An encyclopedic history of the emergence of life on Earth that “traces the history of life from the dawn of evolution to the present day through the lens of one hundred living things that have changed the world.”
Lloyd (What on Earth Happened?: The Complete Story of the Planet, Life, and People from the Big Bang to the Present Day, 2008, etc.) orders species chronologically and also ranks them according to the impact that these “living things have had on the path of evolution.” The book—originally titled What on Earth Evolved? and first published in 2009 in the U.K. to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species—is divided into two major sections. The first, “Before Humans,” from 4 billion to 12,000 years ago, deals with the “the impact of species that evolved in the wild”—e.g., viruses, algae, trees, fish, insects, and, eventually, Homo sapiens. The second section, “After Humans,” spans the period from “12,000 years ago to the present day” and discusses “the impact of species that thrived in the presence of modern mankind.” The author gives special emphasis to the role of viruses, which, through infection, caused mutations that induced “critical innovations” in a variety of species. He also spotlights predators such as sharks, for mastering “the art of sexual reproduction” 400 million years ago. The biggest evolutionary news occurred when “modern humans first emerged in Africa, about 160,000 years ago.” Lloyd also offers a fascinating historical sidelight on how the “potyvirus,” by causing the spectacular mutation of tulips, created the conditions for the first speculative boom and bust. He gives the lowly earthworm top ranking due to its crucial role in creating fertile soil, while Homo sapiens occupy the sixth position. “Traditional history,” writes the author, “seldom considers the impact of a range of living species that have, in their own way, had a far greater impact on the planet, life and people than human contributions, such as politics, war and inventions.”
A good fit for middle and high school libraries as a useful reference.