Sunday, July 4, 2021

Origins: The Search for Our Prehistoric Past by Frank HT Rhodes

I was one of those kids who grew up watching way too many National Geographic documentaries at a child, so every once in a while I still love to indulge in content that will not only prove to challenge me, but also broaden my understanding of the natural world. Origins: The Search for Our Prehistoric Past by Frank HT Rhodes, narrated by Derek Perkins, is one such title that, as the the name suggests, digs deep into the origins of life on our planet.

This is an ambitious work, and the periods it covers is vast, but what I really appreciate about it is that it really put into perspective our position as a species when viewing the vast history of life on Earth. Truth be told, our existence as member of the family of great apes is a mere addendum when all is considered. In evolutionary terms, mammals are pretty much latecomers on the planet.

Rhodes not only delves into the history of life on earth, and all the multiple theories and hypotheses lying at the root of our understanding, but he also tells the story of the very early geologists and palaeontologists whose life works contributed to the theories that are currently accepted by the majority of scientists this day. Great care is taken into explaining how the theory of evolution functions, as well as how the taxonomy of living things is executed. It doesn't matter if you know next to nothing or, like me, are an armchair enthusiast – you'll get a wonderful broad overview that acts as a springboard for further study.

To be fair, this is such an enormous topic to cover, but I do think Rhodes does admirably well to paint in broad strokes – especially when it comes to explaining how evolution works. What I appreciated also was the way in which he touched on the reality of extinction, examining the mass extinction-level events or circumstances of the past, as well as reminding readers of the essential ephemeral and somewhat tenuous nature of life. 

The only downside to listening to the audiobook is that you don't have ready access to any of the accompanying diagrams or illustrations that you'd find in the printed book, but you can download a handy reference guide as a PDF from the Audible website if you're of a mind to delve deeper.

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