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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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.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This book offers a fascinating look at a possible explanation of how life went from single cell organisms to multicellular organisms. Read morePublished on May 8 2004 by Andrew Wyllie
Great writing for the layperson interested in pre-quaternary climate change theory, but some of the geoscientists researching the 'snowball earth' appear to have personalities... Read morePublished on April 29 2004 by James Safranek
This book provides wonderful insight into both an interesting and controversial theory, and the personal and professional struggles of those who debate it. Read morePublished on April 21 2004 by Robert C. Martin
It is always exciting to learn about new ideas on the cutting edge of any science. The idea of a Snowball Earth has sparked many debates and arguments. Read morePublished on Oct. 13 2003
Gabrielle Walker's first book portrays the struggle of a renegade scientist to establish a theory of evolution's progress. Read morePublished on Sept. 9 2003 by Stephen A. Haines
Geologists since the eighteenth century have advocated "uniformitarianism," the concept that what is going on to the Earth now is essentially the same as what has gone on... Read morePublished on July 30 2003 by Rob Hardy
Sorry, couldn't help it!
This is a fun, fascinating layman's account of the controversial theory of cryptozoic global glaciation, how it may have been the trigger behind the... Read more
I first heard about the Snowball Earth theory when I saw a documentary about it on the Discovery Channel. I'm usually more of an astronomy fan, but that documentary fascinated me. Read morePublished on June 30 2003 by John Thomas
Gabrielle Walker's "Snowball Earth" reads like a gripping detective tale and spellbinding memoir. Read morePublished on June 21 2003 by John Kwok
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