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Geoscientist Online

Making Eden: How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet

Beerling Making EdenMany readers will be aware of the popular 2012 BBC series How To Grow A Planet, which presented the natural history of plants, and their effects upon the planet, atmosphere, and ultimately human civilisation. Fewer will be aware that the three-part TV production was based upon The Emerald Planet (2007), the engaging previous book by David Beerling on this subject.

Twelve years after The Emerald Planet was released, comes Making Eden, the preface to which indicates that it “can be regarded as the prequel to [the] previous book… which actually had rather little to say about how plant life on land got going and sustains the diversity of life there”. To fill in these details then, is the main purpose of Making Eden, and the focus is clearly shifted to the development and progression of early plant life. Relatively complex subjects within the field of planet genetics are presented in detail, yet in an accessible writing style that should appeal to non-specialists. However, be aware of the weighting towards early plant biology, and away from interactions with the lithosphere and atmosphere; for example, it is not until the penultimate chapter when the effects and feedbacks of trees upon climate are discussed. Readers who are more interested in these areas of research are better served by the previous book.

Making Eden highlights the problem of “plant blindness”, described by the author as the tendency for society to overlook and under-appreciate the presence and contribution of plant life within the natural system. We are reminded of the truly high value of plants from opening chapter “All flesh is grass”, which serves to amplify the dangers of species loss presented in the concluding chapter. It is sobering to learn that by the year 2100, at least 18% of plant species are projected to become extinct due to habitat depletion, a figure that would rise to an estimated 40% if high-diversity hotspots remain poorly-protected. Additional significant losses related to general climatic warming are predicted, and the likely pressures this will apply to society are unrelentingly described. These challenges will doubtless be familiar to the popular-science target audience, but that does not detract from the importance of the message.

Thoroughly researched, content-heavy, and scattered with anecdotes and examples from Beerling’s own career, Making Eden overall probably does not achieve the ‘essential reading’ status of its predecessor, but nonetheless remains an informative and highly relevant read.

Reviewed by David Vaughan

MAKING EDEN: HOW PLANTS TRANSFORMED A BARREN PLANET, by David Beerling, 2019. Published by: Oxford University Press 272 pp. (hbk.) ISBN: 9780198798309. List price: £20.00 W: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/making-eden-9780198798309