<span class='p-name'>A Brief History of Earth by Andrew Knoll</span>

A Brief History of Earth by Andrew Knoll

A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters by Andrew Knoll

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How strongly I recommend this book: 8/10

The Book in Three Sentences

  • An approachable overview of the history of the Earth that grounds its narrative in the scientific evidence.
  • The book focuses on what happened and how we know as it describes our best ideas about planetary formation and ends with a plea on climate change and the environment.
  • Deep science in many areas from how the sun generates heat, to plate tectonics, the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere, the flora and fauna of early seas, explanations of volcanism, and glaciers.


I picked this up while skimming through the new arrivals at the library. The cover drew me in, as well as a desire to read about the planet as I think more about climate change. As I skimmed the introduction and first chapter, I felt like Knoll was speaking to me.

The author asks how well we know the ground beneath our feet. We spend much more time looking out into space or looking into our devices than we do examining the home that we inhabit. I realized that I know very little about geology, the history of the planet, and why things are the way that they are.

Odds are, where you’re standing was once cooking under a roiling sea of lava, crushed by a towering sheet of ice, rocked by a nearby meteor strike, or perhaps choked by poison gases, drowned beneath ocean, perched atop a mountain range, or roamed by fearsome monsters. Probably most or even all of the above. 

The story of our home planet and the organisms spread across its surface is far more spectacular than any Hollywood blockbuster, filled with enough plot twists to rival a bestselling thriller. But only recently have we begun to piece together the whole mystery into a coherent narrative. Drawing on his decades of field research and up-to-the-minute understanding of the latest science, renowned geologist Andrew H. Knoll delivers a rigorous yet accessible biography of Earth, charting our home planet’s epic 4.6 billion-year story. Placing twenty-first-century climate change in deep context, A Brief History of Earth is an indispensable look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Who Should Read This?

This is a manual for the owners and operators of planet Earth. Knoll provides a rigorous yet accessible biography of Earth, charting our planet’s epic 4.6 billion-year story providing a deep context for our discussions about climate change.

A Brief History of Earth is a crucial look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. This should be read in middle grades up through adulthood.

Notes & Quotes

Earth is a planet that records its own history. This is a remarkable history if we choose to read it.

“We pick up the story about 4.6 billion years ago, focusing on an unassuming cloud of hydrogen atoms, along with small amounts of gas, ice, and mineral grains within the spiraling arm of a nondescript galaxy Milky Way.”

The chapters move through different phases of the Earth’s development: Chemical Earth, Physical Earth, Biological Earth, Oxygen Earth, Animal Earth, Green Earth, Catastrophic Earth, and Human Earth. This provides a sweeping survey of the geology of our home planet, starting with the proto-planetary disk and continuing to the modern “Anthropocene” era in which human activity is changing the planet in dramatic ways.

Earth and life have co-evolved through time. Episodic catastrophes have shaped Earth’s biological diversity.

“In the beginning was … well… a jot, a speck, a fleck, at once incomprehensibly small but unimaginably dense. It wasn’t a localized concentration of stuff in the vast emptiness of the universe. It was the universe. How it got there, no one knows.”

Interview with Knoll from Science for the Public.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” —Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forest ranger

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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