Life on Earth

by David Attenborough

Other authorsColor Photographs (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1980

Call number

575 ATT



Little Brown & Co (1980), Edition: First Edition


A new, beautifully illustrated edition of David Attenborough's groundbreaking Life on Earth. David Attenborough's unforgettable meeting with gorillas became an iconic moment for millions of television viewers. Life on Earth, the series and accompanying book, fundamentally changed the way we view and interact with the natural world setting a new benchmark of quality, influencing a generation of nature lovers. Told through an examination of animal and plant life, this is an astonishing celebration of the evolution of life on earth, with a cast of characters drawn from the whole range of organisms that have ever lived on this planet. Attenborough's perceptive, dynamic approach to the evolution of millions of species of living organisms takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of discovery from the very first spark of life to the blue and green wonder we know today. Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the book's first publication, David Attenborough has revisited Life on Earth, completely updating and adding to the original text, taking account of modern scientific discoveries from around the globe. He has chosen beautiful, completely new photography, helping to illustrate the book in a much greater way than was possible forty years ago. This special anniversary edition provides a fitting tribute to an enduring wildlife classic, destined to enthral the generation who saw it when first published and bring it alive for a whole new generation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DrJane
full of great photographs
LibraryThing member themulhern
Attenborough writes really well as he discusses the history of evolution. Truly, a classic.
LibraryThing member fyrefly98
LIFE ON EARTH by David Attenborough (and read by him as well) was a good pick to listen to during finals week - not so engaging that I keep listening to find out what happens next at the expense of getting my grading done, but engaging enough to take my mind off my grading and other
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responsibilities when I needed a break, or was cooking, etc. I will say that I found it more relaxing to listen to in the chapters when he's describing things that I'm somewhat familiar with, but don't know well (i.e. the chapters on plants and invertebrates.) The chapters on vertebrates, however, were somewhat less relaxing to listen to, as I spent the whole time listening very carefully for any mistakes.

One thing Attenborough does very well in this book is connect the evolution of traits together, helping explain why certain traits evolved when they did. For example, as vascular plants evolved, there was a selective advantage for getting taller in order to better compete for light. But then, once plants started getting taller, there was a selective advantage to herbivores that could reach the tasty parts of the plants, which led to the evolution of flying insects, which in turn contributed to the evolution of the flowering plants to use those insects as targeted pollinators vs. relying on wind pollination. Some of it is almost certainly adaptationism / just-so-story-ism, but he does an excellent job of connecting various pieces together into a coherent whole.

He does get some stuff wrong -- some factual details that may have just gotten missed in the 40th anniversary update of the text, but also other places where the way he frames evolutionary history is... antiquated at best. The most egregious (in my opinion) is that he repeatedly refers to various living organisms as "primitive", and refers to non-mammalian synapsids (everything that is more closely related to mammals than any other living organism, but is not technically a true mammal -- includes things like Dimetrodon, the sail-back "dinosaur") as "reptiles". Which: No. Absolutely not. Synapsids split from the branch that would become reptiles over 200 million years ago. (He also calls early tetrapods like Tiktaalik "amphibians", which: they were almost certainly amphibious, but they were absolutely not the same as modern amphibians.)

But overall: Enjoyable to listen to Attenborough's narration even without the amazing visuals of a nature documentary.
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