4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Supposedly we have threescore and ten on this earth. Sadly that isn’t everyone as many lose their lives far too early. The longest-lived person on this planet reached 119, though there is a disputed age older than that. Some creatures are barely around long enough to register on the scale, mayflies for example who emerge from the river and have an urgent rush to find a mate before becoming food.

Do other creatures count time though? Well, they don’t generally, their lives can be short and brutal or extremely long-lived, the factors that govern these things are numerous and multifaceted. In this book, he begins with the microseconds that it takes for a jellyfish to fire a poisonous spine into an unaware swimmer. It may only reach 44mph but the g force is just staggering.

A second passes in almost no time at all. It is the speed, more or less, of our hearts that beat until we breathe out our very last breath. It is thought that every mammal has the same number of heartbeats, from the Etruscan Shrew whose heartbeats 25 times a second to the blue whale that beats 10 times a minute. Not everything huge has a long life, the tiny water bear can live for decades and survive almost everything that this planet can through at it.

For other species time can be measured in days, weeks and months, in particular, the summer flowers that appear as the equinox is reached and follow a circadian pattern. The fleeting glimpse of a flower though pales into insignificance when compared to the bristlecone pine. These trees can last a thousand years and these are by no means the oldest plants out there. Yews, giant sequoias and baobabs can reach equally vast ages that watch the humans that pass as mere flickers on their journey through time.

I thought that this was a really clever way of looking at life on this planet. Taking each chapter as a step up in time gave me a great insight into the way that the natural world works and highlights the fact that we may feel we live a long time, but we are a mere snapshot compared to other lifeforms. The writing does occasionally veer into the academic realm, however, mostly it is a very readable science book on life and its rich and varied time that it chooses to exist. Well worth reading.

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