Book review: Earth in 100 Groundbreaking Discoveries, by Douglas Palmer

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

Nowadays, people don’t do geology – they do ‘earth sciences’ – and this book is very much in that mould. That’s not to say this is a problem. Expanding the study of the world to take on this more holistic view of how things work – the rocks, life forms, climate and atmosphere, for example, and how these factors have interacted and changed over the 4.5 billion years our earth has existed – is fascinating and, it is clear from this book, just how much man has begun to understand the science over the last few centuries.

The book looks at this growing body of knowledge by way of 100 examples. It’s a chunky volume, but beautifully illustrated, as one has come to expect in earth science publishing. However, I wouldn’t just sit down and read it. You can if you like, but there’s a lot to get through. Rather, I would randomly open the pages and read whatever short section appears. I have done this and it is well worthwhile. Each little nugget (obviously, there are 100 of them) is a fascinating read and the book is extremely up-to-date. For example, I remember reading on the BBC website about soft body fossils recently found from the Ordovician in Morocco. The significance of these fossils is to show that the strange Cambrian fossils, found, for instance, in the Burgess Shale of Canada, did not become extinct by the end of that geological era. Rather, they continued to exist alongside more recognisable forms into the Ordovician and their absence from the fossil record is a product of the difficulty of their becoming fossils and not their absence. This was in May 2010 and, here in this book, are three pages of discussion and pictures on precisely this important discovery.

The author, Dr Douglas Palmer, is a science writer and journalist, with a background in the history of Earth’s environments. Therefore, it’s not surprising that both the science and the writing are good. The illustrations also make for an enjoyable perusal. This is altogether a good book. In fact, if you want an encyclopaedia of earth sciences, this is very good. Have a look at it and read a short chapter before you go to sleep. You will enjoy it.

Earth in 100 groundbreaking discoveries, by Douglas Palmer, Quercus Publishing, London (2011), 415 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-0857385017

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