The Earth's Biosphere

The Earth's Biosphere

Evolution, Dynamics, and Change

By Vaclav Smil

A comprehensive overview of Earth's biosphere, written with scientific rigor and essay-like flair.





A comprehensive overview of Earth's biosphere, written with scientific rigor and essay-like flair.

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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262194723 356 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 138 illus.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262692984 356 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 138 illus.


  • A lovely book, in both content and execution.

    Science Books & Films

  • A superior, comprehensive survey.


  • 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