Thomas Halliday is an award-winning palaeobiologist and Associate Research Fellow at the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Birmingham. Otherlands is his debut book, a dazzlingly original, lyrical and epic encounter with the Earth as it used to be.
Halliday will join us on the 23rd of February to take us on a kaleidoscopic and evocative journey through deep time. This is the past as we’ve never seen it before.
His work immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes, from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. These lost worlds seem fantastical and yet every description – whether the colour of a beetle’s shell, the rhythm of pterosaurs in flight or the lingering smell of sulphur in the air – is grounded in the fossil record.
Otherlands brilliantly incorporates complex scientific research and brings it alive: riotous, full-coloured and three-dimensional. He tells of giant two-metre penguins in a forested Antarctica 41 million years ago to singing icebergs in South Africa some 444 million years ago. Maybe most importantly, the book is a timely reminder of our planet’s impermanence and what we can learn from the past.
This is a staggering imaginative feat: an emotional narrative that underscores the tenacity of life – yet also the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, including our own. To read it is to see the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fabulous and familiar.