A Review of the Book – “First Life”

Designed to accompany the two-part television series, “David Attenborough’s First Life” covers the billions of years of time, leading up to the development of advanced forms of life on our planet.  It is a chronological journal, split into eleven chapters that tells the story of the “slow burning fuse” that led to the explosion of life in the Cambrian, the development of the Phyla of organisms that are still with us today.

The text is informative, not too technical and designed for the lay person to follow.  There are many splendid photographs and lots of information on the fossil locations, although it would have been interesting to read more about some of the UK fossil locations such as Crail in Scotland and perhaps there are too few scary creatures for children to enjoy.  Although, it is amazing to see the strange and wonderful creatures known as the Ediacaran fauna (soft-bodied, bizarre organisms).  By the Late Precambrian, around six hundred million years ago, simple food chains had become established with over thirty different genera recognised, this simply ecosystem is known as the Ediacaran fauna after the Ediacara Hills, north of Adelaide in South Australia, where a variety of Late Precambrian fossils were discovered in the late 1940s.

The introduction, written by Sir David Attenborough, really brings out his passion for fossils and fossil collecting.  The highlight of the book, was reading about Sir David’s own connection with Charnwood forest, the site in Leicestershire, the county of Sir David’s childhood, where the important Precambrian fossil Charnia (Charnia masoni) was discovered.

At over 285 pages in length, this book provides an appropriate balance between academic content and computer generated wonders.  One of the features of this book, are the extreme close up photographs of important fossils.  The vast majority of fossils from the Precambrian and the Cambrian geological period are extremely small, but the highly magnified and full colour photographs really help to bring the fossil evidence “to life”” as it were.  The reader is treated to some wonderful images, illustrations of the primitive sea landscapes and some excellent computer generated impressions and graphics as to what the fauna and flora of the Burgess Shale site might have looked like (British Columbia, Canada).

So in summary, a good book, an interesting read, perhaps not ideally suited for children but a fitting tribute to the work of scientists and to Sir David himself.

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