Review: Here on Earth by Tim Flannery

If Tim Flannery were granted one conversation with Darwin, he’d ask him this:  Does evolution build ecosystems that become more stable and resilient over time, or does it lead to a “Genghis Khan species’ that will destroy all?  This question lies at the heart of his book Here on Earth, an elegant account of life on our planet.

Flannery is guided by two strands of evolutionary theory—reductionist science as epitomized by Charles Darwin and the more holistic analyses of Alfred Russel Wallace.  According to Flannery, these opposing theories reflect the different ways humans approach the custodianship of planet Earth.

In order to explore the matter, Flannery takes the longest, widest view—something that provides comfort in an investigation of approaching climactic catastrophe.  It is also fascinating stuff.  Beginning with the birth of stars to the creation of water and the accident of simple life forms, Flannery documents life on Earth through to the present moment: the rise of the human ‘superorganism’ poised on the edge of destruction.  Are we, then, to be the ‘Ghengis Khan species’?

Masterfully written, Here on Earth is a twin biography of our species and our planet.  Flannery, with razor sharp observations and expansive knowledge, makes a case for urgent action.  But this book is not all doom-filled.  It’s a cogent argument for hope.  Life on Earth has always been tumultuous and will continue to be so.  The storm is coming, but Flannery’s wide view offers the hope that we have the intelligence to look beyond—and act.

Here on Earth is published by Text.


Review first published in The Courier-Mail in October 2010.

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