Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth

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Princeton University Press, 2003 - Science - 277 pages
5 Reviews

Australopithecines, dinosaurs, trilobites--such fossils conjure up images of lost worlds filled with vanished organisms. But in the full history of life, ancient animals, even the trilobites, form only the half-billion-year tip of a nearly four-billion-year iceberg. Andrew Knoll explores the deep history of life from its origins on a young planet to the incredible Cambrian explosion, presenting a compelling new explanation for the emergence of biological novelty.

The very latest discoveries in paleontology--many of them made by the author and his students--are integrated with emerging insights from molecular biology and earth system science to forge a broad understanding of how the biological diversity that surrounds us came to be. Moving from Siberia to Namibia to the Bahamas, Knoll shows how life and environment have evolved together through Earth's history. Innovations in biology have helped shape our air and oceans, and, just as surely, environmental change has influenced the course of evolution, repeatedly closing off opportunities for some species while opening avenues for others.

Readers go into the field to confront fossils, enter the lab to discern the inner workings of cells, and alight on Mars to ask how our terrestrial experience can guide exploration for life beyond our planet. Along the way, Knoll brings us up-to-date on some of science's hottest questions, from the oldest fossils and claims of life beyond the Earth to the hypothesis of global glaciation and Knoll's own unifying concept of ''permissive ecology.''

In laying bare Earth's deepest biological roots, Life on a Young Planet helps us understand our own place in the universe--and our responsibility as stewards of a world four billion years in the making.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - setnahkt - LibraryThing

Quite an interesting book on life on Earth before the Cambrian. Being a supposed paleontologist, I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know all that much about what was going on. Like any paleontology book ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - quantum_flapdoodle - LibraryThing

An excellent introduction to what we know about the earliest life on earth, and how we learned it. The author doesn't just tell us what is known, he gives us chapter and verse about the controversies ... Read full review

Selected pages


In the Beginning?
The Tree of Life
Lifes Signature in Ancient Rocks
The Earliest Glimmers of Life
The Emergence of Life
The Oxygen Revolution
The Cyanobacteria Lifes Microbial Heroes
The Origins of Eukaryotic Cells
Animals Take the Stage
Cambrian Redux
Dynamic Earth Permissive Ecology
Paleontology ad Astra
Further Reading

Fossils of Early Eukaryotes

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Page 1 - Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

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Nicholas H. Barton
Limited preview - 2007
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About the author (2003)

Andrew H. Knoll is Fisher Professor of Natural History at Harvard University and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences. A paleontologist by training, he has spent more than two decades working to integrate geological and biological perspectives on early life.

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