a gifted writer, witty (very much so at times) and engaging and while I’d hoped for a less forensic, arguably more shallow and accessible book, this still proved an engaging read. I might even have learnt something!
Recommended to those with a genuine interest and some knowledge of the geological process, although the layman will certainly not be disappointed.
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on 11 June 2012
I'd often wondered what trace human beings would leave in the rocks once they'd gone. It's more than idle speculation, because at the rate we're going there's no way we will survive more than another two centuries at most.

Zalesiewicz answers the question with the authority of an expert, explaining a formidable range of concepts and evidence clearly, soberly but with flashes of humour. He does go over some pretty famiilar ground - simple explanation of plate tectonics, for example - but even this is made interesting by seeing it from the viewpoint of putative future, alien geologists for whom a planet with plates might be a novelty.

The overall message I find both chilling and consoling. It's chilling, because of the irreparable damage we have already done to the planetary ecosystem - like an idiot child let loose in a china shop with a hammer - and because (though the author, perhaps under orders from his editor, plays this down) there is not the slightest prospect of humanity coming to its senses before the effects make the planet uninhabitable, at least for its present inhabitants. Consoling, because there's every prospect that the planet will recover after our demise.

If I'd quarrel with the author for anything it would be over his failure to emphasise the consequences of over-population. They are implicit in most of what he says, but are only made explicit once, and briefly. Perhaps this is in deference to the American market, or to all readers who are too stupid to believe that any limits should be placed on the human reproductive frenzy. But the fact remains that if we don't control population growth, any efforts we make to try and control anything else will be completely useless. Still, this book isn't a diatribe, it's an imaginative exploration, so let that pass.

Another point I'd join issue with is the author's assumption that the future explorers will have no religion. Religion is given only a sentence in the whole book. I've no personal quarrel with the author over this point; at least he doesn't drive atheism down our throats like god-would-call-me-god-if-he-existed Richard Dawkins. But I think it's perfectly possible that other explorers of our galaxy might have a religion, with gods - or even consider themselves to be gods - without finding this stance incompatible with scientific study. Again, however, there are limits to what one can include in a book that is not primarily philosophical.

All in all, you can't help believing that these putative future explorers will be amazed at the way humans treated this planet. As the author points out, there's nothing remotely as wonderful as the living Earth in the whole of this solar system, or probably in this part of the galaxy. Humans were given a paradise and they trashed it. Homo sapiens nothing; homo stultissimus, or homo destructor, would be a better name. If the aliens have a scientific nomenclature, that's the sort of title they will choose.

Maybe, although the author doesn't consider this possibility (not his brief), the aliens will have come not merely to explore but to settle. Maybe they will settle in such a way as to enhance the beauty of the planet rather than destroy it. Maybe they will re-create the paradise we have lost. That is definitely a consoling thought, even 100 million years down the line.
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on 12 January 2010
This book is about the history of the geology and the life on Earth from the beginning to 100 million years into the future. In the process you get to know many curious things about "our" very inconstant planet. The storyline (which is not really necessary) is that extraterrestrial explorers land on Earth in the future. We follow their struggle to understand the unusual things that happened around now from the tracks the long extinct humanity left (the authors thinks the most likely tracks to be preserved is the pilings under the skyscrapers).

One strong theme is what our future climate will be and if and how humanity will influence it. The problem with predicting the future climate is that you cannot extrapolate a function unless you know the shape of that function. And we have no idea what the function underlying, for example, the average temperature is. So, instead Zalasiewicz uses examples from the, by now, quite well-known climates of the Earth's past, trying to find similar events. What he comes up with scared me much more than all extrapolations from recent temperature curves I have seen so far. And we do know it can happen because it did happen before. Zalasiewicz does not come up with any solutions or any particular agenda. But he does mention what he considers the biggest problem we have: and overabundance of Homo sapiens on a too inconstant world.
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on 7 January 2015
I have not as yet completed this book, but having read a previous book by Jan Zalasiewick, A Planet in a Pebble, which I admit to having read 3 times to date, and being half way through this one, I have no hesitation in awarding it 5 stars. The author has a knowledge and writing style which makes one reluctant to put the book down. As far as archaeology is concerned I am one of the uninitiated but this and his other book will make the reader I am sure look at the world around us in a totally different way.
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on 4 January 2013
Its is a tough one to review this book because personally I found it slightly superficial but in the other hand the writing style, the pace, or the clear thinking of the author is of a very good quality.

I am no geology expert and I would have found this book amazing a few years ago when I had no knowledge.
I can see this book being a 5 start for a wide range of people but I would only put 4 as I found it a bit superficial but also because I was expecting a bit more on the subject that the title intended to develop. Maybe after all, the small size of the book left me hungry. I found the same amount of detail and information in larger books that were not only dealing with "after us" scenarii.

I personally think the author should have focused really on the title and try to shorten the background parts given at the start on sedimentation, tectonics, or basic palaeontology. It is understandable that he is setting up the scene but I found these initial chapters far too lengthy. Nevertheless, everything is well and clearly explained.
The idea of the alien race discovering earth is not new, other writers have used it and it is definitely a good way to present such a subject.

Overall a book of a high quality in his writing style, pedagogy and pace but readers with a bit of knowledge on geology, climatology or palaeontology should maybe look for a more detailed account.

I will probably buy other book from this author as I really liked his style but will look for more in depths studies.
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on 29 June 2014
I loved this book. It really drives home how insignificant humans are in the context of life on earth. Regardless of what we do, life will go on.
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