I’ve had this one on my radar for some time now. I discovered Clémence Dupont on Instagram a while back and quickly fell in love with her stylized paleoart. I soon found that she had published a book, originally published in French as La grande expédition and translated into English as A Brief History of Life on Earth. Without even knowing much about it, I knew it was one I would want to feature at Dino Dad Reviews. I finally got around to buying it recently, and I am pleased to share it with you here today!
Upon opening the book, I discovered I had somehow missed the fact that it was a fold out timeline! (I suppose we can count that as proof of my admiration for Clémence Dupont‘s art that I bought sight unseen like that!) And let me tell you, this thing is massive. At 8 meters (26 feet) long (approximately the length of a Triceratops, incidentally), it leaves every other timeline I’ve seen in the dust (or should I say the Precambrian?). I didn’t even manage to unfold the entire thing until I visited my friend Diane at Billings Productions one day (the company that provides the animatronics used at the Heard Natural Science Museum among other places), and it extended through most of their central office space!
As for the content, the timeline covers all the major time periods from the Hadean to the present day, with two separate charts on either side of its massive “concertina-style” page. The front side features the author’s usual artwork, with backgrounds and lifeforms depicted in her usual vibrant style. I found it interesting that she remained consistent in her use of geologic periods throughout the timeline, rather than abruptly switching to the more fine-grained lens of geologic epochs upon reaching the Cenozoic like many other charts do. A bit of license is taken here and there with the placement of certain creatures, which I am inclined to give a pass to, but as the point of this book is to convey a sense of geologic succession, I suppose I should take some marks off for that. The way in which the Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs bleed into each other stands out to me in particular. I suppose it means to depict the transition between periods as more of a gradient than a hard line, but here the effect comes off a little more on the side of seeming a bit out of order.
While the main side contains illustrated scenes that morph over time, the reverse side depicts a simple chart with major events marked on a line. While the illustrated side prioritizes a pleasant viewing experience, the chart prioritizes scale, depicting each unit of time proportionally to each other. I have to respect this decision, as this means the Precambrian takes up over two thirds of the entire length of the chart. A lesser book might have shrunk this timeframe down, as from a human perspective it looks relatively uneventful compared to the major changes that get crammed into the last 500 million years. They don’t call a major chunk of the Precambrian the “Boring Billion” for nothing, after all. I love it though. When even the time of the dinosaurs feels so long ago, it truly boggles the mind seeing just how vast our planet’s entire history truly is. It makes me think that this long expanse of time where life seemed “stuck” in single-celled form must have been anything but “boring”. Even in microscopic form, over such long ages life must have played out countless evolutionary dramas just as vital and complex as anything that came after the point some organisms finally became multicellular.
I highly recommend A Brief History of Life on Earth (or La grande expédition if you would rather read it in its original French!). Its sheer size alone makes it worth the purchase, though I can understand if those who live in a smaller apartment might be hesitant to do so! Clémence Dupont has delivered an invaluable aid in teaching the scope and scale of Deep Time, supplemented by her lovely artwork. For this reason I feel A Brief History of Life on Earth definitely deserves the Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!