There’s been a lot of death

We were narrowly missed by a great big meteor.
Didn’t really make front page news.
We’re too busy cooking crumpets, and wearing out shoes.

– ‘Meteor‘, Box Set, Tripod.

Sometimes it’s interesting to look through your partner’s book collection. Aside from the books that I have absolutely no interest in (I’m looking at you Chick Lit), there are quite a few that I mean to read one day. And that day came for a science book with an interesting title.

A Short History of Planet Earth

A potted history of major geological events in the history of the Earth.

Ian Plimer is the professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide, so he knows his geology, and this book from 2001 promises to take the layman through a journey of the Earth’s geological history. The subject matter covered is very interesting, although it is a more difficult read than it might have been.

The book really opened my eyes to the fact that much of the planet’s life has been repeatedly wiped out over the years. Whether by giant meteors from space, collapsing volcanic mountains, breaches in ice dams, or a host of other causes, the continued existence of a species of Earth-based organism is precarious indeed. When we come across a species that’s a relic of a previous age, such as a stromatolite, it’s almost a miraculous thing.

However, accessing this interesting story is made difficult by a few features of the text. While pitched at a non-technical reader, Plimer can’t help using technical terms that he doesn’t define anywhere. Also, despite the book being arranged chronologically by chapter, there is a tendency to leap around between topics and timeframes within chapters or even on the same page. I found these diversions, while often interesting, interrupted the flow, and would’ve been better placed in their own side box, or even omitted. There was almost a sense that a less-than-thorough editing job had been done.

Towards the end of the book, Plimer begins to reveal his negative views towards human-induced climate change. These seemed a little out-of-place in a book of this nature, but the book does have other personal touches, such as his thoughts on ancient surfing breaks. Perhaps it adds a little colour at the expense of academic neutrality.

In all, I was pleased to have read it (and learned a new perspective on our planet’s evolution), but less pleased with the effort required to make it through to the end.

Rating by andrew: 2.5 stars

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