“A kaleidoscopic and evocative journey into deep time” (Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature), from the Ice Age to the first appearance of microbial life 550 million years ago, by a brilliant young paleobiologist

“This is as close to time travel as you are likely to get.”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

The past is past, but it does leave clues, and Thomas Halliday has used cutting-edge science to decipher them more completely than ever before. In Otherlands, Halliday makes sixteen fossil sites burst to life on the page.

This book is an exploration of the Earth as it used to exist, the changes that have occurred during its history, and the ways that life has found to adapt―or not. It takes us from the savannahs of Pliocene Kenya to watch a python chase a group of australopithecines into an acacia tree; to a cliff overlooking the salt pans of the empty basin of what will be the Mediterranean Sea just as water from the Miocene Atlantic Ocean spills in; into the tropical forests of Eocene Antarctica; and under the shallow pools of Ediacaran Australia, where we glimpse the first microbial life. 

Otherlands also offers us a vast perspective on the current state of the planet. The thought that something as vast as the Great Barrier Reef, for example, with all its vibrant diversity, might one day soon be gone sounds improbable. But the fossil record shows us that this sort of wholesale change is not only possible but has repeatedly happened throughout Earth history.

Even as he operates on this broad canvas, Halliday brings us up close to the intricate relationships that defined these lost worlds. In novelistic prose that belies the breadth of his research, he illustrates how ecosystems are formed; how species die out and are replaced; and how species migrate, adapt, and collaborate. It is a breathtaking achievement: a surprisingly emotional narrative about the persistence of life, the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, and the scope of deep time, all of which have something to tell us about our current crisis.
“Thomas Halliday’s debut is a kaleidoscopic and evocative journey into deep time. He takes quiet fossil records and complex scientific research and brings them alive—riotous, full-colored, and three-dimensional. You’ll find yourself next to giant two-meter penguins in a forested Antarctica 41 million years ago or hearing singing icebergs in South Africa some 444 million years ago. Maybe most important, Otherlands is a timely reminder of our planet’s impermanence and what we can learn from the past.”—Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature

“Deep time is very hard to capture—even to imagine—and yet Thomas Halliday has done so in this fascinating volume. He wears his grasp of vast scientific learning lightly; this is as close to time travel as you are likely to get.”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

“An absolutely gripping adventure story, exploring the changing vistas of our own planet’s past. Earth has been many different worlds over its planetary history, and Thomas Halliday is the perfect tour guide to these past landscapes and the extraordinary creatures that inhabited them. Otherlands is science writing at its very finest.”—Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins: How the Earth’s History Shaped Human History
 
“Full of wonder and fascination, exquisitely written, this book is time travel of spectacular dimensions—a journey into our planet’s evolution and the world in which we live. It’s a compellingly important read.”—Isabella Tree, author of Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm

“This outstanding debut by an award-winning paleaontologist . . . transports us enthrallingly close to Planet Earth as it used to be. . . . Each chapter immerses us in a different landscape from the geological past, and demonstrates that extinct ecosystems have much to teach us.”The Bookseller (Editor’s Choice)