• Otherlands

  • A Journey Through Earth's Extinct Worlds
  • By: Thomas Halliday
  • Narrated by: Adetomiwa Edun
  • Length: 11 hrs and 6 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (93 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“Immersive . . . bracingly ambitious . . . rewinds the story of life on Earth—from the mammoth steppe of the last Ice Age to the dawn of multicellular creatures over 500 million years ago.”—The Economist

“One of those rare books that’s both deeply informative and daringly imaginative.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky 

The past is past, but it does leave clues, and Thomas Halliday has used cutting-edge science to decipher them more completely than ever before. In Otherlands, Halliday makes 16 fossil sites burst to life in this audiobook.

This book is an exploration of the Earth as it used to exist, the changes that have occurred during its history, and the ways that life has found to adapt—or not. It takes us from the savannahs of Pliocene Kenya to watch a python chase a group of australopithecines into an acacia tree; to a cliff overlooking the salt pans of the empty basin of what will be the Mediterranean Sea just as water from the Miocene Atlantic Ocean spills in; into the tropical forests of Eocene Antarctica; and under the shallow pools of Ediacaran Australia, where we glimpse the first microbial life. 

Otherlands also offers us a vast perspective on the current state of the planet. The thought that something as vast as the Great Barrier Reef, for example, with all its vibrant diversity, might one day soon be gone sounds improbable. But the fossil record shows us that this sort of wholesale change is not only possible but has repeatedly happened throughout Earth history.

Even as he operates on this broad canvas, Halliday brings us up close to the intricate relationships that defined these lost worlds. In novelistic prose that belies the breadth of his research, he illustrates how ecosystems are formed; how species die out and are replaced; and how species migrate, adapt, and collaborate. It is a breathtaking achievement: a surprisingly emotional narrative about the persistence of life, the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, and the scope of deep time, all of which have something to tell us about our current crisis.

©2022 Thomas Halliday (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Written with gusto and bravado . . . In a genre that can tend toward cookie-cutter sameness . . . Halliday has honed a unique voice. . . . Otherlands is a verbal feast. You feel like you are there on the Mammoth Steppe, some 20,000 years ago, as frigid winds blow off the glacial front.”—Steve Brusatte, Scientific American

“Halliday’s brilliantly imaginative reconstructions, his deft marshalling of complex science, offers a thrilling experience of deep-time nature for pop-science buffs.”Library Journal (starred review) 

“Halliday takes an energizing spin through Earth’s past in his magnificent debut. . . . This show-stopping work deserves wide readership.”Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

What listeners say about Otherlands

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  • Overall
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Great book brilliantly read

My overall take of this book is simply that it's fantastic. I love listening to books about various periods of time in the geologic past but I've never really been able to get much of a feeling sense of how life on this planet flowed from one period to another. I'd hear about certain developments in the Triassic, for example. Then certain other developments in the Oligocene, and some thing else in the Permian, etc, etc. But I was never really able to build a big picture in my mind of why what happened when it did and how that influenced what followed and was influenced by what came before. Until listening to Otherworlds, that is. By beginning with the present and moving step-by-step into the past, the author (Thomas Halladay) is able to move the listener from what is basically familiar to that which is a bit less familiar and finally to that which is almost completely unfamiliar by creating a very real picture of each period. He does this by focusing on one period in each chapter. That is, by moving from the Pleistocene at the start of the book to the Pliocene in the next chapter and on back through time until reaching the Ediacaran.
This is a wonderfully written book and it was read with professionalism and clarity by Adetomiwa Edun. For me, this is an A++ book.

5 people found this helpful

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3-stars "Pretty Good"

Found it hard going as an audiobook. Would be better read. The science terminology at times is a bit dense though not insurmountable. The descriptive language can be creative, it requires slowing down and letting sink in, he doesn't repeat for emphasis so you either absorb the sentence right away or it's lost. For these two reasons, the unstoppable grind of the audiobook format makes it harder going. The structure is pretty simple and each of the 16 chapters (point in time) is a standalone work. If your dedicated, 2 or 3 listens will reward. One problem is there is no thesis, it's like: here is a lake 10 million years ago and there are insects buzzing and fish jumping and strange trees. Next. Reminds me of general-topic books about "the ocean" or "salt", anything goes and ends up as an encyclopedic dump of predigested learning. 3 stars, "Pretty good".

2 people found this helpful

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Insightful

While much of this book requires absolute attention, that effort is well worth it. The author leads us not only on the fantastical Environmental history of earth, but also on the optimistic view of humankind’s effort to defeat harmful climate change. I sincerely hope this work makes it into college courses.

1 person found this helpful

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Very Approchable Natural Science Overview

I was a little uncertain if I could "handle" this type of book as I usually listen to autobiography or fiction - this is certainly different material as you generally feel like you could jump in at any chapter and enjoy it just as much as listening beginning to end.
The language is quite scientific but the material is not dry - very colorful and richly descriptive it challenges the mind but does not lose you. Narrator being very good and the book's quality makes an impact. There is a building crescendo in the last third.
I'd highly recommend this to people who are interested in natural science and the history of our world - very educational. It does have advanced terminology but the great writing keeps you engaged.
I feel like getting the print copy and looking for images to go with the text but I'm really glad I heard the audiobook.

1 person found this helpful

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Extinction freaks read up!

This is a unique book in that travels back in time from current to past...well organized and full of fun facts, I enjoyed the travel past through long gone worlds that impact us today... well written and very useful in comprehension of past world environments... loved this book!!

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Light at the end of a darkening tunnel

The book required a good deal of concentration and review (thank goodness for the back function). But even without gaining a through understanding of the biology and geology, it’s clear presentation enabled me to follow the thread of the story and appreciate the tenacity and resilience of life. And, icing on the cake, the final chapter I thought a masterpiece of summation; it provided a strong argument for action, and encouragement to see that action need not be futile.

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Great writing. A wonderful listen.

This is a great work. Great writing and storytelling. The selection of a narrator with a Indian accent is questionable. The voice of narrator doesn't seem to fit the story and is often a distraction.

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Stunning descriptions of life and landscapes long gone

It’s tough to find hopeful words in much of the literature covering climate change these days, but this beautifully written and read audiobook sprinkles hope throughout many long-dead worlds as if seeding the foundation that would eventually allow for the evolution of humankind. And even though we’re staring out over the precipice of our own specie’s demise, there is a thread that runs throughout all of the iterations of earth’s worlds that is at the very least positive for the continuation of life if not full of solutions for changing our current trajectory.

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Great Read

I really liked the snapshots of life played out by the author, really puts you there back in time.

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Good but dense

Great premise for a book on ancient ecosystems, and well written. Pretty dense for an audiobook, however.