Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History” as Want to Read:
Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  121 ratings  ·  20 reviews
The air we breathe is twenty-one percent oxygen, an amount higher than on any other known world. While we may take our air for granted, Earth was not always an oxygenated planet. How did it become this way? "Oxygen" is the most current account of the history of atmospheric oxygen on Earth. Donald Canfield--one of the world's leading authorities on geochemistry, earth histo ...more
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published January 19th 2014 by Princeton University Press (first published November 21st 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Oxygen, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Oxygen

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  121 ratings  ·  20 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History
Andrew Davis
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: natural-science
An excellent example of what a popular science book should be. Some criticised it for being too technical. I disagree. With so much material on Internet, one can easily clarify some of the more difficult parts, even when admittedly some of the passages could be explained a bit better. The author is a prominent expert in his field and that's perhaps why. I prefer this to an approach, often used by journalists or the science popularisers, to ensure maximal understanding whilst oversimplifying the ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book describes current research on the history of oxygen in earth's atmosphere. It was particularly good at conveying the collegiality of science and the way that data and conflicting hypotheses are built up, tested and rethought. While written for the general public, reading it requires close attention.

I found it sobering that the tremendous quantities of cyanobacteria existing in the oceans were only discovered in 1979 since they were too small to be caught in the netting used to gather
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I often complain about popular science books written by journalists, and how they often elide over many of the technical details, which is where the mystery and the beauty lie. This book is kind of the opposite: a working scientist who writes moderately well, but gets a little too lost in the details, Which in the end it makes me wonder who the intended audience is.

The subject, how did the Earth's atmosphere get to have so much free oxygen, is massive and inspiring, and there seem to be few peo
Peter Tillman
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-tech
Good book, by a student of Bob Garrels. See notes.

Sadly, it's due. I'll have to get it back to finish it. Too many books!

Set back to "want to read" for now.....
Daniel Martins
When I first heard about Oxygen I immediately wanted to read it. This is an amazingly important topic for understanding the history of life on Earth and it was written by a true renowned specialist, Prof. Donald Canfield. Although the positives hugely outweigh the negatives, such as the author's clear and precise use of language and the careful selection and exposure of data, there were some distracting features such as the oversimplification of relatively simple geological and biological proces ...more
Anett Kovacs
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-y, nonfiction
In Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History, ecology professor Donald E. Canfield recounts the history of Earth's atmosphere, focusing on one of the most important elements of life: oxygen. The author describes scientific theories around the oxygenation of our planet and their evolution precisely and in a very detailed manner.
This book is a bit more technical than your typical popular science book, which I enjoy but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. Nevertheless, it is a very informative book
Leo W.
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Solid, interesting science. The writing, however, falls far below the (admittedly high) standard set by Andrew Knoll in Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. ...more
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this is a popular science book written for a general audience, there are a few technical spots. Canfield does a superb job describing the great oxygen event and the subsequent reducing atmosphere that caused the great rusting or oxidizing event. Banded iron formations are evidence of this. The rise in oxygen brought an increase in biodiversity. Canfield does an excellent job of detailing the history of oxygen on Earth.
Mar 10, 2021 rated it liked it

Much more technical and advanced than I expected. This is not a bad thing, but it is not for the general audience and tough even for casual science readers. The author does a good job of trying to keep things fun and light when possible. An interesting subject matter with my major takeaway being that there is still so much we do not know.
May 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cool-science
This might be better if you have a more thorough chemistry background. The topic was interesting, but the book was weighed down by chemical diagrams and reaction equations.
Steve Jones
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a quite readable, and interesting, book by one of the world's leading authorities on geochemistry, earth history, and the early oceans. It covers the evidence gathered over the last several decades (and before) concerning the evolution of Oxygen in Earth's atmosphere. Other popular science accounts on this and related topics have given a more detailed (and maybe misleading?) account of the changes in the Oxygen content of the atmosphere, but Canfield is much more conservative in his acc ...more
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
كتاب جميل جدا استمتعت به وتعلمت منه كثيرا...لغة الكتاب علمية في الاغلب ولكن الكاتب احيانا يمزج معه الاسلوب الروائي والكوميدي مما يجعلك لاتستطيع التوقف عن المتابعة....
يتحدث الكتاب عن تكون الاوكسجين في الارض عبر العصور....كيف بدات ال ساينو باكتريا بستخدام وانتاج الاكسجين من قبل ٢ ونصف بليار سنة....عوامل وطرق اخرى لانتاج الطاقة كانت موجودة قبل الاوكسجين ولازالت كالسولفات والميتان وايونات الحديد.....كيف يتم الحفاض على مستوى الاوكسجين عن طريق
Negative and positive feedback mechanisms
وستغربت جدا كيف ان
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
There’s a interesting story to be told about the enabling of life on earth by the creation of an oxygen rich environment in early geological history, but this story gets lost in the unnecessary details of this book. I am constantly irritated by academic writers who spend all sorts of energy and page space writing what good friend of theirs proposed an insignificant detail in an obscure academic journal. Yes, these details are important in your academic field, but the rest of us really don’t want ...more
Jacob Blandford
Feb 01, 2016 rated it liked it
I have been wanting to read this book for awhile and so I had high expectations. It was a good book but it did not live up to my expectations. This book contained great information,much of it new to me, but I did not like the intellectual level it was written to. Canfield said that he was writing it for a broader audience than just scientists and I feel like he accomplished this goal. I just wished it had higher level science.
Mark Moon
I thought this would be a pop-science introduction to geochemistry, but it turned out to have all the technical details I could have ever wanted (and more!). Some of the history-of-geochemistry tangents were of less interest to me, but overall this is a succinct and readable summary of what we know about the history of oxygen on Earth.

I read this as part of my ongoing project of getting to grips with *(big) history.
Jun 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
Purportedly a book written for the masses and including the latest research, Oxygen delivers on the latter but fails abysmally on the former. Only a geochemist could love this book, and most members of the public would find little that is comprehensible. Too bad; I was really looking forward to learning some interesting new information about the formation of the modern atmosphere.
Dec 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Good and worth reading, although difficult at times. It gave me a new perspective on Earth's geological history and how it relates to the development of life. As someone who teaches about photosynthesis I was hoping for a more biochemical point of view (less about rocks.). I had considered having my students read it, but I am leaning against that now. ...more
Science For The People
Featured on Science for the People show #267 on May 30, 2014, during an interview with author Donald Canfield. ...more
Travis Williams
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Excellent overview of earth history.
Steve Walker
Interesting introduction to one of the hot topics in early planetary geology and biology.
Brandon Cinquepalmi
rated it it was amazing
Aug 03, 2015
rated it really liked it
Jun 19, 2016
Allen Bertram
rated it it was amazing
Dec 27, 2017
Luiz A Martinelli
rated it it was amazing
Mar 05, 2018
Michael West
rated it really liked it
Aug 17, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Feb 25, 2017
rated it really liked it
Mar 11, 2019
Frank Aylward
rated it it was amazing
Dec 20, 2014
Alex Christensen
rated it liked it
Apr 14, 2019
rated it it was ok
Mar 25, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
  • For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink
  • The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
  • Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong
  • All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals
  • Our Dogs, Ourselves: How We Live with Dogs Now
  • The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution
  • Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds
  • The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery
  • Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? And other Questions about Dead Bodies
  • End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals
  • Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality
  • Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures
  • The Unexpected Truth About Animals: A Menagerie of the Misunderstood
  • The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully
  • Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil
  • Rice: A Global History
See similar books…

Articles featuring this book

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and co-founder of NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog and an on-air...
68 likes · 10 comments
“oxygen-evolving complex (OEC),” 0 likes
“photosystem I (PSI) and the other as photosystem II (PSII). They are coupled together in what is commonly called the Z-scheme,” 0 likes
More quotes…