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“Immersive . . . bracingly ambitious . . . rewinds the story of life on Earth—from the mammoth steppe of the last Ice Age to the dawn of multicellular creatures over 500 million years ago.”—The Economist
“One of those rare books that’s both deeply informative and daringly imaginative.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky
The past is past, but it does leave clues, and Thomas Halliday has used cutting-edge science to decipher them more completely than ever before. In Otherlands, Halliday makes sixteen fossil sites burst to life on the page.
This book is an exploration of the Earth as it used to exist, the changes that have occurred during its history, and the ways that life has found to adapt―or not. It takes us from the savannahs of Pliocene Kenya to watch a python chase a group of australopithecines into an acacia tree; to a cliff overlooking the salt pans of the empty basin of what will be the Mediterranean Sea just as water from the Miocene Atlantic Ocean spills in; into the tropical forests of Eocene Antarctica; and under the shallow pools of Ediacaran Australia, where we glimpse the first microbial life.
Otherlands also offers us a vast perspective on the current state of the planet. The thought that something as vast as the Great Barrier Reef, for example, with all its vibrant diversity, might one day soon be gone sounds improbable. But the fossil record shows us that this sort of wholesale change is not only possible but has repeatedly happened throughout Earth history.
Even as he operates on this broad canvas, Halliday brings us up close to the intricate relationships that defined these lost worlds. In novelistic prose that belies the breadth of his research, he illustrates how ecosystems are formed; how species die out and are replaced; and how species migrate, adapt, and collaborate. It is a breathtaking achievement: a surprisingly emotional narrative about the persistence of life, the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, and the scope of deep time, all of which have something to tell us about our current crisis.
About the Author
Thomas Halliday is a palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist. He holds a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Birmingham, and is a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum. His research combines theoretical and real data to investigate long-term patterns in the fossil record, particularly in mammals. Thomas was the winner of the Linnean Society's John C. Marsden Medal in 2016 and the Hugh Miller Writing Competition in 2018.
“Written with gusto and bravado . . . In a genre that can tend toward cookie-cutter sameness . . . Halliday has honed a unique voice. . . . Otherlands is a verbal feast. You feel like you are there on the Mammoth Steppe, some 20,000 years ago, as frigid winds blow off the glacial front.”—Steve Brusatte, Scientific American
“Halliday’s brilliantly imaginative reconstructions, his deft marshalling of complex science, offers a thrilling experience of deep-time nature for pop-science buffs.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Halliday takes an energizing spin through Earth’s past in his magnificent debut. . . . This show-stopping work deserves wide readership.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Otherlands is one of those rare books that are both deeply informative and daringly imaginative. It will change the way you look at the history of life, and perhaps also its future.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
“Kaleidoscopic and evocative . . . [Halliday] takes quiet fossil records and complex scientific research and brings them alive—riotous, full-colored, and three-dimensional. You’ll find yourself next to giant two-meter penguins in a forested Antarctica 41 million years ago or hearing singing icebergs in South Africa some 444 million years ago. Maybe most important, Otherlands is a timely reminder of our planet’s impermanence and what we can learn from the past.”—Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature
“A book of almost unimaginable riches . . . This is an utterly serious piece of work, meticulously evidence-based and epically cinematic. Or rather, beyond cinematic. The writing is so palpably alive.”—The Sunday Times (U.K.)
“A fascinating journey through Earth’s history . . . [Halliday] is appropriately lavish in his depiction of the variety and resilience of life, without compromising on scientific accuracy. To read Otherlands is to marvel not only at these unfamiliar lands and creatures, but also that we have the science to bring them to life in such vivid detail.”—New Scientist
“Vivid . . . An intricate analysis of our planet's interconnected past, it is impossible to come away from Otherlands without awe for what may lie ahead.”—Independent
“The best book on the history of life on Earth I have ever read.”—Tom Holland, author of Dominion
“Deep time is very hard to capture—even to imagine—and yet Thomas Halliday has done so in this fascinating volume. He wears his grasp of vast scientific learning lightly; this is as close to time travel as you are likely to get.”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
““Absolutely gripping . . . Earth has been many different worlds over its planetary history, and Thomas Halliday is the perfect tour guide to these past landscapes and the extraordinary creatures that inhabited them.”—Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins: How the Earth’s History Shaped Human History