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Life on Earth: A Natural History (Life Trilogy #1)

4.37  ·  Rating Details ·  1,559 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
In this unique book, David Attenborough has undertaken nothing less than a history of nature, from the emergence of tiny one-celled organisms in the primeval slime more than 3,000 million years ago to apelike but upright man, equally well adapted to life in the rain forest of New Guinea and the glass canyons of a modern metropolis. Told through an examination of animal and ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 12th 1979 by Collins & BBC
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Roy Lotz
Jan 01, 2015 Roy Lotz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature-writing
(Following my reviews of Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man, this review will concentrate on the documentary and not the book.)

Like so many people, I have been captivated by nature from a very young age. Trees in particular strike me as the paragons of beauty. What painting can compare with the visual beauty of a tree? The yellow flowers of spring, the bright green of summer, the fiery reds and oranges of fall, and the skeletal limbs of winter, twisting themselves
Alan Wightman
Nov 02, 2012 Alan Wightman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
If, like me, you consider television to be generally a superficial medium, then you might expect the book of a TV series to be similarly insubstantial. Yet so profound and informative was "Life on Earth", and perhaps the vastness of the title is a clue, that one reviewer saw fit to proclaim that it was "quite simply, the best introduction to natural history ever written".

It is the only introduction to natural history ever read by me, and so my frame of reference is extremely narrow. But, after
Oct 04, 2016 Liisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
David Attenborough is best known for all the fantastic nature documentaries hes been a part of, but hes also written dozens of books that Im so glad to have finally discovered. Life on Earth is a wonderful introduction to biology, it goes through our entire evolution in a coherent way. Yes, its quite simplified, but full of fascinating examples of all kinds of different life forms. The book is written in 1979, so the information is not very recent. But I dont think any of it is wrong, speci
Jul 12, 2009 Meltha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
My old college science text... written for people who are not wildly brilliant when it comes to science. While, as others mentioned, this may not be the most up-to-date text in some regards, which is certainly important with science, it's not at all confusing and is written so that a normal human being can get it.

ETA: I do remember seeing the TV series companion to this... and the running gag in our class was that Attenborough, wonderful man that he was, could never see a body of water without a
Indah Threez Lestari
135 - 2017
I found this in a used bookstore, and it is such a treasure! Although it is a bit outdated (written in 1979), there's still a lot of good information in here and gorgeous old photos, as well. Some new fun animals facts that I learned:

The biggest pangolins have a tongue that can extend 40 cm beyond its mouth.

Armadillos can hold their breath for 6 minutes.

Female kangaroos can carry three young at various stages of development.

A cassowaries call hardly sounds like a bird. It is a deep, booming r
Kate Savage
An old book, but if you're itching to hear David Attenborough's voice in your head while you read about sea cucumbers and ancient millipedes as long as cows, then this is your book.

I most relished the chapters on invertebrates and "primitive" organisms. Also, some surprising firsts: "courtship" was first practiced by ancient scorpions, and the penis was invented by the earliest reptiles (a water-tight egg, able to stay on land without drying out, required internal fertilization).

I'm not a biolog
Henry Houser
Nov 11, 2012 Henry Houser rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
This book was very informative. Like other reviews state, it isn't a defense for evolution, but a pageant of its results. Attenborough's purpose in writing this book was to inform people of life's great and awesome diversity. This purpose isn't stated directly, but it is quite easily assumed since it is nonfiction. However, as with most books, there is a hidden message, which I will discuss in the next paragraph.
The theme of the book isn't apparent, as it is nonfiction, so Attenborough cannot
Bob Nichols
Apr 13, 2010 Bob Nichols rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Attenborough traces life from its chemical precursors to humans. Throughout this very good book, he draws on past evolutionary developments to explain those that occur subsequently. In the flatworm, he says, is the beginning of a head. While Attenborough tends to the endless variations in evolution, these are variations on a theme. Each life form does what it takes to survive (including placing genes in the next generation). Each life form seeks the food that provides it energy. Each defends the ...more
Sep 08, 2015 Bria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bria by: Marianne
I've been losing interest in sex in my old age, but reading this book has really re-invigorated me.

"When the male meets the female in mating season, the two intertwine. The male reaches forward with his seventh leg, collects a bundle of sperm from his sex gland and then clambers alongside the female until it is alongside her sexual pouch and she is able to take it in."

For those of you who like romance and mystery more than just pure physical action, there's plenty here for you as well:

"A human o
Dec 04, 2011 Sam rated it it was amazing
This is a superb look into the history of life on Earth from the first most simple life forms to the complex and diverse life we have today. Attenborough takes the reader on a journey that is as amazing as it is complex and tells it in such a way that no reader would be left behind, confused or patronised and without over-exaggerating or under-playing the processes of evolution. And despite being over thirty years old this book is still as relevant today as it was when it was first written. The ...more
Apr 17, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
An exemplary history of life on Earth, conveyed in highly readable prose, from that most renowned of British National Treasures. Initially released in conjunction with the lauded Life on Earth television series (and made all the richer for having indulged and watched the series in preparation), this is nonetheless an intelligently structured attempt to articulate perhaps the most complex and certainly the most important processes to have occurred on this planet. The precise use of punctuation se ...more
Feb 27, 2016 Adam rated it it was amazing
Wow! what a book.

I read this as an accompaniment to the BBC series, and they both serve as a fantastic overview of the evolution of life on Earth. Inclusive and not at all precious, it presents major sections of the animal and plant kingdom as part of an understandable sequence that includes both time and the effects of geography, whilst acknowledging the complexities it necessarily had to omit.

And, after finishing the book/series with a whole section on mankind, he offers a marvellous closing
May 05, 2015 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable book. I sympathize with another reviewer who didn't want the book to end. There are so many amazing animals on this earth and I'm sure Attenborough had a hard time deciding what to include and what to leave out. Unfortunately it was written over 30 years ago and a lot of the science is out of date and photography has changed as well. I was pleased to learn that one of the animals mentioned in the book as probably extinct is actually still around. This book will make you want to do ...more
Feb 12, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Still my benchmark for nature writing. Even though it is a companion to a television series, the book stands on its own. The science may be somewhat dated, but the drive behind it is as fresh as when written. Attenborough pulls the reader through the evolution of living diversity - as opposed to evolution itself. He is not interested in defending evolution - that's a fait accompli to his mind. Rather, making the reader aware of the fabulous interactive complexity that has arisen over the entire ...more
Dec 06, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book and definitely worth the read. It took me forever to finish, and often times it would put me directly to sleep. At the same time, I might finish 3 pages, and learn something new and interesting on each page. This is the type of book that could be re-written in the King James style. Random chapters or paragaphs taken out of context, quoted and studied for hours.

I am also impressed by how much we knew in 1979, I would love to see how this topic has been updated. Ill have t
Mar 17, 2013 Manoj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I took forever to finish this book. Every time I started reading, I would fall asleep. That is not a reflection of the quality of this book. It is a well-written book with a fascinating view of --- as it promises --- life on earth.

I was stuck on the first chapter for a very long time before a friend suggested that I should read the book more randomly, rather than in order. After that, it was much easier going. One of the big pluses are the wonderful color pictures in this book. I imagine I will
This is an amazing book. It charts how life began on Earth, from random proteins floating in the primordial soup, right up to man. It is totally fascinating and I was amazed at how many animals are still around that resemble really primative lifeforms. The book is full of colour plates that are just breathtaking, and the whole is presented in an easy to read, easy to understand, friendly way. I can't wait to track down the other books in the series.
Aug 21, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Friendly introduction into the natural world. People who criticise this as not being 'adult enough' or 'truly scientific' are on the wrong path. This never intends to be that sort of book but aims to be more of an accessible work to innovate interest - and it achieves that to perfection.

Great read.
Jul 28, 2008 Manzoid rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thirteen chapters matching the thirteen programs of the BBC series on which it was based. Follows the evolution of life on earth, presenting fascinating observations about the likely functional reasons life unfolded as it has. Offers the grand sweep of life in an engaging and integrated presentation, with a very readable and even charming tone, and including more than 100 excellent color photos.
Maurice Frank
Dec 12, 2013 Maurice Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great concise summary of the layered advance of plant and animal life. Everyone loves the pictures, probably underappreciated is the picture of stromatolites, a shallow sea lifeform going back over 3 billion years. Gaps in it though: nothing on fungi, nothing on bacteria after we reach bigger life's emergence, nothing on how and why excretion evolved.
Steve Mitchell
Jul 25, 2011 Steve Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is no substitute for the fantastic BBC television series of the same name but is so much more than just a useful accompaniment to the programmes. Well worth a read even if you have missed the television series, written in a way that is neither patronising nor too technical for a layman to follow.
Apr 15, 2008 Colin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
What makes this book great is its ability to take the reader through the evolution of life on Earth. This book is old enough that I am sure there is knowledge gained since that is not covered in here but it is a great review nontheless. I highly recommend it for anyone who is curious about evolution, paleontology or the like.
Tesla Smedley
Oct 07, 2011 Tesla Smedley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the type of book that had me turning to the person next to me every other page to tell them about something amazing I had just read. I leave this book thinking I chose the wrong course of study and that I should have been a zoologist or evolutionary biologist, all the different forms life has taken on are simply amazing.
Jan 06, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very interesting and enlightening read that has opened my eyes to natural history. Albeit for parts I had to sit with Google open to search for the meanings of a few words I hadn't previously encountered, or for images or videos of the subjects of the book, but that just added to the experience!
Jan 29, 2008 Stef rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One can almost hear the british drawl of Mr. Attenborough as he describes evolution and natural history one kingdom at a time. Loads of beautiful photos, popular science that actually teaches something.
Jun 26, 2016 Ceridwyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I am sure the theories have changed since this book was written, but it still was fascinating and easy to follow as a lay person. David Attenborough makes logical connections and focuses without obsessing.
Jan 08, 2017 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An Attenborough classic!
Apr 03, 2014 Ross rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in '78 so a little out of date on some areas of our knowledge, but a nice overall review of the plant and animal kingdoms and how we got here. Filled with very good color photographs.
Joe Cooper
Jan 15, 2008 Joe Cooper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as a child. Attenborough is fantastic, I used to think he was a national treasure, but he's probably a global one now. Excellent book.
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Sir David Frederick Attenborough is a naturalist and broadcaster, who is most well-known for writing and presenting the nine "Life" series, produced in conjunction with BBC's Natural History Unit. The series includes Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), The Trials of Life (1990), Life in the Freezer (about Antarctica; 1993), The Private Life of Plants (1995), The Life of Birds (1998), T ...more
More about David Attenborough...

Other Books in the Series

Life Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Living Planet
  • The Trials of Life: A Natural History of Animal Behavior

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“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.” 22 likes
“This last chapter .. may have given the impression that somehow man is the ultimate triumph of evolution, that all these millions of years of development have had no purpose other than to put him on earth. There is no scientific evidence whatever to support such a view and no reason to suppose that our stay here will be any more permanent than that of the dinosaur.” 18 likes
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