Life

Life (A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth) Author Richard Fortey /Published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York  / Originally published as Life: An Unauthorized Biography by HarperCollins Publishers, London / Copyright 1997 / Paperback, 346 Pages

At the end of the book, author Richard Fortey quotes Goethe: “Zum Erstaunen bin ich da” — I am here to wonder. And the reader is much the richer for going along with Fortey on this wonder-ful ride along “the first four billion years of life on earth”.

I remember seeing this beautiful cover in the bookstore, I reached for it and read all the blurbs as was my habit. I was caught. It was such an exciting thought — a chance to listen to science stories from of one of the world’s leading paleontologists! How thrilling! I never put the book down after I fished it from the bookstore shelf –it was that kind of book, the one that stuck to my hands and made me giddy with the thought that I would soon be reading it.

I was amply rewarded for taking it home.

An absorbing read, the story of life on the planet is told by Fortey in such easy style that you can throw yourself into it without fear of the science. I am one on of those who can never remember the differences between Cambrian and Precambrian, Cretacious or Ordovician, I am hopeless with remembering terms and names and technical details. But it did not matter, it did not diminish the experience at all. Because of Fortey’s storytelling style, quite British, I got to enjoy all those beautiful concepts and ideas as they arose organically in his myriad stories of bacteria, conodonts, trilobites, Pangaea, dinosaurs, Smilodon and so much more.

It is clear Fortey has the writing talent worthy of his intelligence and I think reading his books is great way for people to get to know him and learn from him. A lot of his own experiences are weaved into the book and you can get a glimpse of the kind of person he is. From what I gathered, he sounds like the kind of person you will enjoy having around, who tells the most fascinating stories, who celebrates the life around him.

“…Every organism in the outback is a survivor. Trees can endure drought or fire. Kangaroos can prosper on dry vegetation. The white cockatoo known as galah is apocryphally tough. The first outback joke I learned was: ‘How do you cook a galah?’ Well, you take the plucked galah and place it in a billy, along with a brick and pepper and salt, and cook and cook until the brick is soft when tested with a fork. Then you throw away the galah and eat the brick…”

The New York Times Book Review already said it best, I think, when they enjoined that “anyone with the slightest interest in biology should read this book.” Yes, please do.

 

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