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Good Reads  Earth System Sciences  Geosphere  Geophysics & Geochemistry

Elemental How Five Elements Changed Earth’s Past And Will Shape Our Future

Popular Science New
By: Stephen Porder(Author)
240 pages, 15 b/w illustrations
Elemental
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  • Elemental ISBN: 9780691177298 Hardback Nov 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
    £21.99
    #260410
Price: £21.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

It is rare for life to change Earth, yet three organisms have profoundly transformed our planet over the long course of its history. Elemental reveals how microbes, plants, and people used the fundamental building blocks of life to alter the climate, and with it, the trajectory of life on Earth in the past, present, and future.

Taking readers from the deep geologic past to our current era of human dominance, Stephen Porder focuses on five of life's essential elements – hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. He describes how single-celled cyanobacteria and plants harnessed them to wildly proliferate across the oceans and the land, only to eventually precipitate environmental catastrophes. He then brings us to the present and shows how these elements underpin the success of human civilization, and how their mismanagement threatens similarly catastrophic unintended consequences. But, Porder argues, if we can learn from our world-changing predecessors, we can construct a more sustainable future.

Blending conversational storytelling with the latest science, Porder takes us deep into the Amazon, across fresh lava flows in Hawaii, and to the cornfields of the American Midwest to illuminate a potential path to sustainability, informed by the constraints imposed by life's essential elements and the four-billion-year history of life on Earth.

Customer Reviews

Biography

Stephen Porder is associate provost for sustainability and professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Brown University. He is also a fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Natural History, and other leading publications. He is co-founder of Possibly, which airs on The Public’s Radio and provides practical advice on sustainability to a general audience.

Popular Science New
By: Stephen Porder(Author)
240 pages, 15 b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"Entertaining and enlightening, Elemental reframes the history of life and today's environmental challenges through the basic building blocks of life's formula – a mind-expanding treat."
– David R. Montgomery, coauthor of The Hidden Half of Nature and What Your Food Ate

"What makes life on Earth possible? A simple question, but as Stephen Porder shows us, the answer is fascinating, complex, and absolutely vital. Told through the relationship of microbes, plants, and humans to the elements that make us – from phosphorus to carbon – this book introduces the chemical innovations that have shaped our planet. Part engaging tour through science at the intersection of biology and chemistry, part deep history that gives us tools for the future, Elemental gives us a lively look at the stuff of life itself."
– Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

"In Elemental, Stephen Porder explains why humans are both part and parcel of an Earth system that has endured for billions of years and a rare departure from the norm. His engaging, accessible, and ultimately optimistic account illuminates the remarkable innovations of modern humans, their consequences for the Earth as a whole, and what we can do to safeguard our environmental future."
– Andrew H. Knoll, author of A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

"Porder's accessible prose guides us through our planet's intricate, elegant cycling of five life-sustaining elements. Through the lens of geologic time, humans' capacity to alter these cycles is not unique, but our ability to shape the future is in our hands. Porder provides a critical, can-do perspective amidst the angst about the current climate emergency."
– Ruth DeFries, author of What Would Nature Do? A Guide for Our Uncertain Times

"Stephen Porder has written an accessible primer on the deep origins of Earth's carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous cycles – the remarkable but under-appreciated system of checks and balances that makes the world habitable. Elemental is essential reading for anyone who eats, breathes, or requires water, and a civics lesson on how we can all become better biogeochemical citizens."
– Marcia Bjornerud, author of Timefulness: How Thinking like a Geologist Can Help Save the World

"Elemental is both a history of life and a glimpse into the future. Stephen Porder offers a fascinating new perspective on why the planet's in trouble and what we can do about it."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

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