Review: ‘Life: An Unauthorised Biography’ by Richard Fortey

Salterella dodged between the icebergs. While the small boat bucked and tossed, I hung over its side, peering down into the clear Arctic waters…

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 our own hairy ancestors. This book, aimed at the curious and intelligent but perhaps mildly uninformed reader, dispels any such lingering notions.

Illuminating scientific facts with tales from his own career, palaeontologist Richard Fortey guides the reader from the creation of the world, through the very earliest signs of life, the appearance of cells, the creation of an atmosphere, and the myriad forms of animals and plants the world then sustained, right up to the appearance of Homo sapiens.

Entertaining as well as informative, Fortey has mastered the art of story-telling. He has a confident grasp of fine details and is able to present them in a way that does not swamp the reader. This book is an ideal introduction to the history of our planet for someone who is curious to find out more, but who does not possess any specialist knowledge.

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