LIFE ON A YOUNG PLANET: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth

Andrew H. Knoll, Author . Princeton Univ. $29.95 (277p) ISBN 978-0-691-00978-0

Knoll, a paleontologist at Harvard, has spent most of his life examining and making sense of microscopic Precambrian fossils from around the world. In a book so well written that nonspecialists and specialists alike will find much to savor, he captures both the excitement of scientific discovery and the intricacies of scientific interpretation. He addresses two of the biggest questions of biology and paleontology—how did life begin and why was there an explosion of life forms at the start of the Cambrian Era. His evenhanded explanations draw heavily from the work he, his graduate students and his collaborators from around the world have performed. Unlike other recent offerings (e.g., Snowball Earth by Gabrielle Walker and In the Blink of an Eye by Andrew Parker), Knoll is not uncomfortable with taking a middle ground, claiming that conclusive answers are not yet within our grasp. He constructs a case for the importance of "permissive ecology," a situation in which "life and environment evolved together, each influencing the other in building the biosphere we inhabit today." Recognizing that his view is neither as flashy nor as controversial as others, he says, "The absence of a definitive punch line may disappoint some readers, but as a paleontologist, it is why I get up in the morning. For scientists, unanswered questions are like Everest unclimbed, an irresistible lure for restless minds." Readers interested in substance will certainly not be disappointed. 33 color illus., 25 b&w photos, 47 line illus. (May)

FYI:Knoll has been chosen by CNN and Time magazine as "America's Best" paleontologist.

Reviewed on: 03/24/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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