Life's Splendid Drama: Evolutionary Biology and the Reconstruction of Life's Ancestry, 1860-1940

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In 1928, paleontologist William Diller Matthew wrote, "The story of life on earth is a splendid drama." This story has captivated generations of biologists, including those working in the years immediately following publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859. Yet histories of the Darwinian revolution have ignored the main nineteenth-century application of evolution: the attempt to reconstruct the history of life on earth. Now Peter J. Bowler seeks to recover some of this lost history in Life's Splendid Drama, the definitive account of evolutionary morphology and its relationships with paleontology and biogeography. As Bowler tracks major scientific debates over the emergence of the vertebrates, the origins of the main types of living animals, and the rise and extinction of groups such as the dinosaurs, his richly detailed accounts bring to light complex interactions among specialists in various fields of biology. Charting the role of Darwin's ideas and the degree and direction of their influence, Bowler shows how these interactions constituted an interdisciplinary program with a focus on reconstructing the past rather than on mechanisms of evolutionary change. Bowler also examines the socially laden metaphors used by early biologists to describe the history of life, and argues that such usage influenced the development of modern evolutionism by exploiting Darwinian principles outside the context of the genetical theory of natural selection. Much of the rhetoric of "social Darwinism" may thus have been derived not directly from natural selection theory but from the application of Darwinian principles to the rise and fall of different animal groups over time. Bowler's magisterial work will appeal to historians of science and ideas and also to biologists - particularly those working in evolutionary biology, paleontology, and systematicsinterested in the roots of their disciplines, as well as to the many readers fascinated by Darwin and his influence.
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Editorial Reviews

Bowler (history and philosophy of science, Queen's U., Belfast) is the Barbara Tuchman of evolutionary history--his eleven books have covered nearly every aspect of it. In this account of evolutionary morphology and its relationships with paleontology and biogeography, he tracks scientific debates over the emergence of the vertebrates, the origins of living animals, the rise and extinction of groups such as the dinosaurs, and the role of Darwin's ideas and the degree and direction of their influence. The text is followed by a biographical appendix with timelines and a 50-page bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Table of Geological Periods and Eras
1 The First Evolutionary Biology 1
A New Biology 6
A Revolution in Science? 15
Transforming Traditions 18
The Professional Framework 25
2 The Tree of Life 40
Relationships Redefined 45
Form and Function 62
Convergence and Parallelism 67
Ontogeny and Phylogeny 74
The Base of the Tree 83
3 Are the Arthropoda a Natural Group? 97
The Problem of Arthropod Origins 103
The Genealogy of the Crustacea 106
Peripatus and the Origin of the Tracheata 120
Limulus an Arachnid 123
The Debate Widens 127
The Fossil Record 132
4 Vertebrate Origins 141
The Ascidian Theory 147
The Annelid Theory 154
The Arthropod Theories 171
Nemertines and the Actinozoa 180
Balanoglossus and the Echinoderms 185
The Environmental Trigger 192
Later Developments 196
5 From Fish to Amphibian 203
The Origin of Fish 206
The Fin Problem 219
The Origin of the Amphibians 229
From Water to Land 244
6 The Origin of Birds and Mammals 259
From Reptile to Bird 261
Taking to the Air 273
Monotremes, Marsupials, and Mammals 280
The Mammal-like Reptiles 297
7 Patterns in the Past 313
Putting Things Together 320
Adaptive Radiation 328
Laws and Trends 339
Rise and Fall 352
Mass Extinctions 366
8 The Geography of Life 371
Zoological Provinces 379
Lost Worlds 389
Northern Origins 394
Southern Continents 407
9 The Metaphors of Evolutions 419
Trees and Ladders 424
The Biology of Imperialism? 435
Phylogeny and Modern Darwinism 441
Biographical Appendix 447
Bibliography 461
Index 511
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