In most books dealing with the history of life, fossil plants comprise the fuzzy backdrop to a zoological drama of ‘hopeful monsters’. At best, they may be permitted to give a static performance and mumble through a few disjointed lines. That’s why David Beerling’s new book – which brings plants onto centre stage – is so refreshingly novel. Through three hundred well written pages and seven geological case studies, Beerling emphasizes plants as a dynamic agent in the Earth’s system, simultaneously shaping the global environment while responding to extrinsic selection pressures.

Over the past fifteen years, Beerling’s research group has...

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