A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

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A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

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Skipping ahead, we go through time, from one great extinction to another, and we learn of some of the fantastic beasts and creatures that lived in-between them. Their rise and fall. We discuss the dinosaurs, these amazing creatures, and how they evolved into the titans that they were. We explore ideas and continue on through time, viewing it all like a window passing by, we see the dinosaurs die. We see the world go through the tumult as it had never been through before. The asteroid that wiped the earth out, would be the key in setting up our deep ancestors for success, which eventually would lead to us. Henry Gee makes the kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? - Everybody!' Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel The Earth’s heat, radiating outward from the molten core, keeps the planet forever on the boil, just like a pan of water simmering on a stove. Heat rising to the surface softens the overlying layers, breaking up the less dense but more solid crust into pieces and, forcing them apart, creates new oceans between. These pieces, the tectonic plates, are forever in motion. They bump against, slide past, or burrow beneath one another. This movement carves deep trenches in the ocean floor and raises mountains high above it. It causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It builds new land. It was the tendency of bacteria to form communities of different species that led to the next great evolutionary innovation. Bacteria took group living to the next level—the nucleated cell. definitely feels rushed at several chapters (especially chapter 3, 4), with a lot of facts that fit well into the bigger picture, but many of those facts are well forgotten.

From that first foray to the spread of early hominids who later became Homo sapiens, life has persisted, undaunted. A (Very) Short History of Life: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters is an enlightening story of survival, of persistence, illuminating the delicate balance within which life has always existed, and continues to exist today. It is our planet like you’ve never seen it before. Free oxygen became more abundant during the Great Oxidation Event, a turbulent period between about 2.4 and 2.1 billion years ago, when, for reasons still unclear, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere at first rose sharply—to greater than today’s value of 21 percent—before settling down to a little below 2 percent. Although still unbreathably tiny by modern standards, this had an immense effect on the ecosystem.12 If one continues to read, past the end of the book, and into the epilogue the tone changes, it is not all death and despair, and Dr. Gee even points out that he is only discussing life on THIS planet, not denying it could be found elsewhere, or that even we humans, despite how challenging may be able to find a habitable location elsewhere in this galaxy and beyond. I share a slightly more hopeful view, I think our species, as inventive as it is, will find a way, as it always has. For better or worse we are a species that is always on the edge, on the edge of immense technological power, or on the edge of complete destruction. When Humans are pushed to extreme lengths and life or death situations, as a species we seem to find a way. And I do not see that coming to an end any time soon. A (Very) Short History of Life non-Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chaptersis an excellentbook I would recommend to all readers who find themselves interested in the history of Earth. From the extremely distant past and the start of life itself, to what may be our last battle on this planet, it is poignant and critical to understand where we are now, and why we have the challenges that we face today. In the scheme of things, we are a small blip, but as Dr. Gee says, and as is quoted in the book, this just makes it an even more convincing time to give life everything we have got. A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers. As a senior editor at Nature, Henry Gee has had a front-row seat to the most important fossil discoveries of the last quarter century. His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us." A (Very) Short History of Life is an enlightening story of survival, of persistence, illuminating the delicate balance within which life has always existed, and continues to exist today. It is our planet like you’ve never seen it before.Life emerged on Earth not long after the planet’s aggregation, writes Gee, and faced its first major challenge about 2.4 billion years ago. Until this point, bacteria and archaea had been confined to the oceans, where they evaded the Sun’s deadly rays, which were not yet tempered by a protective atmosphere. Bacteria eventually learned to harness sunlight to produce energy, with oxygen as a by-product; but as oxygen levels rose, generations of bacteria and archaea that had evolved in its absence were burned alive. If you have already watched David Attenborough’s Life/Origin of life or Neil deGrasse’s Cosmos docuseries like me, then this book will act as a fantastic recap of the complex history of life on earth. If you haven’t watched the above-mentioned docuseries, then this book will be an absolute delight for anybody interested in natural history. Also, I highly recommend watching these awesome docuseries in the soothing voice of Mr. Attenborough and Mr. Tyson.

At some point before 2 billion years ago, small colonies of bacteria began to adopt the habit of living inside a common membrane.15 It began when a small bacterial cell, called an archaeon,16 found itself dependent on some of the cells around it for vital nutrients. This tiny cell extended tendrils toward its neighbors so they could swap genes and materials more easily. The participants in what had been a freewheeling commune of cells became more and more interdependent. Unlike carbon dioxide, oxygen might be thought of as an all-round good thing, essential to life on Earth. And yet it was a sudden surge of free oxygen that caused the Great Oxidation Event, unleashing the first of many mass extinctions that pepper the history of this planet. All that oxygen scrubbed the air of the carbon dioxide and methane that were keeping Earth warm and launched the first and longest ice age, 300 million years during which the planet became ‘Snowball Earth’, covered from pole to pole with ice. ‘And yet,’ observes Gee calmly, ‘the Great Oxidation Event and subsequent “Snowball Earth” episode were the kinds of apocalyptic disasters in which life on Earth has always thrived.’Some hundreds of million years from now, Earth will become uninhabitable to even the hardiest organ isms, spelling the final doom for Earth-evolved life—unless, perhaps, some earthlings manage to escape into space first. Meanwhile, the reader is rewarded with a deeper appreciation of our own place in the grand scheme of life, where even the best-adapted species disappear within a time that is minute on the scale of evolution. A]n exuberant romp through evolution, like a modern-day Willy Wonka of genetic space. Gee’s grand tour enthusiastically details the narrative underlying life’s erratic and often whimsical exploration of biological form and function.” —Adrian Woolfson, The Washington Post Dinosaurs, meanwhile, are animals that every child has heard of. These hugely successful creatures filled every evolutionary niche, leaving little room for much else, including the early mammals; it wasn’t until the dinosaurs died out that mammals could ‘burst forth like a well-aged champagne, shaken beforehand, and inexpertly corked’. A profusion of fast-evolving and diversifying mammals took over from the dinosaurs. They included what Gee calls ‘a group of leftovers … an assortment of scrappers that included rats, mice, rabbits, and, seemingly almost as an afterthought, the primates’. These small, swift creatures with forward-facing eyes, inclined to curiosity and exploration, would eventually give rise to Homo sapiens. But the emergence of modern humans could so easily not have happened. Around 200,000 years ago, the last survivors of the species were confined to an oasis on the edge of what is now the Kalahari desert. Yet Homo sapiens squeaked through, saved by a period of warming that turned much of the surface of the planet into rich grassland, teeming with game. Dr Henry Gee presents creatures from ‘gregarious’ bacteria populating the seas to duelling dinosaurs in the Triassic period, to magnificent mammals with the future in their grasp. Life’s evolutionary steps – from the development of a digestive system to the awe of creatures taking to the skies in flight – are conveyed with an up-close intimacy. in chapter 3 for example, author uses a tons of extinct species to tell facts of evolutionary history, it becomes difficult to imagine them in a sentence of information, most of them you might have never heard of them. so it made sense to constantly look at Google images to see what he was telling about. majority of facts won't even stay in your head as a lot of these species won't live more than a sentence or two

The way the book is formatted you move forward through time with the Earth as it starts out in the earliest and then move forward. Each chapter is nicely grouped and none stand out as being overwhelming or unnecessary. I loved that as he moved through the evolution Henry Gee didn’t just focus on the animal life, he looked at the plant life as well. There were interesting facts I didn’t know and none of the science was too technical. There was always an explanation to help the layman to understand subjects they might not have encountered.In plants today, the energy-harvesting pigment is called chlorophyll. Solar energy is used to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, releasing more energy to drive further chemical reactions. In the earliest days of the Earth, however, the raw materials were just as likely to have been minerals containing iron or sulfur. The best, however, was and remains the most abundant—water. But there was a catch. The photosynthesis of water produces as a waste product a colorless, odorless gas that burns anything it touches. This gas is one of the deadliest substances in the universe. Its name? Free oxygen, or O2. Another masterful aspect of the structure is the way that the first eight chapters build in a kind of crescendo, then the whole thing widens out with first the development of apes, then hominins, then humans and finally looks forward to the future. I use a musical term intentionally - this feels like a well-crafted piece of music, pushing us on to the big finish.

Every time majority of flora and fauna gets wiped out (Five mass extinctions), life always reappeared and took a different direction in the evolutionary path. The story is the same with early life forms, or dinosaurs or proto mammals. The chapter about evolution of hominids is pretty interesting and made me realize how the human history is not even a chapter but a mere footnote in the grand book of life on earth. From that first foray to the spread of early hominids who later became Homo sapiens, life has persisted, undaunted. A (Very) Short History of Life is an enlightening story of survival, of persistence, illuminating the delicate balance within which life has always existed, and continues to exist today. It is our planet like you’ve never seen it before.Henry Gee’s whistle-stop account of the story of life (and death — lots of death) on Earth is both fun and informative. Even better, it goes beyond the natural human inclination to see ourselves as special and puts us in our proper place in the cosmic scheme of things." Terrifying. As described on the cover, this is a very concise history of the forming of the Earth and the various ages it went through; including the evolution of life and the creatures we now know today (don't worry, the dinosaurs are in here too). The book was over before I knew it, but I can still say I learned way more than I knew before; in a very easy to understand way. Gee is talented when it comes to breaking down the science into general terms. Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil. Eukaryotes emerged, quietly and modestly, between around 1,850 and 850 million years ago.22 They started to diversify around 1,200 million years ago into forms recognizable as early single-celled relatives of algae and fungi and into unicellular protists, or what we used to call protozoa.23 For the first time, they ventured away from the sea and colonized freshwater ponds and streams inland.24 Crusts of algae, fungi, and lichens25 began to adorn seashores once bare of life. About 2.5 million years ago, Homo erectus arose, a territorial savannah predator, deadly thanks to two traits: it was a powerful long-distance runner and a social animal. From this lineage, Homo sapiens evolved. Humanity’s first attempt at worldwide dispersal failed, shattered by the cold of an ice age 200,000 years ago. Confined to an oasis in what is now the Kalahari Desert, humankind nearly went extinct. We, as a species, are just as fragile as all the others, reminds Gee.



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