An expert primer on the history of everything.



A geologist skillfully condenses the history of the Earth.

A Harvard professor of natural history and Earth and planetary sciences, Knoll begins when the Earth coalesced from dust and rocks circling the sun. Animals more complex than bacteria do not appear until the halfway point of the book, but few readers will complain. Good evidence for the Earth’s age did not appear until the 20th century, when measuring the decay of radioactive uranium revealed its age at 4.6 billion years. Rocks raining down generated enough heat to keep the Earth molten. By the time it cooled around 4 billion years ago, two substances we take for granted, water and oxygen, were missing. Water arrived from meteorites, which continue to fall, although less often than in previous millennia. Knoll engagingly recounts the theories of how life began along with the startling fact that evidence of microbial life appeared soon after the Earth cooled. It’s possible that life is not a lucky accident but inevitable once certain conditions are present. In the absence of oxygen, primitive organisms lived off alternate sources of energy such as sulfur or iron, which existed in the oceans and hot springs. More than 1 billion years passed before cyanobacteria evolved to extract energy from sunlight and water. This process of photosynthesis produced oxygen, leading eventually to the “Great Oxygenation Event” that marginalized older life forms but jump-started evolution because respiration using oxygen yields far more energy. After another 3 billion years, more complex organisms appeared. Early animals date from 500 million to 600 million years ago. Fish appeared at around 450 million years ago and began walking on land 100 million years later. In later chapters, Knoll speeds up the narrative but maintains a focus on geology as he proceeds through dinosaurs, mammals, continent migration, and catastrophic mass extinctions. Of course, the author’s study of humans dominates the closing section, which recounts hominid evolution and the dismal details of how we are making a mess of things.

An expert primer on the history of everything.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-285391-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.


The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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