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Hardcover | Out of Print | 356 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 138 illus. | August 2002 | ISBN: 9780262194723
Paperback | $43.00 X | £35.95 | 356 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 138 illus. | August 2003 | ISBN: 9780262692984
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The Earth's Biosphere

Evolution, Dynamics, and Change


In his latest book, Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth's biosphere from its origins to its near and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere's physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by human activity. He provides both the basics of the story and surprising asides illustrating critical but often neglected aspects of biospheric complexity.

Smil begins with a history of the modern idea of the biosphere, focusing on the development of the concept by Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky. He explores the probability of life elsewhere in the universe, life's evolution and metabolism, and the biosphere's extent, mass, productivity, and grand-scale organization. Smil offers fresh approaches to such well-known phenomena as solar radiation and plate tectonics and introduces lesser-known topics such as the quarter-power scaling of animal and plant metabolism across body sizes and metabolic pathways. He also examines two sets of fundamental relationships that have profoundly influenced the evolution of life and the persistence of the biosphere: symbiosis and the role of life's complexity as a determinant of biomass productivity and resilience. And he voices concern about the future course of human-caused global environmental change, which could compromise the biosphere's integrity and threaten the survival of modern civilization.

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses and Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing, both published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that “there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.”


“A lovely book, in both content and execution.”—Science Books & Films
“A superior, comprehensive survey.”—Booklist
“The breadth of discussion is remarkable...The Earth's Biosphere is unconventional.”—Annals of the Association of American Geographers
“... written by an author who does not allow facts to be obscured or overshadowed by politics.”—The New York Review of Books


“Finally we have an accessible, highly integrated account of the environment: wise rather than clever, responsible rather than glib, comprehensive rather than confused, comprehensible rather than new. Smil's unique biospheric narrative, devoid of hype and patriotism, transcends academic apartheid. This immensely learned story of the past history and current state of the third planet is destined to become required reading for anyone who seeks the environmental context for human activity.”
Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor, Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and recipient of the National Medal of Science
“This extremely comprehensive book is more than an encyclopedia. It presents integrative, selective, and good quality information with a point of view informed by up-to-date sources and spanning a dazzling array of fields. I doubt anyone other than Vaclav Smil could have produced such a work.”
Martin Hoffert, Professor of Physcis, New York University
“Vaclav Smil's scholarship on biospherics is unique. Few have the necessary interdisciplinary background to attempt a work of this nature. Smil has wisely selected from the staggering amount of material pertinent to this topic and organized his presentation in a thoughtful way. I know of no comparable work where the mastery of the technological, scientific, and historical material relevant to the subject is so seamlessly presented.”
John Katzenberger, Director, Aspen Global Change Institute
“The book's magisterial coverage, richness of detail, and mastery of the most recent literature are its strengths.”
David Schwartzman, Department of Biology, Howard University