Author: Andrew Parker
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
Retail Price: 9.99
Buy on Amazon.com link
Arguably, the most dramatic, momentous event in the history of life occurred 543-538 million years ago, at the start of the Cambrian period, when suddenly life that had consisted of simple organisms for 3.5 billion years prior exploded in unparallel diversity.
In just a few million years, a blip in Earth’s history, this evolutionary Big Bang (known as the Cambrian Explosion) transformed three animal phyla into 38 (the same number today, minus two because of man-made extinction), introducing shells and other defensive armor, different shapes and sizes, and other new external features, including eyes.
Parker’s theory is that newfound vision opened the evolutionary Pandora’s box. In Precambrian times, organisms lived in darkness; there was no need to look a certain way for predators or prey, nor was there any purpose for mobility in hunting or feeding. With vision, though, organisms could actively hunt, and prey needed to adapt to survive. The predator-prey relationship, with the lights turned on, led to this explosion of external varieties.
It’s a logical theory, and Parker backs it up with exhaustive multidisciplinary research. Parker delves into long explanations of optics, color, evolutionary biology, paleontology, you name it. Perhaps the simplicity of the theory prompted him to give background information on every aspect of it, to make it meatier, but following along can be a chore.
Even so, the topic is fascinating and I learned more from this book than I had in years of school. The book might be a crash course in everything from Biology 101 to plate tectonics, but that could be its strength as well as its weakness, depending on your interests.
Bottom Line: Sprawling, but informative, look at an explosion of life.