Grand in scope, art, and trim size, a panoramic survey of this planet’s residents from earliest prokaryotes to our species’ first direct ancestors.
Opening with an enormous double gatefold headed “Here Comes the Sun,” Jenkins’ account begins at the beginning (when, as he puts it, “something happened”) and ends with the split 5 or 6 million years ago that led to chimpanzees down one line and humans down the other. In between, it presents the history of living things within a framework of extinction events, ice ages, and other climate-related shifts. Into this admirably coherent view of current thinking about our planet’s deep past he also crams technical nomenclature (“Among the new kinds of animals on land were different synapsid and sauropsid amniotes”), which, along with all the equally polysyllabic identifiers accompanying the illustrations, should delight young sesquipedalians. Baker-Smith’s paintings, a gore-free mix of full-spread color scenes and sepia or graphite galleries of individual figures, show off his versatility—some exhibiting close attention to fine detail, others being nearly abstract, and all (particularly an armored marine Dunkleosteus on the attack and a Tyrannosaurus that is all teeth, feathery mane, and wild eyes) demonstrating a real flair for drama. Design trumps legibility for a few passages that are printed in smaller type on dark or variegated backdrops.
A family story over 4 billion years in the making in a suitably ambitious format. (glossary, timelines) (Nonfiction. 10-14)