An extraordinary and vivid interpretation of our planet’s history.
Otherlands succeeds in covering millions of years of paleobiological history and life on earth in a way that is more accessible and enlightening than any previous written attempt to do this that I can think of. That is a remarkable achievement when you consider that if the entire 4.5 billion years of our geological history were condensed into just one hour, then human history would only last two thousandths of a second. Halliday’s approach is to drop in on specific moments in time on this planet and then create a reconstruction of what that would have looked like. Each reproduction is detailed, beautifully imagined and vividly portrayed by this scientist with an extraordinary writing talent. There are sixteen chapters, starting with the Northern Hemisphere 20,000 years ago and concluding with Ediacaran Earth 550 million years ago. The effect of this approach is to explain the title of the book - you really do feel as though you have travelled through time to other lands and that you are witnessing our deepest origins. I found myself thinking of the parallel worlds of Philip Pullman, or even the planets visited by Captain Kirk - often they would be familiar but unrecognisable, our memory scrambled and repurposed in a way that makes some sort of sense, like a weird dream. The moon may be brighter, the penguins may be larger, there are camels in what is now Alaska, and so on. Otherlands is an incredible achievement of the imagination, anchored in scientific fact and travelling through time.
A dazzlingly original, lyrical and epic encounter with the Earth as it used to be
This is the past as we've never seen it before.
Otherlands is an epic, exhilarating journey into deep time, showing us the Earth as it used to exist, and the worlds that were here before ours. Travelling back in time to the dawn of complex life, and across all seven continents, award-winning young palaeobiologist Thomas Halliday gives us a mesmerizing up close encounter with eras that are normally unimaginably distant.
Halliday immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes, from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. These lost worlds seem fantastical and yet every description - whether the colour of a beetle's shell, the rhythm of pterosaurs in flight or the lingering smell of sulphur in the air - is grounded in the fossil record.
Otherlands is a staggering imaginative feat: an emotional narrative that underscores the tenacity of life - yet also the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, including our own. To read it is to see the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fabulous and familiar.
|Publication date:||1st February 2022|
|Publisher:||Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd|
The best book on the history of life on Earth I have ever read -- Tom Holland, author of DOMINION
Thomas Halliday's debut is a kaleidoscopic and evocative journey into deep time. He takes quiet fossil records and complex scientific research and brings them alive - riotous, full-coloured and three-dimensional. You'll find yourself next to giant two-metre penguins in a forested Antarctica 41 million years ago or hearing singing icebergs in South Africa some 444 million years ago. Maybe most importantly, Otherlands is a timely reminder of our planet's impermanence and what we can learn from the past -- Andrea Wulf, author of THE INVENTION OF NATURE
Deep time is very hard to capture - even to imagine - and yet Thomas Halliday has done so in this fascinating volume. He wears his grasp of vast scientific learning lightly; this is as close to time travel as you are likely to get -- Bill McKibben, author of FALTER
An absolutely gripping adventure story, exploring back through the changing vistas of our own planet's past. Earth has been many different worlds over its planetary history, and Thomas Halliday is the perfect tour guide to these past landscapes, and the extraordinary creatures that inhabited them. Otherlands is science writing at its very finest -- Lewis Dartnell, author of ORIGINS
Full of wonder and fascination, exquisitely written, this is time travel of spectacular dimensions - a journey into our planet's evolution and the world in which we live. A compellingly important read -- Isabella Tree, author of WILDING
Otherlands is one of those rare books that's both deeply informative and daringly imaginative. It will change the way you look at the history of life, and perhaps also its future -- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of THE SIXTH EXTINCTION