Life on a Young Planet

by Andrew H. Knoll

I did not complete this book; it is unreadable. The author has a penchant for poetic phrases, but he would have done better to tighten up his sentence structures. I found myself re-reading sentences, then paragraphs, trying to figure out what the hell he was trying to say. I grant myself the vanity of thinking I’m fairly good with English, but this book left me stumbling through the prose.

The subject matter is the early history of life, prior to the Cambrian explosion 650 million years ago. This is an immensely important subject, one that’s especially difficult to figure out because the fossil evidence is so weak. Not only are there fewer rocks surviving from billions of years ago; not only are they hard to date; but the life forms themselves, being single cells, didn’t leave much to work with. Brilliant scientific work has given us a handle on some of the problems, and there have been important results in the last decade. I’d really like to learn about these developments, and I was able to decode some of this book to figure it out. But the constant struggle against the author’s obtuse writing style got the better of me and I threw the book down. Time to go back to something easier to figure out, like Elizabethan English. (I’m not kidding: another book I just finished (Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year) was written in 1720, and is easy going compared to this hairy monstrosity of language.)

If you have any doubts as to my final conclusion: no, I most definitely do not recommend this book, not to anybody, not for any purpose. If you were stranded on a desert island and a sadistic person would only give you a ride away if you could read the book, I’d recommend you get used to life on a desert island.