A Short History of Planet Earth – Mountains, Mammals, Fire & Ice

To compress Earth’s history into a single, lucidly written volume is a major achievement.

— Starred review, Publisher’s Weekly

A Short History of Planet Earth - Doug MacdougallThis was my first book. Until I wrote it, most of my writing had been in the form of research papers in my own specialty, geochemistry. But I had always been interested in communicating the excitement of the earth sciences to a broader audience, and this book provided an opportunity. It grew out of an exchange I had with two undergraduate students, both physics majors, who took an introductory earth science course I was teaching. After a lecture about the earth’s magnetic field and how it is generated in the metallic core of our planet, they expressed amazement that a large portion of the earth’s interior is essentially metallic iron, with a few other things mixed in. If even physics majors know so little about the earth, I thought, what about others, especially non scientists? Many excellent textbooks existed, but I could find little in the way of books about earth science for general readers. A Short History of Planet Earth was the result; I hope it has in some small way provided readers with a better understanding of our planet and its long and fascinating history.

The book proceeds more or less chronologically, from the birth of the earth four and a half billion years ago to the present. Of course in one short book much had to be left out, but I’ve tried to highlight most of the important events: how our planet was assembled, formation of the first continents, the appearance of living creatures, how the atmosphere evolved to its present state, and much more. I also take short digressions to explore such topics as the interior structure of the earth, how plate tectonics works, and the importance of chronology for ordering geological events.

A Short History of Planet Earth has been translated into multiple languages, and I know form the many messages I’ve received that it has both been enjoyed by casual readers and used in high school and university earth science instruction. Although written some time ago – it was first published in 1996 – much of its content, like the history of the earth itself, is timeless.

Chapter titles for A Short History of Planet Earth

  1. Reading the Rocks
  2. Early Days
  3. Wonderful Life
  4. The Proterozoic Eon
  5. Dance of the Plates
  6. Nature’s Timepieces
  7. The Cambrian Explosion
  8. Fish, Forests, and Gondwanaland: The Paleozoic Era
  9. From Pangea to (Almost) the Modern World: The Mesozoic Era
  10. Global Catastrophes
  11. Mammals, Mountains, and Ice: The Cenozoic Era
  12. The Great Ice Age
  13. What Comes Next? Geology and Man

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