Life On A Young Planet by Andrew Knoll
I very rarely give 5/5 reviews, and then only to classics, but this is too good to receive four stars. It’s an exceptional guide to the current state of thinking about the three billion years of the evolution of life leading up to the Cambrian Explosion. Written by an expert in the field, with a whole professional life behind him, it’s superbly, clearly and engagingly written – I haven’t read a natural history book as good as this for a while. All phases of life are covered, from the very earliest up to the Cambrian Explosion itself at 541 million years ago. The author is fair-handed, giving alternative evaluations where appropriate and mentioning all the main players in the field. Nor do you need much scientific knowledge to appreciate this book; it’s written with style and clarity. In a nutshell – exceptional.