The best books about fossils and the history of life

Who am I?

An acclaimed scientist, teacher, and writer, Andrew Knoll has travelled the world for decades, investigating ancient rocks to understand the intertwined histories of our planet and the life it supports. His boyhood thrill at discovering fossils has never deserted him. It continues to motivate him to explore topics that range from the earliest records of life and the emergence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere; the diversification of both plants and animals, and the intricacies of mass extinctions, past and present. He has also participated in NASA’s exploration of Mars.


I wrote...

A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

By Andrew H. Knoll,

Book cover of A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

What is my book about?

We live our lives tethered to the Earth, but how well do you know our planetary home?

Drawing on his decades of field research and up-to-the-minute understanding of the latest science, Andrew H. Knoll delivers a rigorous yet accessible biography of Earth, charting our home planet’s epic 4.6-billion-year story. Placing twenty-first-century climate change in deep context, A Brief History of Earth is an indispensable look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The books I picked & why

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Your Inner Fish

By Neil Shubin,

Book cover of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Why this book?

There are lots of good books about fossils, but this is my favorite. Shubin interweaves his discovery of Tiktaalik, a remarkable fossil that documents the transition from fish to amphibians, with a deftly drawn portrait of how our own bodies reflect evolutionary history. Original, deeply informed, and beautifully written, Your Inner Fish helps us all to understand how fossils illuminate the biological diversity we see around us.


Trilobite

By Richard Fortey,

Book cover of Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution

Why this book?

Richard Fortey, a renowned paleontologist and acclaimed science writer, uses trilobites – those marvelous multi-limbed denizens of Paleozoic seas – to explain how fossils illuminate the past.  Fortey has studied trilobites for decades, and his expertise shines through on every page.  At the same time, his skills as a storyteller bring these ancient arthropods and the worlds they inhabited to vivid life. An enjoyable way to learn how paleontologists think. 


The Meaning of Fossils

By Martin J.S. Rudwick,

Book cover of The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology

Why this book?

It’s one thing to appreciate that fossils record the history of life, but something else altogether to understand how we came to know that. Rudwick’s classic book recounts the discoveries, large and small, that over centuries revealed fossils to be remnants of lost worlds. An exceptional exercise in the history of science. The Meaning of Fossils is required reading for students of paleontology.


The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

By Steve Brusatte,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World

Why this book?

There’s no shortage of books about dinosaurs, but this is one of the best.  Brusatte’s engaging account blends an enthusiasm for dinosaur fossils that any eight-year-old will recognize with a masterly understanding of the thunder lizards and their times.  Enlightening and fun to read, The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs will delight all who love those greatest of all land creatures. 


The Story of the Human Body

By Daniel E. Lieberman,

Book cover of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

Why this book?

Of the many good books about human evolution, Dan Lieberman’s is my favorite. A biologist and paleoanthropologist, Lieberman describes in clear, accessible prose the fossils that document our own origins, stressing function as inferred from fossils. Having recounted the story of our evolutionary origins, he goes on to explain its consequences – some good, some bad – for human health in the 21st century.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fossils, paleontology, and the human body?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fossils, paleontology, and the human body.

Fossils Explore 22 books about fossils
Paleontology Explore 16 books about paleontology
The Human Body Explore 28 books about the human body

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils, Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter!, and All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals if you like this list.