Fanfare for Earth: The Origin of Our Planet and Life

Harry Y. McSween, JR, Author
Harry Y. McSween, JR, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-14601-6
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In the excitement surrounding the recent speculation that there might once have been life on Mars, McSween (Stardust to Planets), head of the department of geological sciences at the University of Tennessee, has been a voice of caution. In this well-conceived, expertly informed work, he focuses on life on Earth and proves himself an articulate advocate of science and of the idea that Earth is a special place. Systematically, he traces the events that conspired to enable complex beings to evolve on our globe, detailing the clues from which scientists have built the fascinating story of the planet's history. He begins with the creation of the universe and our galaxy, then moves on to the creation of the Earth 4.55 billion years ago. ""Shortly thereafter, the planet was struck by a huge projectile. A large Moon rapidly accreted from the vaporized rubble of this collision. Thus ended creation, and began a much slower evolutionary transformation of the Earth into the world we recognize today."" That world is one in which the stability of our planet's inclination (due to our having one large satellite), plate tectonics and a rain of meteorites and comets interacted with evolving organisms to create an unusual atmosphere and oceans, land, lakes, streams and soil profuse with life. As for the fanfare of the title, readers will find it in the book's brilliant epilogue, which in a daring move resuscitates some of the ideas of the controversial French Jesuit and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. Finally, McSween concludes, ""science does not demand or even accept that our species is the pinnacle or final purpose of the universe. Yet who cannot be awed by the unlikely existence of consciousness, and by the fragile blue planet that cradles it?"" Illustrations. (Mar.)
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