Book Review: Oxygen

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Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History (Science Essentials)

Princeton University Press

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Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History
by Donald E. Canfield
Princeton University Press, 2014

The earth's present atmosphere, made up of 21 percent oxygen, in eons past had very little if any of this life-giving gas, effectively making our planet a hostile, alien world for most of its existence. In Oxygen, Canfield, a noted geoscientist, weaves personal anecdotes and cutting-edge research into two epic narratives: how the earth's initially anoxic air transformed over billions of years into the stuff we breathe today and how he and generations of other scientists have laboriously pieced together this atmospheric puzzle. The result of the earth's remarkable oxygenation over geological time is nothing less than our planet's rich biosphere of complex, multicellular life. Through a journey that takes readers from the bottom of the sea to the sunbaked deserts of the Australian outback, from life's first stirrings on the earth to its possible existence on extrasolar planets, Canfield has crafted a challenging, definitive work of scholarship and storytelling that will give readers a newfound appreciation for every breath they take.

This article was originally published with the title "Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History."

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