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

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Overview

“Switek seamlessly intertwines two types of evolution: one of life on earth and the other of paleontology itself.”—Discover Magazine

““In delightful prose, [Switek] . . . superbly shows that ‘[i]f we can let go of our conceit,’ we will see the preciousness of life in all its forms.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Highly instructive . . . a warm, intelligent yeoman’s guide to the progress of life.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Magisterial . . . part ...

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

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Overview

“Switek seamlessly intertwines two types of evolution: one of life on earth and the other of paleontology itself.”—Discover Magazine

““In delightful prose, [Switek] . . . superbly shows that ‘[i]f we can let go of our conceit,’ we will see the preciousness of life in all its forms.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Highly instructive . . . a warm, intelligent yeoman’s guide to the progress of life.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Magisterial . . . part historical account, part scientific detective story. Switek’s elegant prose and thoughtful scholarship will change the way you see life on our planet. This book marks the debut of an important new voice.”—Neil Shubin

“Elegantly and engagingly crafted, Brian Switek’s narrative interweaves stories and characters not often encountered in books on paleontology—at once a unique, informative and entertaining read.”—Niles Eldredge

“If you want to read one book to get up to speed on evolution, read Written in Stone. Brian Switek’s clear and compelling book is full of fascinating stories about how scientists have read the fossil record to trace the evolution of life on Earth.”—Ann Gibbons

“[Switek's] accounts of dinosaurs, birds, whales, and our own primate ancestors are not just fascinating for their rich historical detail, but also for their up-to-date reporting on paleontology’s latest discoveries.”—Carl Zimmer

"After reading this book, you will have a totally new context in which to interpret the evolutionary history of amphibians, mammals, whales, elephants, horses, and especially humans.”—Donald R. Prothero

Spectacular fossil finds make today's headlines; new technology unlocks secrets of skeletons unearthed a hundred years ago. Still, evolution is often poorly represented by the media and misunderstood by the public. A potent antidote to pseudoscience, Written in Stone is an engrossing history of evolutionary discovery for anyone who has marveled at the variety and richness of life.

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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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934137291
  • Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 666,317
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Brian Switek is a science writer and research associate at the New Jersey State Museum who has done fieldwork on fossils in Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. He has been a frequent guest on the BBC and has written about paleontology for the Smithsonian magazine, London Times, Wired Science, Eureka and elsewhere. He is also the author of the acclaimed science blog Laelaps and Smithsonian magazine’s Dinosaur Tracking.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Missing Links 9

The Living Rock 24

Moving Mountains 42

From Fins to Fingers 69

Footprints and Feathers on the Sands of Time 91

The Meek Inherit the Earth 126

As Monstrous as a Whale 145

Behemoth 174

On a Last Leg 204

Through the Looking Glass 226

Time and Chance 266

Notes 272

References 282

Acknowledgments and Permissions 304

Index 308

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Huh

    It was really confusing, but other than that is good.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2013

    Wolfclaw and shadepaw

    A muscular tom and a small apprentice paded in. The apprentice clung to the tom looking around

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 21, 2013

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    Posted May 30, 2013

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