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Bookshop: Origin and evolution of life
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Life on a Young Planet : The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Andrew Knoll
Knoll, a paleontologist at Harvard, has spent most of his life examining and making sense of microscopic Precambrian fossils from around the world. In a book so well written that nonspecialists and specialists alike will find much to savor, he captures both the excitement of scientific discovery and the intricacies of scientific interpretation. He addresses two of the biggest questions of biology and paleontology-how did life begin and why was there an explosion of life forms at the start of the Cambrian Era. Publishers Weekly

Snowball Earth : The Story of the Great Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know It. Gabriell Walker
Part biography and part scientific detective story, this debut by British science journalist Walker (a features editor for New Scientist) tells the story of Paul Hoffman, the brilliant, cantankerous Harvard geology professor most responsible for promoting the concept of "Snowball Earth." This controversial hypothesis asserts that about 600 million years ago, the entire planet was encased in ice that was thicker and lasted millennia longer than in any previously recognized ice age. Publishers Weekly

When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. Michael Benton
Today it is common knowledge that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite impact 65 million years ago that killed half of all species then living. Far less well-known is a much greater catastrophe that took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago: 90 percent of life was destroyed, including saber-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey on land, as well as vast numbers of fish and other species in the sea. Publisher's description

In the Blink of an Eye. Andrew Parker
Oxford University zoologist Parker tackles one of biology's biggest mysteries in this nontechnical account. He provides a relatively simple explanation for the sudden explosion of life forms that defines the boundary between the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian eras approximately 543 million years ago: "The Cambrian explosion was triggered by the sudden evolution of vision" in simple organisms. Publisher's description

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee
Renowned paleontologist Ward (Univ. of Washington), who has authored numerous books and articles, and Brownlee, a noted astronomer who has also researched extraterrestrial materials, combine their interests, research, and collaborative thoughts to present a startling new hypothesis: bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Library Journal

Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. Edward Larson
Larson, a Pulitzer-winning historian (Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion), traces the history of the contentious concept of evolution from Darwin's predecessors, like Cuvier and Lyell, to his early advocates, like Asa Gray (who tried to keep God in the mix) and Thomas Huxley, and "postmodern" advocates such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Publishers Weekly