Cowen’s History of Life (Sixth Edition)


Michael J Benton (Ed)
John Wiley & Sons Ltd, £55.00

That this is the sixth edition of Cowen’s History of Life since its first edition in 1990 is testament to its value as a source of knowledge over the past 29 years.

In the current edition there are 23 chapters spanning the major evolutionary milestones, beginning with the origin of life on Earth, followed by the earliest life forms and progressing through the major taxonomic groups, explaining how structural, physiological, metabolic and behavioural adaptation to the ever-changing environment drove the pace of evolution that led to the colonisation of ecologically diverse habitats.

There is much to commend this book: the straightforward style of writing by leading scholars, the excellent coloured illustrations and photographs, additional reading links and questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, and a companion website offering opportunities for enhanced learning.

However, perhaps most notably, it is Cowen’s original statement that the book is “meant not just for students, but for everyone interested in the history of life on our planet” that is so poignant today, with climate change and other human activities threatening the rate of species extinction and loss of habitat, and the increasing anger of concerned peoples across the globe.

At £55, the price is high for individual purchase, but for libraries and departments this represents a very sound investment.

Dr Stephen R Hoskins CBiol FRSB