The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History (Oxford Landmark Science)

ISBN : 9780198798323

David Beerling
416 Pages
129 x 196 mm
Pub date
Feb 2017


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  • A wonderful, interdisciplinary approach examining the role of plants in Earth's history, encompassing evolution, climate change, botany, palaeontology, and history of science.
  • Reveals the extraordinary amount that plants can tell us about the history of the planet — something that has often been overlooked amongst the preoccuputations with dinosaur bones and animal fossils.
  • Provides a fascinating perspective on the controversial and crucial subject of global warming - for we can only fully understand climate change today by looking into the distant past, long before the rise of mankind.
  • Incorporates cutting-edge research.
  • Explains current science in an accessible and entertaining way.
  • Looks at many fascinating puzzles: Why did plants evolve leaves? When and how did forests once grow on Antarctica? How did prehistoric insects manage to grow so large?
  • Part of the Oxford Landmark Science range: 'must-read' modern science and big ideas, which have shaped the way we think.

Plants have profoundly moulded the Earth's climate and the evolutionary trajectory of life. Far from being 'silent witnesses to the passage of time', plants are dynamic components of our world, shaping the environment throughout history as much as that environment has shaped them.

In The Emerald Planet, David Beerling puts plants centre stage, revealing the crucial role they have played in driving global changes in the environment, in recording hidden facets of Earth's history, and in helping us to predict its future. His account draws together evidence from fossil plants, from experiments with their living counterparts, and from computer models of the 'Earth System', to illuminate the history of our planet and its biodiversity. This new approach reveals how plummeting carbon dioxide levels removed a barrier to the evolution of the leaf; how plants played a starring role in pushing oxygen levels upwards, allowing spectacular giant insects to thrive in the Carboniferous; and it strengthens fascinating and contentious fossil evidence for an ancient hole in the ozone layer. Along the way, Beerling introduces a lively cast of pioneering scientists from Victorian times onwards whose discoveries provided the crucial background to these and the other puzzles.

This understanding of our planet's past sheds a sobering light on our own climate-changing activities, and offers clues to what our climatic and ecological futures might look like. There could be no more important time to take a close look at plants, and to understand the history of the world through the stories they tell.

Oxford Landmark Science books are 'must-read' classics of modern science writing which have crystallized big ideas, and shaped the way we think.

A fascinating insight into the way life — especially plants — evolved on our planet. - Jonathan Cowie, Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation

Review from previous edition Within these pages is one of the greatest stories ever told... It is as fascinating as it is important. - New Scientist

Here at last is David Beerling as the Green Knight, revealing the extraordinary story of the construction of our emerald planet. Rigorous science joins hands with an enthusiastic delivery to re-awaken our fascination in plants, while engaging anecdotes provide a thrilling background to an extraordinary story of climate change and our current environmental crisis. - Simon Conway Morris (author of Life's Solution)

Beerling gives us the big picture of how plants have changed our planet - and poses the key question of how we will manage the emerald planet to ensure the kind of future we desire. - Sir Peter Crane (Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1999-2006)

If I can find a fault with this book it is that each subsequent chapter is so engrossing that it drives the author's previous deliberations from my head... I will return to this book again and again. - Lyn Dunachie, Glasgow Natural History Society

David Beerling's book is both fascinating and important. - P D Smith, The Guardian

An illuminating account of the ways "greenhouse gases, genes, and geochemistry" are linked. - P D Smith, The Guardian

My favourite non-fiction book this year...[a] highly readable history of the last half-billion years on earth - Oliver Sacks, Observer Books of the Year

David Beerling tells two stories in parallel. Both are eloquently and engagingly merged in a scholarly, yet generally accessible book...Beerling provides for the reader a fascinating history of the discovery of fossils and the inferences drawn from them...this book is a wonderful example of the nascent field of Earth systems science. - Paul Falkowski, Nature

...of great value and relevance to all interested in plants, climate and, equally, the future of our 'emerald planet'. - John MacLeod, RHS Professor of Horticulture, Garden

David Beerling's fascinating new book offers a new global perspective on the evolution of our planet...[a] vivid account...The environmental legacy of the plant kingdom upon our world can only be better appreciated after reading this book. - Louis Ronse De Craene

A beautifully detailed account...a gorgeous book. - Steven Poole, The Guardian (Review)

[A] fascinating overview of green evolution. - Karl Dallas, Morning Star

Within these pages is one of the greatest stories ever told ... It is as fascinating as it is important. - New Scientist

The Emerald Planet is a serious talking-to about why plants must not be ignored. - Jonathan Silvertown, TLS


1: Introduction
2: Leaves, genes, and greenhouse gases
3: Oxygen and the lost world of giants
4: An ancient ozone catastrophe?
5: Global warming ushers in the dinosaur era
6: The flourishing forests of Antarctica
7: Paradise lost
8: Nature's green revolution
9: Through a glass darkly

About the author: 

David Beerling, Professor of Paleoclimatology at the University of Sheffield
David Beerling is Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences University of Sheffield. Before this he held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, where his work on the evolution of life and the physical environment was recognized by the award of a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in earth sciences (2001). In 2014 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and from 2009-2014 he held the Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award. He has published over 100 papers in international scientific journals and is co-author of Vegetation and the Global Carbon Cycle: Modelling the first 400 million years (CUP, 2001).

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