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The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,974 ratings  ·  205 reviews
Earth evolves. From first atom to molecule, mineral to magma, granite crust to single cell to verdant living landscape, ours is a planet constantly in flux. In this radical new approach to Earth’s biography, senior Carnegie Institution researcher and national bestselling author Robert M. Hazen reveals how the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere—of rocks and living ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2012 by Viking Press
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Art Giff Hazen pulls the study of mineralogy into the evolution of the earth itself and life processes and cycles. It is a refreshing and paradigm changing boo…moreHazen pulls the study of mineralogy into the evolution of the earth itself and life processes and cycles. It is a refreshing and paradigm changing book, quite accessible to a reader with some background in reading earth science.(less)

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Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Hazen views earth’s 4.5 billion year history through his unique lens as a mineralogist. He explains how the earth was built from cosmic dust and transformed into continents, oceans, atmosphere, and life. We find out why earth was primed for life and the many ways it could have started. We learn how minerals and living organisms evolved together shaping the future of each other. This very readable book is packed with fascinating insights. Following are my notes.

Hazen puts time in perspective. If
It is time for my sorta-yearly scientifical audiobook! Last year, kinda around this time, I was listening to A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, which was good but quite a ways over my head technically. This time, I shifted the focus a bit closer to home and just focused on Earth, rather than the whole of universal existence. (Listen to me talking as though I plan what I read... Funny! You all know that the books choose me, right?)

Anyway, this was really interes
Thi T.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: geology
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Earth history, or Earth's future. My background: I'm a 2nd year master's student in geochemistry. I've been taking geology classes for 5+ years and I've never had the story of Earth explained in such a captivating way. I'm the type of person who doesn't claim to know a subject unless I could describe its processes from the ground up, without using much jargon. That's all you get in Hazen's book.

My reading pace and enthusiasm decelerated
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reality

Well constructed review of consensus earth science by one practicing in the field.

Embarrassingly I was halfway through “The Story of Earth” before recalling that I had only recently read Hazen’s “Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins,” a volume covering recent experimental science in origins-of-life research, including, or rather emphasizing, Hazen’s own.

While in “The Story of Earth” Hazen largely resists the technical (though, appropriately for a practitioner, he can’t resist it a
Kris Sellgren
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This was a fun read. The author has a talent for colorful and descriptive language that brings the science to life. I knew the broad sweep of the Earth’s history, so there were no surprises, but I enjoyed learning new details. The author’s biases show at times — he really dislikes Stanley Miller of the famous Miller-Urey experiment — but mostly he presents all the various approaches to understanding the origins of life as worthwhile and complementary. I particularly liked the experiment where so ...more
Adam Conn
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I never liked geology in school. Learning about rocks and how they formed was a series of exercises in memorization.

It's hard to say what made me pick this book up at the library. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I did. Hazen has a way of making a topic I had always found dreadfully boring fascinating, interesting and exciting.

My layman's description is the book covers a bit of astronomy, geology, oceanography, meteorology, physics, biology, and even a little history. Not too much of any one, usu
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: evolution, science
A very good book on the evolution of our universe, solar system and Earth.  Hazen chronologically walks the reader through 4.5 billion years of our earth's history, explaining the conditions at each stage of our planet's existence.

One aspect of this book that was very appealing to me was his frequent references to current work being done by scientists who are searching for answers to geological questions still unknown.  His own theory, which he calls "Mineral Evolution", explains how minerals a
Noah Goats
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
From the creation of the universe to the eventual destruction of the planet, Hazen, emphasizing the relationship between geology and biology, sets out the entire history and future of the Earth. There are some boring bits. For example, in writing about the billion years generally considered the most boring in Earth's history (the "boring billion") he tries to sell the reader on the idea that these years were actually quite exciting... and fails. But for the most part he succeeds in making all th ...more
Oct 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A fairly well-written story of the 4.4 billion-year geologic history of Earth, with a chapter also extrapolating to the future 100 years to 4 billion years. I learned a bit—lots of highlights—but less than I would have liked given the length. Too much was review.

I enjoyed Hazen's emphasis on the methods by which scientists have learned the prehistory he relates, and also on the current hot topics, disagreements and open questions.

Flaws: Occasionally repetitive and unnecessarily verbose.
Joseph Whitt
It's difficult to rate a book like this. It's not exactly a book one can "disagree" with, at least anyone who is not at worst an amateur geologist or other earth scientist. I enjoyed - that is to say I was interested - in the concepts of a living Earth and a geo-system that is actively and intimately involved in evolution of life. Hazen had me pegged as one of the many people who assume that these systems are relatively independent. I learned some things about plate tectonics that were new to me ...more
John Martindale
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, audiobook
I thought the book was well written. I know of Darwinian theory, but I have never really heard how they think the non-living earth "evolved". I wanted to hear the theories of how scientist think the big bang produced the 118 different elements and how they explain the formation of stars and planets from a singularity. Throughout the book, occasionally the author would mention various scientific experiments in which they'd try to replicate earlier earth environments to test out a hypothesis, this ...more
Woefully esoteric.

Hazen recounts the history of Earth from a perspective one would never expect: the perspective of a dedicated and highly knowledgeable mineralogist. Hazen argues that the history of Earth, and of life, are inexorably linked to the history of mineral evolution. The evidence he provides is at times fascinating, and the beginning of the book in which Hazen describes the formation of the first elements and minerals as though it were some sort of cosmic ballet was quite immersive.
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
It's a fantastic treatise that argues that minerals and rocks are an intimate part of evolution. Evolution is a fundamental process of the universe, not just in living organisms, but everywhere, at every level. We don't perceive rocks in our notion of evolution but they, just like elements evolving to become compounds and then minerals, have evolved.
Rocks are an integral part of life- they came from life and became life.
Dave Schey
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Great and interesting read even if you have limited knowledge of geology. Hazen spends most of the book talking about the lesser-known Pre-Phanerozoic Eon (the first 4 billion years of Earths history). Fascinating read!
Wonderful, extremely detailed description of Earth's formation and the wonders hiding inside. A bit dry at times, but if you can stand that, great info.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How interesting could a history of the earth’s geology be? Well this wonderful book is a page turner. Hazen writes well and this book unfolds like a thriller. He narrates the evolution of earth from a black molten orb to the current time. His descriptive language is very evocative and carries you to these distance times, at least as our best and brightest have reconstructed it from the geological record. He steps through subsequent epochs using mineral and fossil evidence to create a fascinating ...more
Amogh Thakur
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Anything less than 5 stars would be an injustice to this book.

Recommended for anyone with a curious bent of mind, this book is a fabulous read. It probably requires basic school level understanding of chemistry and biology to understand some concepts.

The writer has explained the most complex of concepts and ideas in a very simple and lucid manner such that even the layman with basic school level education can understand them.

Great read overall. Will probably read again after few months so that t
Rob Corrigan
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really fun read if you like physics, chemistry and geology!
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This never-ending tail of a lonely little world we call home is a glimpse into our Earth's past. while this may not be the most riveting story it is very interesting to see how the Earth has evolved. I would suggest this book only to my most dedicated readers or someone with a long car ride and tons of patience.
Bob Gustafson
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. The text is true to the title. For those who are unaware, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, so this is the entire story. It is told in a chronological format, making it easier to follow than "Planet in a Pebble".

In the beginning, the author tells us that he is a mineralogist, i.e. at the intersection of geology and chemistry, but that the story of earth can only be told and appreciated from a panoramic view including physics, astronomy, biology, and paleontolog
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, science
Wow! This book, written for a popular audience without talk down to them, was informative as well as interesting. Hazen draws on diverse fields such as astronomy, paleontology, and geophysics to paint a history of the planet we call home. His story telling method includes personal anecdotes smoothly transitioning into scientific evidence to bring those who might be venturing into historical geology for the first time into the fold and, eventually, along for the ride.
The only complaint I have
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I listened to the audiobook version of this, although I may now pick up a hard copy as it would be worth rereading some of the more interesting sections.

As the title suggests the book covers the formation of the Earth, starting even a bit before this with a reprise of the Big Bang and processes that created the elements; continues through the 4.5 billion year existence of the Earth.

Hazen is a mineralogist who uses the language of biological evolution to describe the changes in the mineral makeup
Angela Gray
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
First a disclaimer- I have a reasonable background in science (minor in bio), but am not at all a science geek. That said I listened to this book and enjoyed it and feel like I took a way all the main parts. There was A LOT of very detailed chemistry, astronomy, and geology information in it though and there were times I got lost and had to replay sections. Few of the small details will stick with me (though I'll remember some neat new things like Uranus rolls on its side as it orbits). That sai ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the audio book. (Twice!) I love good science stories like Guns, Germs, and Steel that are factual but give the information in an interesting and engaging way. This book definitely qualified. Geology has uncovered so much new information about the formation of the earth and much of it is included in this book, some still theoretical. It was fascinating to see how different factors from many science disciplines interacted. If you are interested in hearing what's new in geology, this ...more
Craig Fiebig
A 'four star' book for the author and two stars for me. I've been snarky reviewing books I found simplistic but now I need to point my SnarkMaster 3000 inward. This book so exceeded my elementary knowledge of science that I re-listened to several sections, more than twice sometimes. Having loved Bryson's, "A Brief History of Everything" I thought I was grounded. Nope, a babe in the woods. I learned tons but lost the trail frequently. A great book on the evolution of our planet, too bad this read ...more
Kent Winward
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
After reading a bunch of cosmology books, I figured it was time for some navel gazing. The wonders of the earth are comparable to cosmology and our stint on this planet a very interesting blip on the geological timeline. Most interesting fact -- minerals evolve. It really isn't that surprising that biological forms heavily impact mineral forms. Mainly, enjoy the blue marble and treat it well, it is the only one we've got.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: geoscience
I love this book and I will read it again. Hazen writes beautifully and clearly about the long and dynamic history of the earth from a necessarily geologic perspective. As a geology student, this helped synthesize a lot of what I have learned in the field and in class so far. But non-geologists will enjoy this as well. It's a great, in depth, introduction to geology in the context of Earth history.
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a thorough, up-to-date look at the history of the Earth and the science that has been used to discover it. As I was finishing it, Nat Geo TV cam out with a nice cg special telling pretty much the same story in overview. Now I know more than I used to about the world we live on.
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Really enjoyed this excellent popular science look at the history of Earth from the perspective of a geologist. Particularly liked that it featured the interplay between biology and earth science. I think I want a copy of my own! (It was a library book.)
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Interesting book about the history of our planet from the perspective of a mineralogist. This is filled with fascinating data, overviews of some controversies, anecdotes, and a readable conversational style.
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Robert M. Hazen, Senior Research Scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University, received the B.S. and S.M. in geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1971), and the Ph.D. at Harvard University in earth science (1975). The Past President of the Mineralogical Society of Americ ...more

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“The lessons of rocks, stars,and life are clear. To understand Earth, you must divorce yourself for the inconsequential temporal or spacial scale of human life. We live on a single tiny world in a cosmos of a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars. Similarly, we live day by day in a cosmos aged hundreds of billions of days. If you seek meaning and purpose in the cosmos, you will not find it in any privileged moment or place tied to human existence.” 4 likes
“No direct evidence yet documents Earth’s tidal cycles more than a billion years ago, but we can be confident that 4.5 billion years ago things were a lot wilder. Not only did Earth have five-hour days, but the nearby Moon was much, much faster in its close orbit, as well. The Moon took only eighty-four hours—three and a half modern days—to go around Earth. With Earth spinning so fast and the Moon orbiting so fast, the familiar cycle of new Moon, waxing Moon, full Moon, and waning Moon played out in frenetic fast-forward: every few five-hour days saw a new lunar phase. Lots of consequences follow from this truth, some less benign than others. With such a big lunar obstruction in the sky and such rapid orbital motions, eclipses would have been frequent events. A total solar eclipse would have occurred every eighty-four hours at virtually every new Moon, when the Moon was positioned between Earth and the Sun. For some few minutes, sunlight would have been completely blocked, while the stars and planets suddenly popped out against a black sky, and the Moon’s fiery volcanoes and magma oceans stood out starkly red against the black lunar disk. Total lunar eclipses occurred regularly as well, almost every forty-two hours later, like clockwork. During every full Moon, when Earth lies right between the Sun and the Moon, Earth’s big shadow would have completely obscured the giant face of the bright shining Moon. Once again the stars and planets would have suddenly popped out against a black sky, as the Moon’s volcanoes put on their ruddy show. Monster tides were a far more violent consequence of the Moon’s initial proximity. Had both Earth and the Moon been perfectly rigid solid bodies, they would appear today much as they did 4.5 billion years ago: 15,000 miles apart with rapid rotational and orbital motions and frequent eclipses. But Earth and the Moon are not rigid. Their rocks can flex and bend; especially when molten, they swell and recede with the tides. The young Moon, at a distance of 15,000 miles, exerted tremendous tidal forces on Earth’s rocks, even as Earth exerted an equal and opposite gravitational force on the largely molten lunar landscape. It’s difficult to imagine the immense magma tides that resulted. Every few hours Earth’s largely molten rocky surface may have bulged a mile or more outward toward the Moon, generating tremendous internal friction, adding more heat and thus keeping the surface molten far longer than on an isolated planet. And Earth’s gravity returned the favor, bulging the Earth-facing side of the Moon outward, deforming our satellite out of perfect roundness.” 3 likes
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