Life by Richard Fortey


A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice"Extraordinary. . . . Anyone with the slightest interest in biology should read this book."--The New York Times Book Review"A marvelous museum of the past four billion years on earth--capacious, jammed with treasures, full of learning and wide-eyed wonder."--The Boston GlobeFrom its origins on the still-forming planet to the recent emergence of Homo sapiens--one of the world's leading paleontologists of...

Details Life

Release DateSep 7th, 1999
GenreScience, Nonfiction, History, Biology, Evolution, Natural History, Environment, Nature

Reviews Life

  • Chris
    I've read this story before, many times. The interesting thing is how different each approach is to telling the story of the appearance and evolution of life on Earth. Carl Sagan approaches it with reverent awe, one of the Universe's great mysteries. Bill Bryson, on the other hand, took an outsider's view, since he is not really "in" on the whole paleontology thing. And Terry Pratchett and his buddies told the tale through the eyes of the Wizards...
  • Kristen
    Great book but as much as I enjoyed it I'd recommend one of his more recent books instead. Fortey is one of those rare science writers that combines a gift for explanation with the rare feat of being a great writer and often invokes a Saganesque beauty of science. His description of tetrapods wandering across Pangaea as 'perfectly pandemic perambulation' and his constant inclusion of numberless quotes of fine literature and poetry sucks the reade...
  • Max
    Fortey, an exceptionally engaging science writer, takes us on a tour through four billion years of natural history. His review is neither focused nor comprehensive but more of a wide ranging travelogue touching on each period in evolutionary history and the author’s explorations. The high points are his evocative descriptions of landforms, flora and fauna both present and past. We traverse the terrain with him on his fossil collecting expeditio...
  • Wanda
    I love the combination of autobiography and science in this book. I love Richard Fortey's writing style and I appreciate his sense of humour. Because of this book, I still have a strong desire to see Spitzbergen! I have always loved paleontology and use this book as a basis for the teaching that I have done on the subject.I have found it a very useful starting point for further research on the fossils which catch my attention. It is starting to s...
  • Darrin
    This is my second book by Richard Fortey, retired paleontologist and science writer. I complained in the past about Fortey's flowery writing style but once I settle into his books, I find myself enjoying it so I am not going to take any stars away. For a science writer, he puts a lot of effort into his use of english to write what I find to be very engrossing science books about one of my favorite subjects, paleontology.I liked that the book focu...
  • Nikki
    This isn't my favourite of Fortey's books, possibly because I've read similar types of books by other writers before, so he isn't bringing me a new subject I don't expect to like in the same way as he was in his books about geology, or a key passion of his as in his book about trilobites (though trilobites have their place here, too, as you'd expect with Fortey). Still, I enjoy the way he writes and the way he draws together his themes, and this ...
  • Eric
    My brother realizes I am a paleontology geek, so I was hooked to "Life" the moment I picked it up! Like Fortey, I revel in the minutiae of life's march through the ages, from the Pre Cambian, Ediacarian fauna Spriggina, a possible precursor to trilobites, to the effects of bolides, which will really ruin your day.
  • Jade
    With Life: An Unauthorized Biography, British palaeontologist Richard Fortey attempts to pen down four billion years of life and evolution on earth for his readers in only 400 pages total. An ambitious aim, to be sure, and one that Fortey manages to live up to, though perhaps not in ways everybody might’ve expected (and there’s no doubt that he’s had to sacrifice a large amount of detail in order to fit four billion years into 400 pages).F...
  • Carlos
    An absolutely fantastic book that I would recommend to everyone, everywhere, from late high school on. Fortey turns entire epochs into captivating stories that make me immediately want more. His exploration of the Ordovician and Carboniferous were particularly captivating. Being a 1998 book, there were a few things that seemed dated, but none of those small issues took away from the sweeping magnitude of the overall story. Should particularly be ...
  • Jordan Venn
    It sprawls a little but it's a great history of life and had some really beautiful and thoughtful moments. One of my favourite all-time books.
  • Deborah Cordes
    Beautifully written, informative, and evocative. I've never read Fortey before, and I will add his newer works to my "to do" list.
  • Susan Hanberry
    Very well-written. Very literate writer. I didn't learn much new about the topic, but the writing is so beautiful it was a lovely review.
  • John
    Richard Fortey has almost done the impossible, describing in vivid, elegant prose, the history of life on Earth in a mere 322 pages. Yet I fear he gives too cursory a treatment; one which have benefited immensely from including additional drawings, diagrams, and perhaps, photographs, offering readers more visual insights on Planet Earth's rich biological history. Among his finest achievements are his excellent descriptions of cladistics as an imp...
  • Adam
    After Fortey's Earth: An Intimate History nearly turned me into a geologist, I had pretty high expectations of 'Life.' In some respects, these were met. Fortey's prose is very nice, his metaphors creative, and his references erudite. Yet this book was fundamentally lacking most of the things I was looking for it - expectations I had no right to expect it to fulfill, really. I was disappointed first of all that Fortey really doesn't cite sources. ...
  • Sohail
    Many years ago, when I was back in the university, there were certain professors who were the undisputed masters of storytelling. They'd tell you about the meal they had the night before. They'd talk - non-stop- about their awesomeness, and they'd always find an excuse to tell you about their personal lives. The interesting thing is that they were 'supposed' to lecture on certain subjects, and if you were patient enough, you'd find out that this ...
  • James
    An incredibly journey starting with a cosmological timeline and the formation of the planets, moving into a geological timeline covering the earliest days of planet Earth and several hundred million years of 'planetary evolution'. Starting when Earth begins to take shape from base materials in the solar system orbiting the sun, moving forward to the first single cell lifeforms appearing in the fossil records, how the early atmosphere was formed b...
  • Stewartwalker
    A major disappointment. Some of the worst writing I have seen. A couple of examples:"You do no have to be a fanatical reductionist to understand that the soul of life is carbonaceous and the soul of rock siliceous.""You might say that our atmosphere, and the possibility of life itself, was the consequence of a vast, terrestrial flatulence risen from the bowels of the Earth."In addition to the style, the author treats scientific research as specul...
  • Lowed
    Am I aspiring to become a scientist? Or a Biologist- for that matter? I think not! I have NOT always been a fan of the quantitative part of Science. But to say that I did not learn anything new from this book will be a big lie. It was not so much as what I have learned new but more of how this part of history is being approached by the author. It's refreshing, interesting and totally enlightening! And I even got the folio edition of this book whi...
  • Martha
    Engaging, fascinating, beautifully written. So full of information that I'll need to read it again (or again and again) to better remember many of the stages and epochs of life's evolution. Would highly recommend.
  • Hadrian
    Encyclopedic overview of a truly overwhelming topic. The author is clearly passionate about his topic, and communicates it wonderfully.
  • Steve
    Low 4. Fortey has provided an accessible and highly informative account of evolution. The book follows a line of development which mirrors ‘stratigraphy’ – the study of sedimentary rocks and the fossil faunas they contain, thus dating the emergence of all life-forms - in following a linear trajectory through history of life on Earth. What such analysis reveals is that there have been clear moments in the history of the Earth in which a cata...
  • nick
    To me this was an experiment. I am not used to reading books on paleontology but as a child I had a sidenote interest in animals both living and extinct that I have nourished from time to time with the odd documentary and article. This however is the first book I have read on the subject and it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it is well written and with a clear objective to get as many people as possible exited about trilobites (and ...
  • Sebastian
    I really wanted to like this book more than I did. Turns out, I know most of what it tells us – besides the obvious point that it is a familiar story to anyone with a decent general education in biology (at least the outline is). I have read this story, better written, in a number of other works. Fortey even quips about “the common perception of geological history” at the start of Chapter 9, but then more or less goes along with it for the ...
  • Steve
    This is my second book by Fortey and I enjoyed it and learned a lot despite it being 20 years old. In those 2 decades many new fossils have been discovered and molecular biology has made huge strides in our understanding of the genetic relationships between living organisms.Fortey does a wonderful job summarizing the earliest fossils of simple life forms and where the rocks that bare them are found. Throughout the book he relates the fossils with...
  • Mark Walker
    Really illuminating whizz through "Life: The Early Years". Fortey is such an entertaining writer able to mix in some personal observations and anecdotes without intruding on the flow of the narrative. He's definitely stronger on the earlier rather than the later -- you get the sense that by the time the dinosaurs come along he's lost a little of his enthusiasm (he is the Trilobite expert after all) -- and it's certainly a little outdated already,...
  • Rob
    This book would make a wonderful draft, but I can’t avoid the conclusion the author has been let down by his editor. The book gives a fairly clear and informative description of the evolution of life for the non-scientist reader. However it gives up too soon when it comes to balancing scientific accuracy with readability. I didn’t expect to find more scientific accuracy in Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything than in this book. I did...
  • Elentarri
    Professor Fortey takes the reader on a chronological tour of the the biological history of earth. However, his story is not a boring slog through the strata, but an eclectic stroll among fascinating organisms. Fortey includes many asides in his narrative, including important aspects of geology, portraits of eccentric paleontologists and personal anecdotes about fossil hunting is unusual locations. This book manages to summarise paleontological co...
  • Nicole Weber
    Statements like "he had great fun cocking a snook at the names of plants..." made this book frustrating to read. How is this author writing in 2011? It really dragged on in places. I felt like I was begging him to finally get around to explaining theories of 1st life in chapter 1. It had plenty of interesting information though.
  • Regina McLinden
    One of the most beautiful nonfiction books I’ve ever read
  • David Mills
    Favorite Quote = “Life will probably cope.”