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Publisher's Summary

Charles Darwin's theories, first published more than 150 years ago, form the backbone of how we understand the history of the Earth. In reality, the currently accepted history of life on Earth is so flawed, so out of date, that it's past time we need a "New History of Life".

In their latest audiobook, Joe Kirschvink and Peter Ward will show that many of our most cherished beliefs about the evolution of life are wrong. Gathering and analyzing years of discoveries and research not yet widely known to the public, A New History of Life proposes a different origin of species than the one Darwin proposed, one which includes eight-foot-long centipedes, a frozen snowball Earth, and the seeds for life originating on Mars.

Drawing on their years of experience in paleontology, biology, chemistry, and astrobiology, experts Ward and Kirschvink paint a picture of the origins life on Earth that are at once too fabulous to imagine and too familiar to dismiss - and looking forward, A New History of Life brilliantly assembles insights from some of the latest scientific research to understand how life on Earth can and might evolve far into the future.

©2015 Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Perspective worth reading

This is yet another book whose authors have joined the quest to understand our origins and what might happen to our species as green house gases rise. Ward and Kirschvink attempt to include the most up to date information of extinction available. Just as epigenetics is currently challenging our understanding of evolution, so too are relatively recent findings in fields related to extinction patterns. The role of Cuvier's catastrophism has seen a resurgence since the discovery of the meteoroid's impact on Earth's organisms. Further findings on how body morphology and function change in response to co2 and o2 are further supporting catastrophism. These authors challenge the notion that there were five extinctions and posit there were actually ten that deserve much greater attention and study, if we are to fully understand how greenhouse gases will affect our future.

In addition to the rise in mapping when and how extinctions happen (including the newest book by Lisa Randall on Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs) researchers are also increasingly interested in mapping out the networks of ecosystems- how might the extinction of species affect the survival of other species. For example, how does fire affect ecosystems? How do oxygen and carbon gas levels shape the bodies of organisms like clams? How does their shape affect burrowing behavior, and how does that burrowing behavior affect Earth's surface? How does Earth's surface then affect the development of future species? One of the best lecture series that also addresses the network/complexity/emergence of ecosystems is The Modern Scholar: Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth's Major Ecosystems by John Kricher.

I am a great lover of detailed books on cell respiration or photosynthesis (ie., Nick Lane's entire collection of books and Paul Falkowski's Life's Engines). This book included quite a bit of the nitty gritty science that I find so exciting and satisfying when trying to really understand what is going on around us, at the tiniest levels that translate to macro organisms and their elaborate ecosystems.

The writing was at times too much like an article. I love authors who hold your hand and assume you have no idea what point they are trying to make. Even when it is very clear to me what their argument is, I really like to be guided along so that I am free to just enjoy what is being discussed instead of trying to understand what point they are making. It's difficult to achieve this type of writing, certainly they do a better job than Nick Lane who seems to alienate much of his potential audience. Yet, they could have done a better job of handholding. On the flip side they painted some wonderful images with their words. I won't soon forget the image that is burned in my mind of the dinosaur who possess fingers, a working thumb, feathers, and was running fast over the earth. Nor will I soon forget the image of clams burrowing the bottom of the sea floor changing the crusts very structure and function. I loved the imagery evoked when discussing the sea floor, plate tectonics, coccolithophores, and subduction zones (This was a focus in at least 3 separate chapters and was magnificent each time. Even if I was starting to get a bit bored, when they included talk of chalk, my interest was peaked!). I would have liked more of that type of writing.


For further reading:
Lisa Randall's Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs
John Kricher's The Modern Scholar: Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth's Major Ecosystems
Nick Lane (all of his books)
Geoffrey West's Scaling in Biology
Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most beautiful
Paul Falkowski's Life's Engines
Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

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An introductionary history of the biosphere

Where does A New History of Life rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the best audiobooks I've listened to and by far the best science audiobook. Many science audiobooks don't translate well to this format, perhaps because of the writing style or reliance on figures and pictures. A New History of Life, however, is an excellent audio edition.

What about Tom Parks’s performance did you like?

The writing is clear and the reader is engaging; he has a good voice, and pronounces everything correctly (as far as I know!).

Any additional comments?

Firstly, I'm a big fan of Peter Wards previous books, it would be great if some of his earlier works could be translated into audiobook format.

I'm a biologist, and I've recommended this book to many of my colleagues as an introduction to how the biosphere operates over long time scales, providing an accurate summary while referencing the latest research. Don't be put off, however, this isn't a boring technical book. It moves at good pace, never dwelling on one topic so as get tedious, while not skipping past important periods of Earth's history either. Thankfully, like so many other books, this one does not dwell on the long, drawn out process of scientific discovery, fossil digs and academic feuding which unfortunately seem to bog down popular science books on paleontology and the earth sciences.


Anyone familiar with Ward's previous work will likely be aware of what type of perspective he brings to the table- an emphasis on such things as mass extinctions, atmospheric oxygen levels and the self-destructive habits of life itself.


I'd highly recommend those who enjoyed this book follow it up with any of Ward's previous books (which he references), or the books of Nick Lane, or Lisa Randall's Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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It's Good, If a Bit Dull at Times

Perhaps the folly comes from reading a book about the "New" history and science of a field four years afters it release date, more than enough time for the science to change or become normalized, but i still found this to be a pretty solid listen. The narrator is quite good, and manages to hold the attention through even the rockier or duller portions of the book. The subject matter is most certainly interesting (i found the early parts about the examination of sulfur as an essential for organic life particularly intriguing), but I'd heard most of the information about the Permian extinctions, the jurassic and the Cretaceous in more recent fare, such as "The Ends of the World" by Peter Brenan (who cites Ward's work often), and "The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte. Still, i was satisfied, and if you have an extra credit laying around I'd recommend considering this!

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Dense and misleading

This book is very technical and dense, loaded with facts that are rapidly narrated. And, beware the book summary. There is minimal time spent on human or hominid life so understand that the great majority of “life” means an explication of how the earliest life forms began. Human evolution was touched upon but whizzed through. For me, 3 stars was a generous rating.

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Very enjoyable read. Up to date and informative.

Easy to listen and follow narrator. I liked that it explained new discoveries and theories instead of repeating the same old knowledge of the past.

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of to date book on new scientific Discoveries

this was a very fascinating reading and one learn quite a bit from all updated and new scientific discoveries over the past two decades... highly recommended

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Fantastic!

I love this book! It is at the same time comprehensive and lay-person friendly. Perfect for a deep dive into the evolution of life.

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Fantastic and Interesting

This audiobook may be a little dense for a layperson, but it's well worth the effort to look up the terms used and learn much of Earth's geological and biological past!

I graduated from university more than a decade ago with a degree in earth sciences, so it was nice to gain updated details on what were then uncertain episodes and timelines.

I've enjoyed reading all of Mr. Ward's books (co-authored and singular efforts) over the years, and this was the first I've listened to. Thoroughly enjoyable, and with unintended humor from the narrator as he mispronounces several geological terms.

Read/listen to this book!

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Great Book on history of life. I will listen again

This book just made me hungry for more books on history of life. The illustrations ion the book would have been helpful for me

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Good current info, I learned a lot.

The authors bring together a complex idea and present it in a way most readers should understand. I like that they did not dumb it down. There is lots of current info in the book to kerp everyone up to date. I binge listened to it and look forward to listening to it again and taking notes this time.

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  • Trimalchio
  • 07-28-18

Excellent and genuinely radical

I rarely write reviews here but it's worth saying something positive to balance the silly comments posted by Robinson. I assume that these won't distract anyone with any real interest in science but it is worth lifting the average star rating and saying why the book actually deserves five stars.

"A New History of Life" is just that, a history of life from the very beginnnings to the present - and indeed looking ahead into the far future. The authors spend a long time on the early history of life - how it might have originated and how single celled life developed. The Cambrian explosion comes some way into the book.

What Ward and Kirschvink try to do is to explain this history, as far as that is possible. It's clear that much of this understanding is very recent - and must be going out of date even now. So, this is a revelation for anyone whose understanding of the subject was based in the 20th century. This explanation depends on changes in the balance of various substances in the atmosphere and sea, especially oxygen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. These changes were driven partly by geological processes and partly by life itself. They led to mass extinctions and several "snowball earth" episodes. The key thing I learned was how much conditions on earth have varied over time.

It's not easy going but it is a compelling story. There are a few minor irritations - a couple of technical terms not explained and a flip-flop between metric measures and feet and inches (even temperatures in Fahrenheit, which may flummox non-Americans). Nonetheless, excellent overall, and read in a manner that is clear, easy to follow and interesting for the listener.

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  • Robinson
  • 09-07-15

Awful.

What was most disappointing about Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink ’s story?

I purchased this audiobook expecting an interesting survey of Life and its origins. Instead what I appear to have bought is a book by two Global Warming Hysterics.

I do not recommend this book if you're interested in biology. It should be safely hidden away in the Activist Scientist section where it won't mislead anyone about its content.

0 of 4 people found this review helpful