I am interested in getting a better overview of the full history of the Earth and the evolution of life. Therefore I am looking for a book that goes through the different geological time scales of the Earth and discusses major changes that took place. I am not an Earth scientist or a biologist, so I don't want it to be too formal. However, I do like it to be quite informative and with rich illustrations if possible.

Does anyone have any recommendations on good titles?

  • $\begingroup$ Note that "the full history of the Earth" and "the evolution of life" are two different things, as the latter started... later. A book like History of Life recommended by @John might be good for life but seems to lack Earth's first eon: the Hadean. So you might want to look for two different books. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2020 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Its very late, but ‘The Rare Earth’ was the best intro I ever had to planetary science, astrobiology and thus the history of the earth and the emergence of life. $\endgroup$
    – Andykins
    May 18, 2023 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


Cowen's History of Life

Your best bet is Cowen's History of Life, it is an excellent introductory textbooks for paleontology well laid out and clearly written with introductory students in mind so a laymen will be fine. It covers the entire breadth of the life. Check the edition though there are six of them now and the older ones are pretty outdated and not laid out as well. if it wasn't so expensive I would buy it to give to people.

I can recommend a few more specialized texts, to dig deeper [pun intended]

Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Time: Evolutionary Paleoecology of Terrestrial Plants and Animals which is an excellent review of terrestiral life.

Invertebrate Palaeontology & Evolution by Clarkson which is a beautiful textbook yet still accessible to the laymen since it is written for undergraduates.

Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record by Benton and Harper is the best introduction to paleontology in general you can get, and may be worth a look if you are having trouble with the other books make.

A lot of searches will point you to Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth It is OK but the author very much has their storytelling hat on. Great for making it a more enjoyable read, bad if you want information. It reads more like a biography.


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