Here is the extraordinary story of the unfolding of life on Earth, told by Michael J. Benton, a world-renowned authority on biodiversity. Ranging over four billion years, Benton weaves together the latest findings on fossils, earth history, evolutionary biology, and many other fields to highlight the great leaps that enabled life to evolve from microbe to human--big breakthroughs that made whole new ways of life possible--including cell division and multicellularity, hard skeletons, the move to land, the origin of forests, the move to the air. He describes the mass extinctions, especially the Permian, which obliterated 90% of life, and he sheds light on the origins of human beings, and of the many hominids that went before us. He ends by pointing out that studying the past helps us to predict the future: what happens if the atmosphere warms by 5 degrees? What happens if we destroy much of the biodiversity on Earth? These things have happened before, Benton notes. We need only look to the distant past to know the future of life on Earth.About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.