Books

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters. Published by Picador and St Martin’s Press on 2 November 2021: available for pre-order.

For a review copy email here.

‘This is now the best book available about the huge changes in our planet and its living creatures, over the billions of years of the Earth’s existence. Continents have merged and broken up; massive volcanic eruptions have repeatedly reset the clock of evolution; temperatures, atmospheric gases, and sea levels have undergone big swings; and new ways of life have evolved. Henry Gee makes this kaleidoscopically changing canvas of life understandable and exciting. Who will enjoy reading this book? Everybody!’
—Jared Diamond

‘Don’t miss this delightful, concise, sweeping masterpiece! Gee brilliantly condenses the entire, improbable, astonishing history of life on earth—all 5 billion years—into a charming, zippy and scientifically accurate yarn. I honestly couldn’t put this book down, and you won’t either.’
—Daniel E. Lieberman

‘A scintillating, fast-paced waltz through four billion years of evolution, from one of our leading science writers. As a senior editor at Nature, Henry Gee has had a front-row seat to the most important fossil discoveries of the last quarter century. His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us.’
—Steve Brusatte

Across The Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates. Published by the University of Chicago Press.

‘Across the Bridge is a deft and well-argued distillation of how advances have shifted the field to the point of dispatching some of the most influential and elegant classical hypotheses, and it is a bold attempt at developing a new synthesis. It thereby deepens understanding of our own evolutionary origins.’– Chris Lowe

‘An excellent addition, complementing Gee’s earlier book Before the Backbone, which provided a historical perspective on ideas surrounding vertebrate origins. Gee addresses an important topic for biologists and zoologists about vertebrates’ place in the ‘grand scheme.’ We are familiar with vertebrates, or think that we are. However, Gee shows beautifully, as a group we are just as strange in many ways as other groups appear to us. Across the Bridge takes on a very esoteric subject and is genuinely witty and charming. The book really is magnificent.’ — Neil J. Gostling

‘…this is a scientific argument that proposes a particular scenario for vertebrate origins. [Gee] presents a data-filled narrative that takes advantage of the substantial advances made during the past two decades in molecular phylogenetics, evolutionary developmental biology, and paleontology. These new data provide surprising insights.’ — Quarterly Review of Biology

The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution. Published by the University of Chicago Press.

‘Henry Gee, paleontology editor at Nature, confronts two commonly held views of evolution and effectively demolishes both, persuasively arguing that evolution doesn’t work the way most people believe it does and that the entire concept of ‘human exceptionalism’ (the idea that humans are fundamentally superior to other animals due to ‘language, technology, or consciousness’) is erroneous. . . . He buttresses these points with an impressive and accessible overview of the pattern of human evolution, showing just how little we actually know and arguing that different evolutionary stories could likely fit the extant data.’ — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

‘If you only read one book on evolution this year, make it this one. You will be dethroned. But you won’t be disappointed.’ — Geoscientist

‘The Accidental Species is an excellent guide to our current knowledge of how we got where we are. . . . Highly recommended.’ — BBC Focus

‘Gee sets out vehemently to dispute our common tendency to see ourselves as the pinnacle of creation, the bold, brilliant branch that is the final growth of the evolutionary tree of life. . . . a thought-provoking and challenging book.’Library Journal

‘With a delightfully irascible sense of humor, Henry Gee reflects on our origin and all the misunderstanding that we impose on it. The Accidental Species is an excellent primer on how—and how not—to think about human evolution.’ — Carl Zimmer

‘The Accidental Species is at once an eminently readable and important book. For almost three decades Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature, has helped bring some of the most important discoveries in paleontology to the scientific community and the public at large. Employing years of experience, sharp wit, and great erudition, Gee reveals how most of our popular conceptions of evolution are wrong. Gee delights in shedding us of our assumptions to reveal how science has the power to inform, enlighten, and ultimately surprise.’ — Neil Shubin

‘Quite simply, the best book ever written about the fossil record and humankind’s place in evolution.’ John Gribbin

‘You may think there was nothing more to say about evolution, but The Accidental Species proves that there is—and wonderful stuff it is.’ — Brian Clegg

‘Gee is a paleontologist, an evolutionary biologist and a senior editor at the journal Nature. He is also a blues musician and a major Tolkien fan — a set of quirky characteristics that may help explain the combination of science and humor that pervades The Accidental Species. It is Gee’s contention that scientists have been completely wrong in seeing humans as the apex of evolution. He denies that we developed big brains, the ability to use tools and all the rest through some kind of progression toward superiority. It was a lot more random, he says: We just kind of turned out this way. He illustrates his premise with detailed analysis and a mocking tone.’ — Washington Post

‘Gee’s big beef in The Accidental Species is with a common and popular narrative in which the evolution of man is a steadily unrolling tale of progress. Think of the classic image of a knuckle-dragging, ape-like creature giving way to a hunched, primitive man who in the following frames becomes taller and bolder until finally he looks like a Premier League football player minus the shorts. The truth, Gee argues . . . is much more complex and surprising.’ — Daily Telegraph

The Science of Middle-earth. Published by Reanimus.

‘The most unexpectedly Tolkienian book about Tolkien that I have ever come across.’ — Tom Shippey

‘How did Frodo’s mithril coat ward off the fatal blow of an orc? How was Legolas able to count the number of riders crossing the plains of Rohan from five leagues away? Could Balrogs fly? Gee, a senior editor at Nature (who says he read The Lord of the Rings about once a year between the ages of 10 and 25), elucidates and expands on the scientific aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world in this fascinating book. Many commentators have noted Tolkien’s use of philology and cultural history to create believable languages for his elves and orcs. Now Gee shows how scientific precepts can make the wonders of Middle-earth even richer.’ — Scientific American