The Variety of Life

The Variety of Life : A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures That Have Ever Lived

By (author) Colin Tudge

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The Variety of Life can be read at many levels. Not least it is an extraordinary inventory - an illustrated summary of all the Earthly creatures that have ever lived. Whatever living thing you come across, from E coli to an oak tree or an elephant, The Variety of Life will show you what kind of creature it is, and how it relates to all others. Yet there are far too many creatures to present merely as a catalogue. The list of species already described is vast enough - nearly two million - but there could in reality be as many as 30 million different animals, plants, fungi and protists - and perhaps another 400 million different bacteria and archaea. In the 4,000 million years or so since life first began on Earth, there could have been several thousand billion different species. The only way to keep track of so many is to classify - placing similar creatures into categories, which nest within larger categories, and so on. As the centuries have passed, so it has become clear that the different groups are far more diverse than had ever been appreciated. Thus Linneus in the 18th century placed all living things in just two kingdoms, Animals and Plants. By the 1950s this had become five kingdoms - with fungi, protists, and bacteria hived off into their own separate groups. But leading biologists today acknowledge three vastly different domains, each divided into many kingdoms - so that animals and plants, spectacular though they are, are just a fragment of the whole. The Variety of Life explains the means by which systematists have attempted such a mammoth classification of so many various creatures - which in turn leads us into some of the most intriguing and knottiest areas of modern biology: evolutionary theory, molecular genetics, and the history of biological thought. Finally, however, The Variety of Life can simply be seen as a celebration. We should all share Miranda's pleasure in Shakespeare's Tempest - 'How many goodly creatures are there here!' - and feel, as she did, what a privilege it is to share this planet with such wonders. Their fate is in our hands; and first, we must begin to appreciate them.

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  • Paperback | 704 pages
  • 156 x 232 x 38mm | 1,061.41g
  • 07 Mar 2002
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • numerous two-colour line drawings
  • 0198604262
  • 9780198604266
  • 212,047

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Author Information

He has served on the Council of the Zoological Society of London and is currently a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy at the London School of Economics. He has three grown-up children, one of whom helped with the present book.

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Review quote

Review from previous edition The first part of The Variety of Life provides an excellent discussion and explanation of the systematisation of life, which is far from being static and boring. The Herald 09/02/00 This is much more thatn a beautifilly illustrated, engagingly written catalogue The Independent 09/03/2002 ..wonderful encyclopedic "labour of love". The Herald 09/02/2000 Hopefully, the success The Variety of Life deserves will help encourage us "to share (our planet) with so many goodly creatures". The Herald 09/02/2000 The Variety of Life is far more than just another good popular science book. It's a celebration of the "huge privilege" it is to share the planet with so many fantastical creatures. Independent Weekend 08/04/00 Taxonomy may sound dull, but Tudge makes a brilliant case for it. A seasoned science writer with a delightfully light touch, he can make the most arcane subject appealing... a beautifully illustrated introduction to everything that's ever lived. Independent Weekend 08/04/00 ...exceptionally clear, user-friendly, and up-to-date...a valuable introduction to the higher classification of organisms and an easily accessible reference work to the entire spread of biodiversity. Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University ...For all natural historians and anyone professing biology The Variety of Life is a must Douglas Palmer, Amazon.co.uk January 2000 Throughout the book, which one might expect to be dryly taxonomical, he inserts adjectives like "fascinating", "marvellous", and "extraordinary". I will let his own words describe his book. Richard Ellis, The Times 16th March 2000 This book is a remarkable achievement, giving an authoritative overview of the whole of life in a readable way that should be accessible to anyone with an interest in natural history. Find an excuse to buy it. Bulletin of the British Ecological Society 2000 ...this is a lovely and accessible book...It will be hugely valuable as a source-book for student libraries, and highly informative for any enthusiastic lay naturalist curious about the life around them and the fossils beneath them. Nature September 2000 The book is excellently produced, can be recommended unreservedly to all interested in the life sciences (especially molecular biologists), and is remarkably good value for money. Galton Insitute Newsletter September 2000

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