The story of our planetary home and the organisms spread across its surface is far grander and more spectacular than any Hollywood blockbuster, filled with enough plot twists to rival a bestselling thriller. More than four billion years ago, a small planet accreted out of rocky debris circling a modest young star. In its early years, Earth lived on the edge of cataclysm, frequently bombarded with comets and meteors, while roiling magma oceans covered the surface and toxic gases choked the atmosphere. With time, however, continents formed, only to be ripped apart and later collide, throwing up spectacular mountain ranges, most of which have been lost to time. Volcanoes a million times larger than anything ever witnessed by humans. Cycles of global glaciation. Dramatic change and violent extremes. Countless lost worlds we are only beginning to piece together. Somehow on this dynamic stage, life established a foothold and eventually transformed our planet’s surface, paving the way for trilobites, dinosaurs, and a species that can speak, reflect, fashion tools and, in the end, change the world again.
Earth’s story helps us to understand how the mountains, oceans, trees, and animals around us came to be, as well as gold, diamonds, coal, oil, and the very air we breathe. And in so doing, it provides the context needed to understand how human activities are transforming the world in the twenty-first century. For most of its history, our home was inhospitable to humans, and indeed, among the enduring lessons of Andrew Knoll’s essential and timely book, is a recognition of how fleeting and fragile our present moment is.
Placing twenty first-century climate change in the context of the vast history of our home, A Brief History of Earth is a gripping and essential look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.