Gaia by James Lovelock
The Gaia hypothesis (now Gaia Theory thanks to lots of scientific work, modelling and testing) was a real bolt from the blue for me. I was immediately hooked by the notion of a global, self-regulating geophysical/biological/climate mechanism. I didn’t fall however for any of the daft New Age additions which, to James Lovelock’s considerable annoyance, began to augment the original hypothesis as his ideas achieved mainstream recognition.
Gaia Theory has been made more sophisticated – in the manner of all scientific theories – as the decades have passed, but this original book presents all the core ideas. Later, stout-hearted fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins would mock the theory for being teleological, but Lovelock and his aides answered every question flung at them, to the great benefit of the theory as a whole. Though now called Earth System Theory, it has achieved mainstream recognition. Perhaps Gaia Theory was just too hippy-dippy…
Lovelock is unique. A fiercely independent scientist, it was his wide range of skills and experience that made him broad-minded enough to put together hunches, ideas and scientific observations into the fledgling Gaia hypothesis (why is the atmosphere of Mars so different to that of the Earth? How come the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere, despite oxygen’s considerably chemical reactivity, has remained constant over millions of years?).
This book, and most of those which followed, helped open the eyes of the scientific community to the dangers of global warming, and much more. Though some of Lovelock’s later claims were themselves overheated, he was at least walking in the right direction. His remarkable autobiography Homage To Gaia explains a lot of the background to the development of the mind that teased Gaia out of our planet’s geophysical environment.
Decades on, it’s still a ground-breaking book.