Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

3.7 7
by Brian Switek

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The epic quest for missing links and other myths about evolution.See more details below


The epic quest for missing links and other myths about evolution.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Beginning with a recently discovered 47-million-year-old primate fossil, Switek effectively and eloquently demonstrates the exponential increase in fossils that have been found since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. In delightful prose, he blends information about fossil evidence with the scientific debates about how that evidence might be best interpreted. Switek, who writes the Smithsonian's Dinosaur Tracking blog, focuses on evidence for the evolution of major lineages, from reptiles to birds and from fish to tetrapods. He also explains at length how whales, horses, and humans evolved, marshaling compelling fossil evidence and combining it with information from molecular biology; at every step, he makes clear what is still unknown. He underscores that life forms have not "progressed" through evolution to end with Homo sapiens as the highest life form; rather, evolution has produced "a wildly branching tree of life with no predetermined path or endpoint." He superbly shows that "[i]f we can let go of our conceit," we will see the preciousness of life in all its forms. 90 b&w illus. (Nov.)
Library Journal
When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution by means of natural selection in 1859, his reasoning was hampered by the lack of transitional fossils. These "missing links" formed the basis for persistent refutation of Darwin's theory. Today, with the recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in China, whales that walked from Pakistan, and other peculiar fossils, the significant gaps in evolutionary history are now being filled. Switek (research associate, New Jersey State Museum), who blogs for Smithsonian's Dinosaur Tracking and Seed magazine's Laelaps, presents a popular account of fossil discoveries, historical debates related to evolution, and how the unearthing of these missing links is filling in the gaps in evolutionary history. Written for the lay reader, this is an informative survey of the latest facts coupled with the historical record of evolutionary changes. VERDICT Armchair scientists and general readers interested in evolution will enjoy this informative book. Highly recommended.—Gloria Maxwell, Metropolitan Community Coll., Penn Valley, Kansas City, MO
Kirkus Reviews

A highly instructive tour of the fossil record, from New Jersey State Museum research associate Switek.

"[E]very single bone has a story to tell about the life and evolution of the animal it once belonged to," writes the author in this easily digestible survey of paleontological history. Some of the scientists reading the evidence brought the quirks and contingencies of their times to the stories they told, trying, for example, to corroborate science with scripture, while others sallied into new and blasphemous realms. Switek invests all of them with a wonderful engagement as they try to make sense of the stone bones. The author weds the geological conjectures of James Hutton to the comparative anatomy of Georges Cuvier, and shows how the tinkerings of Charles Lyell influenced French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Charles Darwin enters the picture along with Alfred Russell Wallace, allowing Switek to examine inherited variation, advantageous traits and natural selection. In his discussion of Thomas Huxley's skirmishes with reptile-bird relationships, the author conveys the heroic nature of field science—"In order to approximate the dinosaurian physiology, the...scientists carried out the unenviable task of sticking thermometers in the cloacae of American alligators"—while also pondering the self-contained life of the amniotic egg, the energy and perseverance of scientists like Albert Koch and his sea monsters and Hugh Falconer's tribulations with prehistoric elephants. Switek ranges across an astonishingly diverse variety of topics, including the evolution whales in Pakistan and the connection between jaw and ear bones in early mammals. The author brings all the branching patterns into focus, even when the language threatens to overwhelm, in a way that permits readers to fill the gaps in the circumstantially incomplete fossil record.

A warm, intelligent yeoman's guide to the progress of life.

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Bellevue Literary Press
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

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