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Life Sculpted

Tales of the Animals, Plants, and Fungi That Drill, Break, and Scrape to Shape the Earth


Meet the menagerie of lifeforms that dig, crunch, bore, and otherwise reshape our planet.
Did you know elephants dig ballroom-sized caves alongside volcanoes? Or that parrotfish chew coral reefs and poop sandy beaches? Or that our planet once hosted a five-ton dinosaur-crunching alligator cousin? In fact, almost since its fascinating start, life was boring. Billions of years ago bacteria, algae, and fungi began breaking down rocks in oceans, a role they still perform today. About a half-billion years ago, animal ancestors began drilling, scraping, gnawing, or breaking rocky seascapes. In turn, their descendants crunched through the materials of life itself—shells, wood, and bones. Today, such “bioeroders” continue to shape our planet—from the bacteria that devour our teeth to the mighty moon snail, always hunting for food, as evidenced by tiny snail-made boreholes in clams and other moon snails.
There is no better guide to these lifeforms than Anthony J. Martin, a popular science author, paleontologist, and co-discoverer of the first known burrowing dinosaur. Following the crumbs of lichens, sponges, worms, clams, snails, octopi, barnacles, sea urchins, termites, beetles, fishes, dinosaurs, crocodilians, birds, elephants, and (of course) humans, Life Sculpted reveals how bioerosion expanded with the tree of life, becoming an essential part of how ecosystems function while reshaping the face of our planet. With vast knowledge and no small amount of whimsy, Martin uses paleontology, biology, and geology to reveal the awesome power of life’s chewing force. He provokes us to think deeply about the past and present of bioerosion, while also considering how knowledge of this history might aid us in mitigating and adapting to climate change in the future. Yes, Martin concedes, sometimes life can be hard—but life also makes everything less hard every day.

360 pages | 56 halftones | 6 x 9

Biological Sciences: Natural History, Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology


"A bewildering array of lifeforms break, scrape, and mold our planet to their own ends, from elephants digging caves by volcanoes to bacteria breaking down rocks in the oceans. Bioerosion is a distinct area of science, covering paleontology, biology, and geology. It's also testament to how life adapts to change, something relevant in the current Anthropocene era."


“With an equal dose of wit and scholarship, Martin turns what is literally a boring topic—how animals and other species drill and chew through rock, bone, and wood—into an epic tale of evolution. Fun and readable, yet academically rigorous, Martin is one of the finest popularizers of paleontology today, and one of my favorite science writers.”

Steve Brusatte, professor and paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, New York Times–bestselling author of "The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs"

“A truly original cracker of a book. Martin is one of the world’s top experts in trace fossils, and his life-long experience in doing primary research in this field shows clearly. The scientific information is first-class and highly informative. But his prose is also beautiful and refreshingly expressive. Martin has a real mastery of words that is rare. Enthralling.”

John A. Long, author of "The Dawn of the Deed"

“Anthony J. Martin is the Mary Roach of paleontology.”

Mary Roach, @mary_roach

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A Boring History of Life
Chapter 2: Small but Diminishing
Chapter 3: Rock, Thy Name Is Mud
Chapter 4: Your Beach Is Made of Parrotfish Poop
Chapter 5: Jewelry-Amenable Holes of Death
Chapter 6: Super Colossal Shell-Crushing Fury!
Chapter 7: Woodworking at Home
Chapter 8: Driftwood and Woodgrounds
Chapter 9: Bone Eaters of the Deep
Chapter 10: More Bones to Pick
Chapter 11: The Biggest and Most Boring of Animals

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