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Snowball Earth: The Story of a Maverick Scientist and His Theory of the Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life As We Know It Paperback – Feb 24 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (Feb. 24 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400051258
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400051250
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 218 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #534,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Part biography and part scientific detective story, this debut by British science journalist Walker (a features editor for New Scientist) tells the story of Paul Hoffman, the brilliant, cantankerous Harvard geology professor most responsible for promoting the concept of "Snowball Earth." This controversial hypothesis asserts that about 600 million years ago, the entire planet was encased in ice that was thicker and lasted millennia longer than in any previously recognized ice age. Instantaneously in geologic time, the hypothesis continues, the planet moved from temperatures averaging minus 40 degrees centigrade to sweltering heat unlike anything seen since. These extreme climatic fluctuations may have been responsible for the origination of multicellular life at the beginning of the Cambrian Era and thus, ultimately, for most life on Earth today. Walker does a superb job of relating both the scientific and the human side of the controversy. Her prose, like her story, is likely to engage both scientists and general readers equally. All will be able to appreciate the importance of the issues while gaining greater insight into the process of scientific advances. Walker has written an important, provocative book that is a joy to read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The Cambrian explosion, which occurred about 600 million years ago when organisms graduated from single-celled monotony to multicelled exuberance, has defied causal explanation. But its coincidence with the ending of an ice age harbors a possible clue. This Precambrian ice era, which froze the entire surface of the earth for 200 million years or more, has, over the past 15 years, become an accepted if startling fact in geological circles, and like many upstart theories in science, its adoption contains stories of research and rivalry. Walker chronicles them through the principals in the debate, focusing mainly on one Paul Hoffman. Walker characterizes him in an unflattering light but presents a positive picture of Hoffman's relentless advocacy of the frozen-earth theory. She also dramatizes with fairness the opponents' alternative interpretations of the main geologic evidence, creating narrative tension that shows science in action. Including vignettes about fieldwork, Walker registers the feel of doing the actual work of geology, especially the thrilling hunt for traces of a frigid apocalypse. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Of all the books I have read about climate change, "Snowball Earth", by Gabrielle Walker, is definitely one of the best ' and it's not even about the current climate change.

Part of what makes it so good is the style of writing. As the Los Angeles Times said about her later book, An Ocean of Air, 'Walker has a Ph.D. in chemistry, but she writes like a poet.' And, indeed, after an education at Cambridge, Walker has spent most of her career as a science journalist. It's sort of sad that this doesn't happen more often. Usually, those who understand a subject best are not the ones who communicate it. Walker is the exception to this rule.

Take, for example, this passage about the history of life on Earth: "Stretch your arms out wide to encompass all the time on Earth. Let's say that time runs from left to right, so Earth was born at the tip of the middle finger on your left hand. Slime arose just before your left elbow and ruled for the remaining length of your left arm, across to the right, past your right shoulder, your right elbow, on down your forearm, and eventually ceded somewhere around your right wrist. For sheer Earth-gripping longevity, nothing else comes close. The dinosaurs reigned for barely a finger's length. And a judicious swipe of a nail file on the middle finger of your right hand would wipe out the whole of human history."

Another impressive aspect of Walker's writing is her characterization. Wacky, stubborn, and exuberant scientists are brought to life. Instead of just hearing about their work and accomplishments, you feel like you're getting to know them as people. She writes about arguing scientists particularly well. Arguing scientists are so much fun to read about ' that's one reason I loved The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.
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Format: Paperback
I will start with a brief synopsis of the science. In the last six years, many scientists have come to think that an ice age of incredible severity gripped the Earth for a few million years, ending about 590 million years ago. The ocean surface apparently froze all the way to the equator, although the ice may have been thin and patchy near the equator. The Earth's average temperature was about -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Volcanoes belched out greenhouse gases for a few million years, and the atmospheric CO2 levels rose to many times what we have today. The ice receded from the tropics, and the greenhouse effect accelerated, driving the average planetary temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to about 60 today) within a few thousand years or less. This super ice age was the last of 4 to 6 such ice ages, with the first one occurring about 2.4 billion years ago, and the others between 750 and 590 million years ago. These ice ages may have occurred when all of the continents were strung around the equator. (The book presents a theory on why this might be so.) Finally, complex multi-cellular life forms first appeared in the Ediacaran period, shortly after the last super ice age. The book suggests that the last super ice age somehow spurred the appearance of complex life, but does not provide a good explanation of why this might be. (Maybe there is an assumption that "right after X" must mean "because of X.") Finally, the book asserts that such a calamity may occur again about 250 million years in the future.
The book is oddly written: part biography and part detective story, with some science scattered throughout. At no point does the book lay out a comprehensive exposition on the snowball hypothesis.
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Format: Hardcover
In this easy-to-read and sometimes entertaining book, Gabrielle Walker tells the story of the discovery of the massive glaciations of pre-Cambrian Earth that have come to be known as "Snowball Earth". The fact that "Snowball Earth" really happened is not controversial, despite what some reviewers have suggested. The basic reason is the well-known fact that the Sun is slowly getting hotter and was significantly less bright a billion years ago. Also not very controversial anymore are other assertions like the fact that the dinosaur extinction was indeed caused by the collision with Earth of one (or more) comets or asteroids. Walker is not uncritical about these facts, just well informed. There are some small misstatements in the book, like the assertion that magnetic pole inversion have happened regularly through geologic time, while, in fact, there was no inversion for an extended period (tens of millions of years) in the Mesozoic. More controversial, is the idea that "Snowball Earth" somehow "caused" the Cambrian animal radiation. This is the subject of just chapter 9. In many ways this is, for me, the most interesting chapter of the book, and also the most problematical. I assume that most of the experts don't doubt a relationship between the end of "Snowball Earth" and the "Big Bang" of animal life. But most would just assume that the big glaciations prevented the radiation of animals, that otherwise were ready to go, with Hox genes and all. Still chapter 9 is very interesting. Many of the discoveries discussed in it, like the finds of trace fossils of known Ediacaran "animals" have not been published in refereed journals. If it were true, Fedonkin's find of slug-like trails left by Kimberellas, would be extremely important.Read more ›
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