LIFE ON EARTH: A Natural History by David Attenborough
Kirkus Star

LIFE ON EARTH: A Natural History

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Sometimes it is sheer pleasure to find a book with an old-fashioned point of view. In this case it is a chapter-by-chapter description of the major kingdoms, classes, and families of life on earth, beginning with the oldest fossils three billion years ago and ending with the likes of us. When this Darwinian approach is complemented by splendid and abundant color photos you have a book whose pages are a delight to turn. You can also forget that the book is a spinoff from a 13-part BBC television series produced by the author, a television professional who ""studied zoology at Cambridge."" While the writing might have benefited from crisper editing, it is becomingly free of the unthropomorphisms and socio-biological cant that can poison popular books on biology. Attenborough is also quite good at evoking sensory imagery, whether it is the smell of sulphurous springs in Yosemite or the shape and feel of a bird feather. The book can be read straight through or sampled at will--the evolutionary chronology makes it easy, to find your way. It could also serve as an informal family reference, useful when the six-year-old wants to know all about spiders, or the twelve-year-old has to report on prairie dogs. Both groups are well described, as are sea squirts and axolotls, nimbats and moon rats, lemurs and lorises. One intriguing group, presented in too brief an encounter, are the Biami, an Undiscovered New Guinea tribe whom Attenborough and crew photographed, all the while confirming that certain human expressions and gestures are universal means of communication. A thoroughly admirable show-and-tell.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1980
Publisher: Little, Brown