Short it isn't. But comprehensive, solid, a bit teachy/texty: a good one-volume reference work rather than a popularization. And clearly the prodigious labor of a man who cares and who can speak with authority: Cloud is professor emeritus of geology at the Univ. of California, Santa Barbara. He has specialized in ""paleoecology"" and founded the discipline of biogeology. It is not surprising, then, that a major portion of text is given over to plate tectonics and continental drift, to analyses of sediments, earthquake phenomena, vulcanism, and so on. A pervasive theme of the book is the dynamism of the cosmos--the constant changes and interactions that continue to shape chemical evolution (of rocks, oceans, atmospheres) and the interconnectedness of such events with biological evolution. One is struck by how many questions remain unsettled: the formation of earth and moon; the time scale of development of the various core, mantle, and crustal layers of earth; the origin of water wapor in the atmosphere (either due to a ""big burp,"" a ""many burp,"" or a ""steady burp"" hypothesis). The second half of the book charts the evolution of life and climaxes in a fairly detailed analysis of hominid findings. The book concludes with some closely argued statistical predictions based on the present plight of the planet for which Cloud borrows the term, ""population."" He advocates zero population growth, equitable distribution of wealth, conservation of resources, limits to growth. Rather than GNP, he would promote EHC--enhancement of the human condition. Here the sobering predictions are balanced by a hope which borders on utopianism. Cloud suggests that working people be given sabbaticals, that urban-grant universities be established on public lands as nuclei of new smallish cities, and so on. Mingled with the pious hopes, however, are practical guidelines--one of which is simply the admonition to persist; new ideas come hard. One sympathizes with this profound concern, made all the more poignant as the climax to his careful telling of the cosmic tale that led to the development of the unique and living earth.