Review: Gaia, James Lovelock

Rating: 4 out of 5

I first heard the name of James Lovelock in sixth or seventh grade where my nature studies teacher mentioned Gaia theory briefly. I’ve known the name since but not investigated the man or the theory in more detail until now—and it turned out quite different to what I was expecting!

Mr Lovelock’s investigation of the Earth in this book is far more a story of science, supported by facts, or at least the facts as they were known at the time of the writing in 1970’s. It is clear that many of the facts have been better understood since then, and indeed that seemed to be the partial motivation for the new edition, released still more than a decade ago. The book’s emphasis, other than the broad term of ‘science’, can also be attributed to the history of the world.

As such a history, this was a better narrative than any other I know about. Many authors have tried to make a story of the development of life on Earth, and these ranks include people I read religiously (say Bryson). However, Mr Lovelock’s story was simple and straightforward, presented the events as much as we know them, and relied on the chemistry and physics of what was possible at that time. In this narrative, the author’s comparisons and points of “a few percent more of oxygen and this would be the case…” both hearkened backwards and forwards in time to make comparisons with the past and present.

Overall, that was what I enjoyed most about this book—the history of the Earth. The other aspects, development of chemistry and life, and how this life helps to maintain a balance made for a compelling argument though modern scientific consensus seems to fall against the Gaia hypothesis. Be that as it may, the author proves himself as a first-rate thinker. Of course, even a cursory look at either the criticism or support of the theory leads one down the drain of innumerable philosophical concepts that don’t aid most readers. It is easier, therefore, to not look for one’s religion (even if that religion is science) in this book and to walk away with a few new thoughts and memories.

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