Richard Cowen’s ‘History of Life’ has run through five editions since it first appeared in 1990. He based the book on his long experience as an instructor at the University of California, Davis, teaching a course called “History of Life” for 40 years. As he said in his Preface to the fifth edition, the book “is meant not just for students, but for everyone interested in the history of life on our planet. Fortunately, paleontology (= paleobiology), is accessible to the average person without deep scientific training. My aim is ambitious: I try to take you to the edges of our knowledge in paleontology, showing you how life has evolved on Earth, and how we have reconstructed the history of that evolution from the record of rocks and fossils.”
It’s a fast-moving field, with new discoveries from all over the world – especially China – and these have revolutionised our understanding in so many areas. It’s not just new fossils, but also new techniques. In 1990, it was very rare for a paleontologist to scan a fossil; now everyone CT scans fossils and explores the intricacies of their internal anatomy. Computational methods are used more than ever.
Our aim with the blog and pages here is to provide occasional news items and mini-essays about exciting new topics that have emerged after the book was published.