Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Story of Earth and Life: A Southern African Perspective on a 4.6-Billion-Year Journey

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Story of Earth and Life: A Southern African Perspective on a 4.6-Billion-Year Journey

Article excerpt

GEOGRAPHY, ENVIRONMENT, AND DEMOGRAPHY Terence McCarthy and Bruce Rubidge, eds. The Story Of Earth And Life: A Southern African Perspective on a 4.6-Billion-Year Journey. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 2005, 333 pp, Photographs. Maps, Tables. Index. $31,95, Paper.

Earth and Life is an unusual textbook in several respects. The coverage includes not only geology but also prehistory, the text includes contributions from no fewer than eighteen scholars, and the volume is subsidized by Kumba Resources, a South African mining company. This felicitous partnership brings the price of a full-color book down to an affordable level for students, which will help guarantee its widespread use in the classroom.

After a brief summary of the history of research and of basic methods, the book follows a logical progress through time, beginning with the formation of the earth from a global perspective. From broad processes, we move on to the formation of the continents and the oldest geological formations in southern Africa, which date to over 3600 million years ago. Here, as throughout the book, the graphics, maps, tables, and photographs are carefully designed, graphically stunning, and beautifully reproduced. "Route Maps" at the beginning of each chapter provide signposts to the topics that follow as well as chronological information. Chapter 4 describes the rich mineral deposits of the Kaapvaal Craton, part of the world's oldest continent, and the formation of the most extensive gold and platinum deposits anywhere from the collision of small continents and massive sediment accumulation. Then came Panagea and the ancestors of the present continents-the life and death of the supercontinents. Chapter 7 provides a description of the geology of Gondwana, as revealed in southern African strata, the remains of the supercontinent that supplies over 60 percent of the world's minerals, including evidence for a mass extinction of 251 million years ago that exterminated 96 percent of then-living species. The next chapter turns to paleontology and describes the life of Gondwana, known from major fossil discoveries in southern Africa, with occasional excursions further afield. …

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