Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction” as Want to Read:
The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #193)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  166 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Here is the extraordinary story of the unfolding of life on Earth, told by Michael J. Benton, a world-renowned authority on biodiversity. Ranging over four billion years, Benton weaves together the latest findings on fossils, earth history, evolutionary biology, and many other fields to highlight the great leaps that enabled life to evolve from microbe to human--big breakt ...more
Paperback, 170 pages
Published December 15th 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2008)
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 The History of Life, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The History of Life

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Amir The Fat Bookworm
Not a bad book if you expect an introduction into historical monumental challenges of paleontology. It was not so interesting as to draw me in. It certainly was not as interesting as the title suggests. However, it might be interesting to people who already are interested in the subject.
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the History of life on Earth
This book reminded me a little bit of The Ancestors Tale, albeit the latter traces the history of life in reverse chronological order. The author of this title in the ‘Very Short Introduction series’ from the Oxford University press is Michael Benton. He is a distinguished professor of vertebrate palaeontology at the University of Bristol.

The book starts off with the basics and builds, chapter by chapter, on these topics. The introduction is a good summary of cladistics, phylogenetics, and the c
Mark Fallon
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I knew I would love this little book when the opening paragraph concluded with "...or at least merely microscopic beasts of extreme simplicity floating in the primordial ocean."

Science books are best when written by people who love their subject matter, and Professor Benton loves paleontology. A great introduction to how life began and evolved over the last 4 billion years (give or take several hundred million years).

The "Very Short Introduction Series" is like being allowed to survey classes f
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The history of life is a very fascinating subject, with an almost universal appeal. And yet, life itself is scientifically a very complex phenomenon that could fill up libraries worth of books. As such, it is quite remarkable that a succinct book like this one would be even attempted, leave alone published. Michael Benton is commended for accomplishing in this very short introduction to take us along life's evolutionary trajectory and systematize and explain the origins of many major branches in ...more
Dec 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Excellent and very readable. As a 'Very Short Introduction' it fits the bill admirably. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject with one caveat: it could be slightly tough going and confusing in places for anyone without a basic scientific background and familiarity with the history of the Earth. Such a knowledge is assumed in places. However, that is a small drawback to what is an excellent overview of a topic conveyed in a highly readable way. The author has that rare kn ...more
Robin Friedman
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Evolutionary Tree Of Life

The Very Short Introductions Series of Oxford University Press offers busy readers the opportunity to revisit subjects and to branch out and learn new things. It also allows readers to compare different ways of asking questions. For example, I recently read Terry Eagleton's book in the series, "The Meaning of Life". The book, of course, is a philosophical study which spends most of its time trying to understand the question to determine whether it makes sense. I have
Richard Carter
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature, science
Covering over 3.5 billion years of life on earth in just 166 pages was always going to be something of a tall order. The History of Life is a whistle-stop tour of that period, taking us from the earliest fossils to the modern day.

Michael Benton is particularly good at describing the different ‘types’ of life punctuated by Earth’s great mass-extinction events. I was also pleased to see him dedicate the last couple of pages of this book to making it clear that evolution does not have any endgame i
D DePalma
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, nonfiction, science
This is exactly what it says on the front cover, but it's not devoid of humor, and that made it a far more enjoyable read than it could have been. It was also easy to follow, even though for the first half I was reading it sporadically over the course of about a year. All in all, a pretty decent introduction for people who are only passingly familiar with the topics.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
concise but clear, and compulsively readable
Bob Small
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Consice, informative and clear. A nice intoduction that you can put down and then pick up agian.
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
What did I think while reading the book? Ah, it arouse mixed feelings. I felt ashamed of knowing nothing about our universe. At the same time, I felt excited to find out so much about such an interesting subject in a book that involved only 160 plus pages. It's a thought provoking book, particularly, for all those who, like me, have a narrow understanding about the world and how did life evolve.
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
There is a sense of wonder spread in this book. We have little evidence of the life diversity during the last 4 billion years. The fossils preserved a small fraction of the species, much is missing. Life diversity therefore is a huge mystery and will remain a mystery for many more years or forever. Of course we are getting better at undressing Nature and here we have a compact report.
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic and informative read. A comprehensive insight to a large topic.
Janet K. Cook
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Review

It's been a while...still thought there were five kingdoms. Glad I'm getting caught up with the more current information. Very easy to follow his easy going style.
It's a very short introduction to the history of life, tracing the course of evolution from the emergence of life to the domination of the earth by humanity.
Frank Ashe
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology, science
An excellent review of the evolution of our current ecosystems, with all the calamities of mass extinction vivdly described.
Kathleen O'Neal
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great VSI tracing the origins of life on our planet.
Phil Syphe
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Think I would've appreciated this book more if I'd been more familiar with the large amount of scientific terms featured throughout.
rated it liked it
Apr 20, 2012
Pablo Stafforini
rated it liked it
Oct 14, 2015
Grzegorz Chrupała
rated it it was ok
Mar 05, 2017
Paulo Marquês
rated it really liked it
Mar 02, 2015
Oliver Ward
rated it really liked it
Nov 20, 2015
Daniel Ares lópez
rated it liked it
Dec 29, 2015
Paul Vittay
rated it liked it
Jan 01, 2018
Tyrone Coupland
rated it it was ok
Jan 14, 2015
Avi Roy
rated it liked it
May 20, 2016
rated it it was amazing
Jan 29, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Jan 26, 2015
rated it liked it
Sep 19, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction
  • Evolution: A Very Short Introduction
  • The History of Time: A Very Short Introduction
  • Empire: A Very Short Introduction
  • The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction
  • Democracy: A Very Short Introduction
  • Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction
  • Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction
  • Drugs: A Very Short Introduction
  • Modern China: A Very Short Introduction
  • Probability: A Very Short Introduction
  • Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction
  • Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction
  • Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction
  • Madness: A Very Short Introduction
  • Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction
  • Leadership: A Very Short Introduction
  • The Devil: A Very Short Introduction

Other books in the series

Very Short Introductions (1 - 10 of 543 books)
  • A Very Short Introduction to Everything
  • Classics: A Very Short Introduction
  • Music: A Very Short Introduction
  • Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction
  • Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction
  • Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction
  • Psychology: A Very Short Introduction
  • Islam: A Very Short Introduction
  • Politics: A Very Short Introduction
  • Theology: A Very Short Introduction

Nonfiction Deals

  • Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
    $9.99 $2.99
  • How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
    $10.49 $1.99
  • Hidden Figures
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Pocket Prayers: 40 Simple Prayers that Bring Peace and Rest
    $2.99 $0.99
  • Manifest Your Destiny: Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Ev
    $11.74 $1.99
  • A Three Dog Life
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
    $14.99 $2.99
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
    $10.99 $2.99
  • Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
    $7.99 $2.99
  • Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front
    $5.99 $1.99
  • My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir
    $10.99 $1.99
  • Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life
    $6.99 $0.99
  • The War of Art
    $9.99 $1.49
  • Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas
    $19.99 $2.99
  • The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be
    $10.99 $1.99
  • The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
    $14.99 $2.99
  • I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Girl With No Name: The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys
    $17.99 $1.99
  • The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific
    $10.99 $1.99
  • America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
    $14.99 $1.99
  • The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
    $11.99 $3.99
  • Dear Bob and Sue
    $6.99 $2.99
  • Hello Mornings: How to Build a Grace-Filled, Life-Giving Morning Routine
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her
    $13.99 $1.99