Progress Update: LIFE by Richard Fortey

Life: An Unauthorised Biography: A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth - Richard Fortey






Chapter 9 covers the Age of the Dinosaurs, Flying Reptiles and Marine Reptiles.  The author very nicely summarizes the history of dinosaur discovery, interpretation, revisions, revolutions, reconstruction, mechanics, their hot or cold-bloodedness and supposed life habits.  The evolution of feathers and the relationship between dinosaurs and birds is also covered, as well as the origin of chalk and the co-evolution of insects and flowering plants.  An interesting aspect of the marine reptiles is that they descended form terrestrial ancestors, breathed air and at least the ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young.


"The dinosaurs did not survive beyond the Cretaceous - save those that were transmuted into birds.  Their end was apparently sudden.  Nor did they die alone."  In Chapter 10, Fortey investigates the mystery of the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago.  The author does a decent job outlining the most prominent hypotheses, as well as their corresponding evidence or lack thereof.


Chapter 11 is titled "Suckling Success" and covers the rise and evolution of mammals.  The author takes us on a brief, but interesting, tour of all the strange mammals (carnivorous kangaroos and walking whales!) that evolved on the various continents.  The evolution of mammals continues onto the evolution of humans and other hominid species in Chapter 12.  Since the book was published in 1998, the chapter on human evolution is somewhat outdated, especially in light of recent fossil and genetic discoveries.


Chapter 13 concludes the book with an examination of chance and the effects of genetic mutations on life's creatures.  Fortey compares life to Maurice Ravel's Bolero, "which starts slowly, uneventfully, a long series of slight variations upon a recurrent theme, gradually gathering pace, shifting from one instrument to another, while an underlying pulse goes on and on.  From time to time there are shifts in key, then more instruments join in, and the pace and excitement build, until, at the end, it is a scurrying, swirling mass of interwoven instrumental activity."




- When Life Nearly Died:  The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time by Michael J. Benton


- Feathers:  The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson


- T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez


- Spirals in time:  The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales


- Domesticated:  Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. Francis


- Restless Creatures:  The Story of Life in Ten Movements by Matt Wilkinson


- Lost Civilisations Of The Stone Age by Richard Rudgley

-  The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes: How a Stone-Age Comet Changed the Course of World Culture by Richard Firestone

-  Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth by Chris Stringer

-  The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion by Wendy William


- Missing Links: In Search of Human Origins by John Reader