Revolutions that made the Earth

Revolutions that made the Earth

Tim Lenton and Andrew Watson

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2011 | 448pp | ?29.95 (HB)

ISBN 9780199587049

Reviewed by Peter Horton 

Book cover - ’Revolutions that made the Earth’

© Oxford University Press

Lenton and Watson have written a remarkable and timely book which is both entertaining and impeccably researched - from the beginning I felt both engaged and enlightened.

The central idea, ’that a very few profound revolutions have made the Earth as we know it’, is of the utmost relevance to current concerns about climate change and environmental degradation. By taking the ’long view’, and explaining the timescales and the common characteristics of the revolutions, humanity is put into a more realistic context with regard to the planet. We could not have evolved without the earlier revolutions, the inventiveness of the prokaryotes (especially the trick of oxygenic photosynthesis), and the subsequent abundance of oxygen, which in turn fuelled the complexity revolution through the rise of the eukaryotes.

Our species is now playing a major part in bringing about a new revolution in the relationship between the planet and life. To fully embrace this revolution in a positive way we need scientists from all disciplines who can work from a systems perspective, and we need an informed public which appreciates the true nature of the emerging planetary system.

And this is where, for me, the book is very special. With its academic rigour and, at the same time, its accessibility, the authors have clearly succeeded in their aim of writing ’scholarly popular science’. As such, it should inspire us to learn from how the Earth system has evolved in the past and face up to the final question: ’Are we as yet sufficiently grown up to take responsibility for a whole planet?’ One thing is for sure: ’Over the next century we will find out.’

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