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Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0231164122
ISBN-10: 0231164122
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Editorial Reviews


J. David Archibald is one of the leading paleomammalogists in the world, and one of the foremost experts on the biotic changes across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. In this book, he shows a deep understanding of the chronology and iconography of the 'tree' as both an iconic metaphor and a conceptual device in the history of biology.

(Kevin Padian, University of California, Berkeley)

This book presents a fascinating trip through the history of imagery and conceptual frameworks used to understand the diversity and evolution of life. J. David Archibald has produced an authoritative and delightful text that will be relished by anyone interested in evolution, biodiversity, the history and philosophy of science, scientific art, or graphic design.

(David M. Hillis, University of Texas at Austin)

Through the long history of drawings and diagrams, J. David Archibald's magnificent new book shows us how people have depicted the diverse interrelated array of life: from linear chains and ladders up through modern evolutionary trees. Archibald's work makes it clear that these relationships have been sensed regardless of the competing ideas of how the patterns were formed: whether through supernatural causes or natural evolutionary processes.

(Niles Eldredge, author of Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life)

Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree provides a fascinating insight into the way biologists use diagrams to show the history of evolution. David Archibald documents the story of these pictures in an engaging and refreshing style, ranging from beautiful early manuscripts and frescoes that display religious and human genealogical relationships, to the most modern phylogenetic trees that appear in scientific journals and textbooks. A great book for a biologist!

(Janet Browne, Harvard University)

Archibald's book is interdisciplinary, authoritative, well-written and complete, with a deep historiographic appreciation of its many subjects.


Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree will be intellectually stimulating for those interested in the history and philosophy of biology, and especially for those impressed by the importance of the visual for the construction of scientific knowledge.

(Reports of the National Center for Science Education)

Impressive and rather humbling...


Fascinating... A book that is very much worth reading by anyone who is interested in the conceptual heritage of phylogenetic trees.

(Systematic Biology)

Splendid.... Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree is a wonderful book.

(Quarterly Review of Biology)

Illuminating... It has cross-disciplinary appeal, but will be more digestible to readers with prior knowledge of evolutionary theories.

(Journal of Historical Geography)

Rich in content, beautifully illustrated, and often thought-provoking, this book should be of interest to anyone interested in the history of visual representations in the life sciences... This is a book to think with.

(Archives of Natural History)

About the Author

J. David Archibald is professor emeritus of biology at San Diego State University as well as curator of mammals in the SDSU Vertebrate Collections. He has written or coedited more than 150 articles and 6 books, including The Rise of Placental Mammals: Origins and Relationships of the Major Extant Clades and Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Mammals.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 19, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231164122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231164122
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.8 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. David Archibald is Professor Emeritus of Biology, San Diego State University [http://www.bio.sdsu.edu/faculty/archibald.html/]. Born in 1950, Lawrence, Kansas, he is an American paleobiologist. He received his BSc (Magna cum Laude) from Kent State University, 1972 and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, 1977. His dissertation dealt with biotic change, notably of mammals across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary in eastern Montana. From 1977 through 1983 he was J. Willard Gibbs Postdoctoral Fellow in Geology and then Assistant Professor in Biology at Yale University. He declined promotion to Associate Professor to return to California, where he has been since 1983. In May, 2011 he became Professor and Curator Emeritus of Biology. His fieldwork has taken him to the American West innumerable times and to Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan 13 times. He lectures in the U.S and overseas. He has written over 150 articles, essays, and reviews on the systematics and evolution of early mammals, biostratigraphy, faunal analysis, extinction, and evolutionary history, which have appeared in many journals including Nature and Science. His books include: A Study of Mammalia and Geology Across the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary in Garfield County, Montana (1982, University of California Press), Dinosaur Extinction and the End of an Era: What the Fossils Say (1996, Columbia University Press), The Rise Of Placental Mammals: Origins And Relationships Of The Major Extant Clades (2005, edited with Ken Rose), Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of the Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of the Mammals (2011 - both, Johns Hopkins University Press), Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Extinct Life, 2 Volume Set (2013, Gale, edited with Norm MacLeod and Philip Levin), and Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order (2014, Columbia University Press). This most recent book deals with how iconography of especially ladders and trees from Aristotle though DNA has shaped the perception of our place in nature. His work has been supported by some 24 grants from various organizations, most notably the he National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Among his honors are associations with four national and international museums, a Gibbs Fellowship at Yale, a Paleontology Society Distinguished Lecturership, a Fulbright Scholarship in Russia, the Langston Distinguished Lectureship at UT Austin, and a 2007 election as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He taught mammalogy, macroevolution, biogeography, and vertebrate evolution for over 30 years, and has mentored some 30 graduate students and hundreds of undergraduates in his lab and the field.

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By Rhee on January 3, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
wonderful book
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Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order
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