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A dazzlingly original, lyrical and epic encounter with the Earth as it used to be
What would it be like to visit the ancient landscapes of the past? To experience the Jurassic or Cambrian worlds, to wander among these other lands, as creatures extinct for millions of years roam? In this mesmerizing debut, the award-winning palaeontologist Thomas Halliday gives us a breath-taking up close encounter with worlds that are normally unimaginably distant.
Journeying backwards in time from the most recent Ice Age to the dawn of complex life itself, and across all seven continents, Halliday immerses us in a series of extinct ecosystems, each one rendered with a novelist's eye for detail and drama. 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 fact. We visit the birthplace of humanity in Pliocene-era Kenya; in the Jurassic, we wander among dinosaur-inhabited islands in the Mediterranean; and we gaze at the light of an enormous moon in the Ediacaran sky, when life hasn't yet reached land.
Otherlands is a naturalist's travel guide, albeit one of lands distant in time rather than space, showing us the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fantastical and familiar.
© Thomas Halliday 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022
An extraordinary history of our almost-alien Earth... Epically cinematic... The writing is so palpably alive. A book of almost unimaginable riches. It is a book that will make its own solid and lasting contribution. It could well be the best I read in 2022 - and I know it's only January
A mesmerising journey into those vast stretches of Earth's pre-history that lie behind us, on such a scale that you experience a kind of temporal vertigo just thinking about it... [Halliday is] a brilliant writer, his lyrical style vividly conjuring myriad lost worlds... It's obviously a bit of a gamble choosing one's Book of the Year in March - but there's a very good chance already that mine will be Otherlands. Stunning
An impressive, tightly packed, long view of the natural world. In cinematic terms, this book would be a blockbuster... Riveting scientific reading; a remarkable achievement of imagination grounded in fact
An immersive world tour of prehistoric life... Halliday never loses sight of the bigger picture, nimbly marshalling a huge array of insights thrown up by recent research. Each chapter gives not only a vivid snapshot of an ecosystem in action but also insights into geology, climate science, evolution and biochemistry... Mind-blowing
A sweeping, lyrical biography of Earth -- the geology, the biology, the extinctions and the ever-shifting ecology that defines our living planet
Superb... [An] epic, near-hallucinatory natural history of the living earth... Dazzling
Remarkable... Ingenious... A work of immense imagination [...] rooted firmly in the actual science
A fascinating journey through Earth's history... [Halliday] is appropriately lavish in his depiction of the variety and resilience of life, without compromising on scientific accuracy... To read Otherlands is to marvel not only at these unfamiliar lands and creatures, but also that we have the science to bring them to life in such vivid detail
Riveting... An intense and imaginative reading of fossils as runes that tell us about our own times, and possible future. Halliday is a Time Lord at heart, eager to lead us back to, say, the Permian or Oligocene epochs and unpack their lessons for 21st Century humanity. For all its scholarship, this is a very readable book, full of literary reference and accessible metaphor. Otherlands is also a wise manual for adaptive change rather than a prophecy of inevitable doom
Thomas Halliday offers a 550m-year tour of the incredible diversity of life that has existed on our planet... Halliday's trick is to tell his story in reverse. The first hominids exit early; the continents merge and drift and merge again; the sounds of the cretaceous forest fall silent as we pass beyond the evolution of birdsong. Life retreats from land to ocean, and the first eyes give way to the sightless world of the Ediacaran, an alien realm of crawling beings