There are few stories more remarkable than the evolution of life on earth. This Very Short Introduction presents a succinct guide to the key episodes in that story - from the very origins of life four million years ago to the extraordinary diversity of species around the globe today.
Beginning with an explanation of the controversies surrounding the birth of life itself, each following chapter tells of a major breakthrough that made new forms of life possible: including sex and multicellularity, hard skeletons, and the move to land. Along the way, we witness the greatest mass extinction, the first forests, the rise of modern ecosystems, and, most recently, conscious humans.
Introducing ideas from a range of scientific disciplines, from evolutionary biology and earth history, to geochemistry, palaeontology, and systematics, Michael Benton explains how modern science pieces the evidence in this vast evolutionary puzzle together, to build up an accessible and up-to-date picture of the key developments in the history of life on earth.
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Professor Michael J. Benton is Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He has written some fifty books, ranging from children's dinosaur and palaeontology books to standard textbooks in palaeontology and vertebrate palaeontology (such as Vertebrate Palaeontology, 3rd edition, Blackwell, 2005). He is also author of some 200 scientific papers and numerous popular articles and reviews.
1. Introduction ; 2. The origin of life ; 3. The origin of sex ; 4. The origin of skeletons ; 5. The origin of life on land ; 6. Forests and flight ; 7. The biggest mass extinction ; 8. The origin of modern ecosystems ; 9. The origin of humans ; References and Further Reading