Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere” as Want to Read:
Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  113 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
For 65 million years dinosaurs ruled the Earth--until a deadly asteroid forced their extinction. But what accounts for the incredible longevity of dinosaurs? A renowned scientist now provides a startling explanation that is rewriting the history of the Age of Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were pretty amazing creatures--real-life monsters that have the power to fascinate us. And the ...more
Hardcover, 282 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Joseph Henry Press (first published January 1st 2006)
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 Out of Thin Air, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Out of Thin Air

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
With high levels of atmospheric oxygen, animals can grow very large, and do so because it protects them from predators. When oxygen levels drop, extinctions occur, and numbers of organisms of a given, surviving species drop, but body-plans proliferate as species strive to adapt. More than any other required resources, oxygen is absolutely necessary for the survival of animals, their ability to meet the exigencies of survival, and their ability to reproduce successfully, and it isn't at all surpr ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
How this book merits a LC subject listing of "Paleobotany" is beyond me. And what little topical botany is included is questionable. Ward writes: "during photosynthesis...plants liberate free oxygen as a by-product of the break-up of carbon dioxide..." (p. 36). Not so much.

He also makes a curious statement about cyanobacteria (pp. 34-35) that seems to ignore the multiple biochemical fates of photosynthetically produced sugars in aerobic organisms.

He has apparently confused "cambia" (secondary
Peter Bradley
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Please give my review a helpful vote -

Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

If you love “Gosh-Wow!” science – science that expands the mind, presents the big picture, stuns the imagination – then this is one of the “Gosh-Wowiest!” of “Gosh-Wow!” science.

Author Peter D. Ward starts with an unusual and striking premise that leaves the reader walking on existential egg-shells. Ward posits that the big, big driver of evolution has been the periods when the oxygen c
Noel Roach
Jun 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Ward puts forward the thesis that the variation in the partial pressure of oxygen over the past 540 million years since the Cambrian Explosion has been the major driving force (or certainly one of the big ones) in evolution. I have to say I was not convinced of the "major" part. Not that I have any specific scientific background in the area. It being 2014 now, 8 years after the book was first published, I wonder how widely Ward's theories have been accepted by the scientific community. In each c ...more
Luis Brudna
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
O livro é sobre como as variações da quantidade de oxigênio na atmosfera terrestre influenciou a evolução biológica. É complicado para quem não tem conhecimento sobre geologia e/ou evolução das espécies.
O Peter Ward parece que gosta de lançar novas ideias e hipóteses. Li o livro mais como um suporte para um conhecimento básico sobre o oxigênio terrestre e suas variações nos mais de 4,5 bilhões de anos de história da Terra.
(li o livro em inglês)
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written with a really interesting premise, but a few too many typos and some questionable illustrations.
Glenn Beard
I thought it was an excellent book, interesting, explaining the evolution of breathing, a good discussion of extinctions in the Permian and Triassic. It was readable, not too technical for the average educated reader, and written in an interesting manner.
However, it had some weaknesses:
a. The claim that oxygen levels were significantly lower than today was not adequately supported in my opinion. While the prevailing opinion of among many scientist, I have seen others that claim that oxygen leve
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This is a very scholarly book of theories on how oxygen levels changed through history and the changes that resulted.
It read like a thesis, but it worked for the subject.
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere by Peter Ward hypothesizes that changing atmospheric and oceanic oxygen levels over the last 600 million years have caused significant evolutionary development, including changes in body plan (morphology), physiology and diversity of animal life.

The author hypothesizes that with high levels of atmospheric oxygen, animals can grow very large, and do so because it protects them from predators. When oxygen levels drop, extinctions o
Esmeralda Rupp-Spangle
This book was engaging, fascinating, and educational. It was pretty dense, and less of a pop science book than you might normally see, but I thought this was a plus not a minus, because even given that, it wasn't dry or dull- assuming the subject matter is of interest to you.
One major gripe I had was that he really needs to replace his editors, there were a few mistakes that really distracted me as I was reading (not factual or data errors, just grammar, etc). Even given that though, I thought
Karel Baloun
Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
New models show that all 5 Paleozoic and Mesosoic extinctions were caused by low atmospheric oxygen, which has ranged from 13% to 30% over the last 500m years. Fascinating role for algal hydrogen sulfide in the Permian extinction.

Low oxygen also caused dramatic gains in diversity by providing an existential stress for evolution, and these innovations included: air sac bird lungs (which led the porous boned half of the dinosaurs to dominate the Triassic/early Jurassic), the 4 chambered heart, com
Michael Ward
Apr 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
In the past Earth's oxygen levels have varied between 13% and possibly as high as 28% of the atmosphere. This has happened before and will happen again. Dinosaurs evolved during a mass extinction at a time of low oxygen levels and made it through every other mass extinction until the meteor impact 65 million years ago. One of the attributes that enabled them to live through mass extinctions was their lung capacity which was vastly superior to that of mammals. Birds are descended from dinosaurs a ...more
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, biology
When I was growing up a half century ago one of the first biology books I read was Homer Smith's From Fish to Philosopher, which presented vertebrate evolution from the perspective of water balance -- mainly the kidneys. This book reminded me of that; it presents the evolution of animals from the viewpoint of oxygen and respiration.

The author begins from the work of John Berner and others on the history of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and attempts to explain the evolutionary his
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
It's because of books such as that I have come to believe I don't read much fiction. How can it compare with the incredible drama of the evolution of life itself? This was a very well-written book which explained terms in understandable fashion. I had no idea about the various respiratory systems of reptiles, birds, and mammals and how this could have impacted the viability of species given the great variability of the oxygen level over the course of eons. I did read Oxygen years and years ago, ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ward builds upon the brilliant work by Robert Berneer (Yale) to map out the impacts caused by the wide variations in oxygen levels during the Phaenerozoic. Variation in oxygen leads to extinction when low and diversification when high. Low levels favored the dinosaurs. Ward has a gift for writng that takes you across the alien landscapes and oceanscapes of past geologic ages in a world not yet the familiar one we know.
Joey Sigmon
Jul 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
very interesting book about the possibility of speciation being driven by oxygen levels.
Dalibor Marceta
rated it liked it
Apr 16, 2011
rated it liked it
Dec 09, 2012
Rishikesh Pancholi
rated it it was amazing
Jan 12, 2017
Jesus Emmanuel
rated it it was amazing
Feb 19, 2016
rated it liked it
Jun 01, 2007
rated it it was amazing
May 11, 2017
J.R. Ortiz
rated it it was amazing
May 15, 2012
rated it liked it
May 30, 2007
rated it really liked it
Aug 10, 2014
rated it really liked it
Dec 01, 2017
rated it it was amazing
May 04, 2008
rated it liked it
Apr 12, 2008
Dale Bart
rated it liked it
Dec 18, 2010
rated it liked it
Mar 11, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth
  • Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science
  • Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened
  • Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  • The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals
  • Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution
  • The Great Dinosaur Debate: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction
  • Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History
  • The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt
  • Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design
  • The Dragon Seekers: How An Extraordinary Circle Of Fossilists Discovered The Dinosaurs And Paved The Way For Darwin
  • Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs
  • The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History
  • Nature’s Clocks: How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything
  • In Catilinam 1-2
  • Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth
  • Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science
Peter Douglas Ward (born 1949) is an American paleontologist and professor of Biology and of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. He has written popular numerous science works for a general audience and is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum.

Life and work

His parents, Joseph and Ruth Ward, moved to Seattle following World War II. Ward grew up in the Seward Park
More about Peter D. Ward...

Nonfiction Deals

  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
    $8.24 $1.99
  • A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
    $27.00 $2.99
  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
    $10.74 $1.99
  • Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
    $8.99 $1.99
  • A Room of One's Own
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Life in a Medieval City
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan
    $8.99 $1.99
  • Too Close to Me: The Middle-Aged Consequences of Revealing A Child Called "It"
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
    $9.24 $1.99
  • Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
    $13.99 $2.99
  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
    $8.99 $1.99
  • Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir
    $11.49 $1.99
  • Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Heart of Christianity
    $9.74 $1.99
  • Hidden Figures
    $4.09 $1.99
  • Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
    $7.24 $1.99
  • Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
    $13.99 $2.99
  • Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
    $11.99 $1.99
  • WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us
    $14.99 $2.99
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
    $18.74 $2.99
  • K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Art of Living: The Classical Mannual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
    $10.49 $1.99