• A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth

  • 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters
  • By: Henry Gee
  • Narrated by: Henry Gee
  • Length: 7 hrs and 40 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (55 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of E.H. Gombrich, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Weisman - an entertaining and uniquely informed narration of life's life story.

In the beginning, Earth was an inhospitably alien place - in constant chemical flux, covered with churning seas, crafting its landscape through incessant volcanic eruptions. Amid all this tumult and disaster, life began. The earliest living things were no more than membranes stretched across microscopic gaps in rocks, where boiling hot jets of mineral-rich water gushed out from cracks in the ocean floor.

Although these membranes were leaky, the environment within them became different from the raging maelstrom beyond. These havens of order slowly refined the generation of energy, using it to form membrane-bound bubbles that were mostly-faithful copies of their parents - a foamy lather of soap-bubble cells standing as tiny clenched fists, defiant against the lifeless world. Life on this planet has continued in much the same way for millennia, adapting to literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter and thriving, from these humblest beginnings to the thrilling and unlikely story of ourselves.

In A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, Henry Gee zips through the last 4.6 billion years with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigor. Drawing on the very latest scientific understanding and writing in a clear, accessible style, he tells an enlightening tale of survival and persistence that illuminates the delicate balance within which life has always existed.

A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin's Press

©2021 Henry Gee (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers. As a senior editor at Nature, Henry Gee has had a front-row seat to the most important fossil discoveries of the last quarter century. His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us."
(Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and New York Times/Sunday Times best-selling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs)

What listeners say about A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth

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incredibly annoying

The story is interesting, but I just could not get past the intensely annoying musical interludes, made on 80s synthesizers. It was so annoying that I gave up on the audiobook.

6 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully evocative

I’ve been taught dry facts concerning the evolution of life on Earth my whole life. Henry Gee has now opened my eyes to its vigorous, colorful and fascinating history, which I had never grasped or envisioned before. It’s a dramatic and compelling tale; a real page-turner. You can’t wait to find out what happens next! I listened to an interview with the author on the Inquiring Minds podcast, and knew I had to listen to the book. The author’s voice, both narratively and audibly, is entertaining, poetic, and human as he sympathetically describes and vividly paints pictures and action clips of the millennium of development of what we currently experience as life on this world. As a fellow Tolkien fan, I recognize and enjoy the voice of a knowledgeable narrator who is fond of his “characters” and portrays them in an affectionate and understandable fashion. The brief musical interludes and sound effects were not annoying at all but enhancing to the story. It’s a perspective on the history of earth that, for me, was unprecedented and profound, and also, so entertaining!

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Not a light read, but worth multiple reviews

I heard Henry Gee on another podcast, which led me to this book. Thanks, Mr. Gee (who reads his own work) for this trip through 4.6B years in 12 pithy chapters!

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Required Reading

This book should be required reading for any person (high school and up) interested in our place in the natural world and how we got here. It does an excellent job of bringing together evidence-based findings from earth sciences, natural history, and genetics to create a credible account of the fits and starts of life on this planet over the billions of years since its formation. A common theme is how life has continued to evolve and reestablish itself after catastrophic depopulations and extinctions. It ends with a probing exploration of our species' possible futures in light of the unrelenting forces of climate change, geologic upheavals and overpopulation.

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Background music is very annoying

very interesting content but:
1. background music is annoying
2. a lot of time is spent describing specific creatures ( illustrations would be more powerful and maybe this topic doesn't lend itself to be a good audiobook)