About the Book



Order from the Oxford University Press site // Amazon // Barnes and Noble

E-book available at Google Books


“Like all good works of science for the general public, McFarland’s is full of fascinating examples, a dash of humor, and just plain cool facts.” — Publishers Weekly

“McFarland’s unique way of looking at things gives new insights to the reader on the topic established in the subtitle: how the periodic table shaped life.” — popsciencebooks.blogspot.com

“The book’s chronological structure and colloquial writing style make the book easy to read. The contents manage to walk the edge between technical and popular.” — rosemariecawkwell.wordpress.com


A World From Dust is a popular science book about the chemical sequence behind the evolution of creation.

It’s about how geology, biology, and chemistry worked together over billions of years, providing a hidden order under the random flow of genes and lava and water.

It’s about the chemical job that each element takes up in life, and how that job is predictable from its place on the periodic table.

It can be told as the story of many elements: how iron and sulfur gave a spark of life; how manganese was a key for oxygen; and how copper and zinc formed the basis for your immune system and growth patterns.

It can be told as the story of one element: the story of how oxygen was hidden from life, then killed life, then gave new energy and new shapes for life to become more complex than before.

It’s also about how, if we rewound and replayed the “tape of life”, what we would “hear” in evolution would be much the same the second time around. It’s about how, at certain levels, life is predictable and ordered — and at other levels, it’s not.

To use big words, it’s about chemistry, convergence, and contingency. To use little words (that are probably better), it’s about fate and free will.

The book is written by Ben McFarland and illustrated by Gala Bent and Mary Anderson.

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