Kirk Johnson and Richard Stucky are curators of paleontology at the Denver Museum of Natural History. They have put together a book that describes, for the general reader, the entire history of life on earth, from the world of 3.5 billion years ago to that of the 1990’s. The book is brimming with large, sharp, full-color photographs of fossil specimens, with consistently formatted, richly informative captions. Numerous artists’ renditions provide tableaus of plant and animal life, as implied by their fossil remains. The text evokes vivid visual images of what the earth most probably was like at each stage of evolution.
The authors continuously relate biological evolution to the geological and climatic changes that the planet has undergone. At appropriate points, it discusses the evolution of scientific theory, as well as the history of paleontological research. The chapters are arranged by historical time period, and each chapter features a fossil site in the United States that has provided especially rich specimens from that period.
The text is written for the educated lay person. With the help of a comprehensive glossary, terms like “angiosperm” and “arthropod” become familiar as one progresses through the book. The illustrations, however, are immediately accessible to everyone, from preschoolers on up. No one can forget the two-page spread that shows the evolution of the whale, from a wolf-like land animal to the immense sea creatures of the present.