Humans and all other living beings on the planet today are the product of 4.6 billion years of evolution on Earth
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Illustration to “Atmosphere: Meteorologie Populaire” by Nicolas Camille Flammarion, Paris, 1888.
Where did we come from? This is a big question that has puzzled philosophers, thinkers, and scientists for thousands of years. The short answer is that humans are the product of 4.6 billion years of evolution on Earth, as are all other creatures on the planet today.
A (very) short history of life on earth: 4.6 billion years in 12 concise chapters (Pan Macmillan, 2021 / Picador, 2022: Amazon US / Amazon UK), by Senior Nature Science editor and novelist Henry Gee has a concise synopsis of the entire history of everything – from the Big Bang, the formation of the solar system and the birth of the earth, to microbial life, you and me and even the whole earth. end of life. In this book, Dr. G. A fascinating exploration of the enduring question “Where do we come from?”, combining insights from a variety of scholarly disciplines into a cohesive story with beautifully thought-provoking and witty prose.
Paperback cover: A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Henry Gee (Pan Macmillan, 2022).
Pan Macmillan, 2022
Despite the billions of years covered in this book, its chapters are surprisingly short and still consist of tiny morsels of interesting information, punctuated with the occasional amusing commentary or description. dr G begins by sharing what he’s gathered so far about the planet’s birth and composition, from the early movements of slimy membranes in cracks in the rock to the unexpectedly rapid appearance of life, which then separated – giving rise to separation single cell. to the advent of microbes, cellular cooperation and specialization, the emergence of multicellular life and its evolution into a plethora of increasingly complex and specialized forms. The author gives brief and sometimes surprising insights into the life of various plants and animals from the dawn of evolutionary history to the present day.
The Latin names for many of these ancient creatures may overwhelm some readers, but Dr. Gee’s vivid descriptions of these plants and animals convey fascinating mental images of creatures that lived long ago, such as land-dwelling amphibians, eryops, “Who looked like a frog imagining a crocodile. If it had wheels, it would be an armored personnel carrier. With teeth” (p. 23) and LystrosaurusWhich was arguably the most successful vertebrate of all time: “With the body of a pig, the casual attitude towards food of a golden retriever and the head of a electric can opener, Lystrosaurus At a bomb site there was an animal the size of a weed. (p. 89).
until Dr. G. talks about what we know about hominid evolution, most readers are back on a more familiar level, which has the added benefit of fewer names to keep track of. But this chapter had some surprises for me: for example, although I knew there was a bottleneck in human evolution where the entire species nearly went extinct at least several times, I was surprised to learn that a small group lived tens of thousands of years. Connected to life for thousands of years, locked in an African wetland that was actually the “Garden of Eden”, surrounded by inhospitable deserts. It wasn’t until the global climate softened that our ancient human ancestors were able to migrate some 130,000 years ago, before these wetlands eventually became the Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the world’s largest salt pans. There is one that is in the middle. Dry savannah in north-eastern Botswana. Ironically, this former lake is now a salt flat, harboring no life more complex than layers of cyanobacteria, a throwback to the earliest days of life on Earth.
While speculating about the future of life on Earth, Dr. G proposes an interesting idea of how all life on this planet could become extinct. Even as individuals age and eventually die, so do species and even entire planets. On the one hand, it is not possible to predict the future, but the general familiarity of Dr. G’s idea of the universality of aging makes it understandable and strangely satisfying. According to Dr. Gee, observing all of life in the blink of an eye could be like watching a movie backwards, where the complexity diminishes and the ability to evolve into new species diminishes until nothing survives. Life, even the planet is dying.
This is of course pure speculation. There is no evidence other than particularly interesting science fiction to support Dr. Supporting G’s suggestion, but the idea is something I’ve heard before. (It is unfortunate that nowhere in the text of his book does Dr. G. clearly say, as he does in his endnotes, that “I tell this story more as a story than as a scholarly exercise,” a few things I would say more evidence than others.”)
One thing the book could have improved is some illustrations – even just one picture on the first page of each chapter.
Overall, this fast-paced and readable book is beautifully written, with little glimpses of whimsical poetry laced through scholarly research. The book contains 3 pages of additional books for the interested reader to peruse, as well as 61 pages of quotes and notes – at least some of these notes were quite funny and would serve the reader better if they were footnotes.
I think everyone will enjoy this book, especially those who spend most of their time reading on a speeding train or logging bus, and students of cosmology, geology, zoology, or biology will find it very useful. Some will learn, and the thought-provoking prose will delight even the most discerning reader.
A (very) brief history of life on earth Nominated for the 2022 Royal Society Science Book Prize.
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