Not just another history of pre-history this book is a personal exploration of the geological past, a celebration of the complexity of the world, and a narrative to guide the reader through the labyrinth of geological facts towards some simple truths, especially the crucial role played by chance in our destinies. Underlying Fortey's narrative is the belief that what we are now, the design of the world, the richness of the fauna and flora, is a result of the hidden history of the planet – the extinction of great classes of animals or the elevation and wasting of mountain chains as vast as the Rockies. As he shows, everything has a history, and whether or not the guiding hand is chance the result is richness – of species, of habitat, of landscape.
Richard Fortey is a senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum. He is the author of several books including The Hidden Landscape, which won the Natural World Book of the Year in 1993.
"This is not a book for people who like science books. It is a book for people who love books, and life! [Fortey] has written a wonderful book."
– Tim Radford, Guardian
"Read this book because it is, indeed, the best natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth."
– John Gribbin, Sunday Times
"Fortey writes beautifully and this is a wonderful biography of rock and life! He has restored palaeontology to its rightful place in the pantheon."
–Lewis Wolpert, Observer
"Richard Fortey is a scientist! but his big, rich history of four billion years of evolution is written with an artist's zest for life and language! In his last chapter Fortey quotes Goethe: "Zum Erstaunen bin ich da – I am here to wonder." Richard Fortey has the rare gift of making his readers share that wonder. Anyone who wants to understand how we came to be here on earth, 4,000,000,000 years after life began, should read this sparkling book."
– Maggie Gere, Daily Telegraph
"The tale of life needs constant retelling. Thank some happy accident of history that we have Fortey to tell it to us anew."
– Ted Nield, New Scientist