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Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

By: J William Schopf

367 pages, 8 col plates, b/w photos, illus, figs

Princeton University Press

Paperback | May 2001 | #118314 | ISBN: 0691088640
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £26.95 $33/€30 approx
Hardback | Dec 1999 | #93487 | ISBN: 0691002304
Out of Print Details

About this book

Until recently, the task of reconstructing the history of life on Earth was frustrated by the lack of fossils older than 550 million years. In 1993, the author identified fossilized microorganisms 3.5 billion years old. Here he describes the exciting progress of modern palaeobiology.

A book that bears out [Schopf's] assertion that science is enormously good fun! Scientific American What were your very earliest ancestors like? I do not mean your great-great-great-grandparents. I mean the earliest life on the planet. In principle we all have a unique lineage of ancestors that runs all the way back to the origin of life. What was life like then--and is the supposed life on Mars our cousin? These are the problems palaeontologist Bill Schopf faces... It has been a while since I read a book with so much good sense, put over in so amicable a style. If I ever were to discover my great-great-great grandparents I hope they turn out to be as wise as Schopf. -- Laurence Hurst New Scientist In the well-written Cradle of Life, Schopf tells his own story of how Earth's early microbial biosphere was discovered. -- Stefan Bengtson Nature A very clear introduction to the first living things... Schopf ... adopts an unusually informal first-person style for this rangy exploration of how Pre-cambrian fossils came to light and what they've taught us. Publishers Weekly An exceptional description of the field that is accessible to any educated lay reader. Library Journal Schopf combines his often entertaining personal story with an introduction to the discipline of paleobiology, with asides on the chemical makeup of life... A good introduction to the history of a science on the cutting edge. Kirkus Reviews A good introduction to a quickly evolving topic... Schopf also offers a number of insider nuggets. Choice Schopf's subject, the origin of life, is fascinating, and as significant as any question that has ever been asked in academia. His explanation of the science behind his conclusions is clear, his approach is well organized... This is a marvelous, magnificent, scientific adventure. -- John R. Alden Cleveland Plain Dealer Cradle of Life provides the best current popular overview of the first 85% of life's history on Earth, and that is history worth reading. -- Robert M. Hazen Physics Today An extraordinary account of a monumentally complex subject presented in simple and understandable terms, and in an eminently readable style. -- Steve Voynick Rock and Gem


Prologue xi Acknowledgments xv Chapter 1. Darwin's Dilemma 3 Breakthrough to the Ancient Past 3 The Nature of Geologic Time 4 The "Schoolbook" History of Life 10 Darwin's Dilemma 13 Denouement 34 Chapter 2. Birth of a New Field of Science 35 The Floodgates Crack Open 35 Famous Figures Enter the Field 48 A Youngster Joins the Fray 52 The Floodgates Open Full Bore 61 Chapter 3. The Oldest Fossils and What They Mean 71 "Trust but Verify" 71 "Real World Problems" in the Search for Early Life 71 Questions and Answers about the Oldest Records of Life 75 The Oldest Fossils Known 99 Chapter 4. How Did Life Begin? 101 The Basics of Biology 101 The Universals of Life 107 How Did Monomers of CHON Arise on the Lifeless Earth? 108 Organic Monomers beyond the Earth 131 How Did Monomers Become Linked into Polymers? 134 From Monomers to Polymers toward Life 138 Chapter 5. Metabolic Memories of the Earliest Cells 139 How Did Cells Begin? 139 The Essentials of Life 143 Life's Earliest Way to Make a Living 150 Air and Light: A New Source of Glucose 155 Why Do We Breathe Oxygen? 158 The Four-Stage Development of Modern Metabolism 161 Chapter 6. So Far, So Fast, So Early? 164 How Old Is the Modern Ecosystem? 164 When Did Life Begin? 166 How Did Evolution Proceed So Far, So Fast, So Early? 168 Paleobiology: Fossils, Geology, and Geochemistry 169 Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Metabolisms 173 Paleobiology: Direct Evidence of Early Evolution 181 Chapter 7. Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos 183 Nature Is Not Compartmentalized 183 Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos 184 Stromatolites of the Geologic Past 195 What Are Stromatolites Good For? 201 Chapter 8. Cyanobacteria: Earth's Oldest "Living Fossils" 209 Modes and Tempos in the Evolution of Life 209 The Status Quo Evolution of Cyanobacteria 215 Evolution's Most Successful Ecologic Generalists 231 Chapter 9. Cells Like Ours Arise at Last 236 Life Like Us Has Cells Like Ours 236 DNA and Development: Keys to Eukaryotic Success 237 How Old Are the Eukaryotes? 240 Eukaryotes Perfect the Art of Cloning 243 Sex: A New Lifestyle Brings Major Change 246 The Wax and Wane of Precambrian Acritarchs 252 Prelude to the Phanerozoic 259 Chapter 10. Solution to Darwin's Dilemma 264 The Adventure of Science 264 Take-Home Lessons 269 Solution to Darwin's Dilemma 269 EPILOGUE EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS! EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE? 279 Chapter 11. Fossils, Foibles, and Frauds 281 The Goal Is to "Get It Right" 281 "Man, a Witness of the Deluge" 282 Beringer's Lying Stones 291 Theories on the Nature of Fossils 299 Unearthing a Rosetta Stone 303 Chapter 12. The Hunt for Life on Mars 304 Hints of Ancient Martian Life? 304 NASA Stages a Press Conference 306 Meteorites from Mars 310 Search for the Smoking Gun 313 Lessons from the Hunt 324 Glossary 327 Further Reading 349 Index of Geologic Units and Genera and Species 357 Subject Index 361

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J.William Schopf is Professor of Paleobiology and Director of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life at UCLA. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, President of the International Society for the Sutdy of the Origins of Life, editor of eight volumes, and discoverer of the oldest records of life on Earth

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