Way way back when I started these reviews, I told you that I would tell you when I read books that I felt were better than those already reviewed. This month is just such a case. Earth and Life Through Time, by Steven Stanley, W. H. Freeman & Company, 1986, happens to fulfill this promise. I obtained this 690 page, large format textbook through a mail order book dealer for $22.00; it is still in print and can be ordered through better book stores for about $45.00.
This book impressed me for a number of reasons. Foremost is the integration of physical geology with historical geology (paleontology). Most older texts with which I am familiar separate and isolate these subjects keeping them independent of one another. Stanley's treatment allows the reader a much more thorough understanding by including plate tectonics, mountain building, sedimentation, paleogeography, and climate along with faunal descriptions, evolution, and extinctions throughout earth's history.
Secondly, although a college text, a previous background in geology is not necessary to the understanding of the book. As with most of the better books I've read, this one does an excellent job of defining technical terms.
Lastly, this is a well illustrated text. Photographs of fossils or geologic formations are complemented by multi-color charts and drawings throughout. These illustrations assist with the overall understanding of the topics. This may seem a minor point, but the positioning of the illustrations is well coordinated with the text so that excessive page flipping between text and picture is unnecessary.
Earth and Life Through Time is organized into seven major divisions: The Environmental Setting; The Dimension of Time; Movements of the Earth; The Precambrian World; The Paleozoic Era; The Mesozoic Era; and The Cenozoic Era. Each of these is subdivided into chapters. The first three divisions present the background information needed to the understanding of those that follow. Just in case you wish you were back in school, each chapter ends with a summary, exercises, and a brief bibliography for additional reading. Four appendices are included: Minerals and Rocks; Deformation Structures in Rocks; Classification of Major Fossil Groups; and Stratigraphic Stages. The twelve page glossary can come in handy when one forgets the meaning of a technical term.
Early chapters cover environments and life, marine and nonmarine sedimentary environments, geologic time including correlating and dating, evolution and the fossil record, plate tectonics, and mountain building. The succeeding section on the Precambrian begins with the age of the universe, origin of the solar system and earth, and formation of the continents. This section concludes in part with the formation of atmospheric oxygen and the earliest evidences of life.
The sections dealing with Phanerozoic life, starting with the Cambrian, begin the interweaving of classic geology with paleontology, paleogeography, ecology, climatology, and evolution. As I mentioned earlier, this treatment is the best I've seen so far which reveals "the big picture" of life on earth through time. For example, if you don't know where the sediments originated in which we find our local fossils, you will after reading the chapter, The Early Paleozoic World. You'll also understand global cooling and its link to the mass extinction at the end of the Ordovician.
In summary, Earth and Life Through Time is far better than Bernhard Kummel's History of the Earth for which I gave one of my initial mini reviews. Stanley's work, besides being sixteen years newer, is much more inclusive, and of course, more up to date.