How the Earth Turned Green [book]

Joseph E. Armstrong
2014 unpublished
576 pages reviewed by Marshall D Sundberg Joseph E Armstrong suggests that How the Earth Turned Green is written for everyone except botanists. As a botanist, I take some exception to that, because, although the book is not laden with all the botanical details about plant structure and evolution that I might want in a textbook for a course exclusively devoted to plants, it provides a salient summary of the important concepts that should guide even a college professor teaching introductory
more » ... introductory biology. In fact, if you exclude the nearly 140-page appendix, How the Earth Turned Green should be required reading for all pre-service biology teachers and on the bookshelf of all K-16 science instructors. This is despite the author's admonition that "you must realize that books are never, ever going to be able to provide you with the latest information" (page 89). Armstrong uses plant evolution, in the broad sense, to demonstrate how to teach the big ideas of science underlying the evolution of life on Earth. For instance, in the first half of chapter one, Armstrong introduces taxonomic classification using a personal historical perspective that moves from the three-kingdom system in vogue when he was an undergraduate, through the paradigm shift to a five-kingdom system during his graduate school days, to the three-domain, multiple-kingdom, hierarchy that today leads us to question whether the concept of "kingdom" even makes sense any more. Such a personal narrative is an example of the friendly approach used throughout the book to illustrate important lessons. In this instance, the message is that in science we expect to change our ideas as new information is uncovered and alternative explanations that better fit our ever-growing data pool emerge. As a result, although the underlying purpose of taxonomic systems, to articulate relationships, has not changed since the time of Darwin, the details continue to be illuminated in ever-finer detail as we test predictions based on current understanding. Deep time is a second major concept Armstrong addresses in the first chapter. Very big (and very small) numbers are difficult for most people to comprehend. Consequently, he is not satisfied with only presenting the typical geologic time line, but rather goes into some detail explaining how an understanding of sedimentary processes enables us to reconstruct geologic history from partial strata exposed in different locations. Later, in chapter two, Armstrong explains the beauty of phylogenetic hypotheses that allow us to scientifically test predictions about the nature of ancient life "without anyone having been there to observe it"-a frequent complaint of evolution deniers. He does this not just by providing evidence, but also by explaining how the evidence is obtained, analyzed,
doi:10.7208/chicago/9780226069807.001.0001 fatcat:tl6pffkcjrarpkhoc6hiaiid3a