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Geoscientist Online

Cowen's History of Life: Sixth Edition

History of life coverDesigned primarily as a textbook for undergraduate students, this is an invaluable tome for anyone interested in the history of life on Earth. It is written in an engaging way and allows the reader the opportunity to study the huge breadth of the subject in a concise way, highlighting key events that have allowed us to develop our understanding of the topic.  

This is a multi-authored volume written by experts in their field under the expert leadership of Michael Benton. It is excellently set out with clear chapters dealing with the information in a systematic and thorough manner. It can be dipped into or studied in depth to allow the reader to develop a clear understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. There are excellent introductions to each of the chapters, which explain the significance of the information that follows.

Key references are included, suggestions for further reading, as well as questions for further discussion. These make the title an excellent resource for students and one that should be available to all students starting out on the study of palaeontology. The diagrams are excellent and illustrate and enhance the material included and the book clearly matches to its stated purpose of being accessible to undergraduates with no academic background in the subject.

The volume takes us to the very edge of current knowledge (when the book was published) and covers not only the biological evolution of organisms, but also discusses their adaptations, as well as the ecology and environments in which they lived. It is quite simply a stunning volume and well worth the money.

It has not shied away from admitting where we still need to develop our understanding – something invaluable in a text such as this. I shall be using it to inform my teaching and would thoroughly recommend it for anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject matter. There is an excellent glossary which allows the reader to understand the myriad of terms introduced into the text.  

As well as being invaluable to undergraduates this book would not be out of place for A-level students of geology; with its associated dedicated website there is much here to allow further investigation for the interested student. This book should be available on the shelf of all university geology departments and I would suggest it is essential for all teachers of A-level geology as well!

Reviewed by Gordon Neighbour

COWEN'S HISTORY OF LIFE - SIXTH EDITION by Michael J. Benton (editor), 2019. Published by: Wiley Blackwell. 400pp (pbk). ISBN: 978–1–119-48221-5. List price: £49.99 (e-Book), £55 (pbk). W: www.wiley.com