Popular Science Books

This list is intended to be representative rather than exhaustive. Most popular science books are focused not only on the biosphere, but on the fauna. Mass extinctions are an especially popular theme.


  • The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Cutler, 2003 This is a biography of Nicolaus Steno, the "father of geology" who promulgated the original laws of stratigraphy and who pioneered the Earth history approach to understand modern landscapes. (citation and description)
  • Fossils: the Key to the Past. Fortey, 2002 This book is targeted to the general public and explains geologic time, rocks, and fossils (both in terms of the organisms that made them and how they formed). (citation and description)
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflection in Natural History. Gould, 1995 This collection of essays is mostly set in the present day, but many of them deal with evolutionary issues, and particularly with australopithecines, dinosaurs and the problem of extinction. (citation and description)
  • The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. Lovelock, 1988 This book deals with the development of Earth as a system, from the Archaean onwards, stressing interactions between the atmosphere and the biosphere. (citation and description)
  • The Little Book of Planet Earth. Meissner, 2002 A brief summary of Earth history and of the major ideas involved in it (such as evolution, gravity, etc). (citation and description)
  • Mysteries of Terra Firma: the Age and Evolution of the Earth. Powell, 2001 This book deals with the history of three controversial ideas: the age of the Earth, continental drift, and meteor impacts as a cause of mass extinction. (citation and description)
  • Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?. Raup, 1991 This book deals with the issue of "survival of the fittest" and mass extinctions. Are the survivors of extinctions necessarily better adapted than the species that were exterminated? (citation and description)
  • Origins: the Evolution of the Continents, Oceans, and Life. Redfern, 2001 This book contains beautiful photos of modern landscapes and text explaining how they developed, stressing continental drift, orogeny, and changes in sea level and ocean circulation. (citation and description)
  • The Major Features of Evolution. Simpson, 1953 This classic volume applies the Modern Synthesis, modern evolutionary theory, to fossil lineages, bridging the gap between population genetics and paleontology. (citation and description)
  • On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions. Ward, 1992 This book reviews modern survivors of lineages greatly reduced by mass extinctions and discusses why those lineages got hit so much harder than others. (citation and description)

Hadean, Archean, and Proterozoic (Precambrian)

  • Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Gould, 1989 This book describes the Cambrian Burgess shale fauna, rich in organisms with no close modern relatives. Gould argues that extinction has wiped out all but a few fortunate phyla. (citation and description)
  • Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Knoll, 2003 This book reviews the evolution of life (mostly single-celled) and the Earth system up until the early Cambrian and the scientific work that has gone into piecing this story together. (citation and description)
  • Snowball Earth: The Story of the Great Global Catastrophe that Spawned Life as We Know It. Walker, 2003 This book describes evidence for the Snowball Earth hypothesis, the idea that at the Earth was completely or almost completely covered in ice during the late Proterozoic. (citation and description)


  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of all Time. Benton, 2003 This book deals with the mass extinction at the end of the Permian. The author discusses several possible extinction scenarios. (citation and description)
  • When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth. Bonner, 2003 This illustrated kid's book deals with the Carboniferous and Permian periods and covers climate, plate tectonics, and paleontology. (citation and description)
  • In the Blink of an Eye. Parker, 2003 Parker explains the Cambrian explosion as an evolutionary response to the activity of the first predators with the ability to hunt by sight, trilobites. (citation and description)


  • The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction. Bakker, 2001 This book summarizes several different lines of evidence that indicate that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and not at all lizard-like. (citation and description)
  • Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass Extinction. Courtillot, 1999 This book uses the catastrophic-volcanism hypothesis to explain the K/T mass extinction, as opposed to the impact hypothesis. (citation and description)
  • Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans. Ellis, 2003 This illustrated book deals with large Mesozoic animals that were not dinosaurs, the marine lizards: mosasaurs, icthyosaurs, pliosaurs, and plesiosaurs. (citation and description)
  • Mass Extinction Debates: How Science Works in a Crisis. Glen, 1994 This is a history of science project documenting a controversy as it unfolds. The controversy in question is whether the K/T extinction was caused by catastrophic volcanism or an asteroid impact. (citation and description)
  • Digging Dinosaurs: the search that unraveled the mystery of baby dinosaurs. Horner, 1988 The author describes how he studied a duckbill dinosaur nesting area and used fossil eggs and bones to piece together the way these animals reproduced and raised their offspring. (citation and description)
  • Quest for the African Dinosaurs: Ancient Roots of the Modern World. Jacobs, 1993 This book deals not only with dinosaurs, but describes dinosaur paleontology in modern Africa. (citation and description)


  • The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and our Future. Alley, 2000 Alley studies ice cores which contain both paleoclimate information and annual layers which indicate extreme climate change in Earth's recent past (tens of thousands of years). (citation and description)
  • Evolution and Ecology: The Pace of Life. Bennett, 1997 This book deals with punctuated-equilibrium evolutionary mechanisms during the Pleistocene. (citation and description)
  • Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery. Imbrie and Imbrie, 1979 This book describes how Milankovitch cycles work, that is, how slight variations in Earth's rotation and orbit cause ice ages. (citation and description)
  • Ice Time: Climate, Science and Life on Earth. Levenson, 1989 This book deals with geologically recent climate change: the last ice age, the Little Ice Age (~1600-1800 AD), and current global warming. (citation and description)
  • After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. Pielou, 1991 This book describes how the great North American ice sheet melted away, and how the face of North America changed over the next ten thousand years. (citation and description)
  • Mammal evolution: An illustrated guide. Savage and Long, 1986 This beautifully illustrated oversized book describes several lineages of mammals in terms of anatomy and ancestry. (citation and description)
  • The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why the Ice Age Mammals Disappeared. Ward, 1997 This book discusses the extinction of large mammals, such as mammoths, giant sloths, etc. in North America ~10,000 years ago at the end of the latest ice age. (citation and description)