Charles Darwin's theories, first published more than 150 years ago, still set the paradigm of how we understand the evolution of life--but scientific advances of recent decades have radically altered that. Now two pioneering scientists draw on their years of experience in paleontology, biology, chemistry, and astrobiology to deliver an eye-opening narrative using a generation's worth of insights culled from new research.
Writing with zest, humor, and clarity, Ward and Kirschvink show that many of our long-held beliefs about the history of life are wrong. Three central themes emerge. First, Ward and Kirschvink argue that catastrophe shaped life's history more than all other forces combined--from notorious events like the sudden extinction of dinosaurs to the recently discovered "Snowball Earth" and the "Great Oxygenation Event." Second, life consists of carbon, but oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide determined how it evolved. Third, ever since Darwin we have thought of evolution in terms of species. Yet it is the evolution of ecosystems--from deep-ocean vents to rainforests--that has formed the living world as we know it. Ward and Kirschvink tell a story of life on Earth that is at once fabulous and familiar. And in a provocative coda, they assemble discoveries from the latest cutting-edge research to imagine how the history of life might unfold deep into the future.