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At the Water's Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life Hardcover – April 13, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0684834900 ISBN-10: 0684834901

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684834901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684834900
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,038,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Macroevolution is the interesting part of evolution: the rise and fall of major groups like dinosaurs or horses, the development of whole new organs (like eyes) and ways of life (like pollination). Such changes are difficult to study, and harder still to prove. Carl Zimmer looks at metamorphoses across the boundary between land and sea: how fish learned to walk on land, and how whales went back to the ocean. "The story of each of these transformations hides its own unexpected details, as startling as the skyward eyes that sat on top of our ancestors' heads or the delicate toes that turned up in the equation of a whale." Zimmer's account is accurate yet lively, covering recent discoveries in taxonomy and dolphin intelligence, embryology and eight-toed fossil fish. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

One of the hallmarks of life is change. In his first book, Zimmer, a senior editor and feature writer at Discover magazine, has chosen to explicate two of the biggest examples of organic evolution the Earth has ever seen. He starts by describing how fish, beginning between 350 and 400 million years ago, evolved into creatures who crawled out of the water and, eventually, into terrestrial mammals able to breathe air, withstand the pressures of gravity and move about without the aid of water. He then turns his attention to how, 40-50 million years ago, some well-adapted terrestrial mammals went back into the sea and, over time, gave rise to whales, porpoises and their marine relatives. Zimmer shows that the transformation back to aquatic life?without the luxury of gills, fins and the host of additional adaptations that make fish so successful?was an amazing evolutionary feat. Zimmer treats the controversy surrounding the mechanism of macroevolution only cursorily: he opts not to take a position in the conflict between the proponents of punctuated equilibrium and the advocates of gradualism. But he makes up for that lack with his gripping account of how scientists work. By accompanying scientists into the field, visiting them in their laboratories and conducting extensive interviews with them, Zimmer communicates the excitement of cutting-edge scientific research and fieldwork. More than just an informative book about macroevolution itself, this is an entertaining history of ideas written with literary flair and technical rigor. Line drawings and diagrams throughout.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I write books about science. Nature fascinates me, as does its history.

So far, I've written twelve books, including Parasite Rex and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution. In addition to my books, I also write regularly about science for The New York Times, as well as for magazines including National Geographic and Wired. I've won awards for my work from the National Academies of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My blog, The Loom, is published by National Geographic Magazine (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/the-loom).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There seem to be a number of really big macroevolutionary events in natural history, and Zimmer does well in explaining what happened and why with the fish-tetrapod event, the blind alleys, and people involved. I would have liked more detail in anatomy, DNA relationships, and the like, but that probably would have bored most people. The land animal-whale transition feels closer to home, but seems to be to be a side-show to the major events in evolutionary history. Zimmer writes well but it would be good to have a technical volume to go with it. Footnotes / endnotes would also be pleasant addition for the reader that wants to follow up, but they are missing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John McGinn on August 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book does a remarkable job of covering two major transitions in evolution. First the transition from fish to the first terrestrial tetrapods and secondly from terrestrial mammals to whales. A kind of out of the water and back in scenario.
The book covers the transitional specimens that have been found to date very well and goes over most of the difficulties of changing from one extreme environment to the other.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in evolution.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author takes you along the path from the earliest animals to the evolution of whales in an account that is detailed , yet is an enjoyable read and one that does not lose you in all its intricacies. At the end I felt very satisfied that he had done an excellent account of explaining everything,
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Don on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Informative, well written. This book is a delight to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Forman on August 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Carl Zimmer does a terrific job of taking a difficult subjectand making it interesting and undertandable. This is a great resourcefor describing to the "evolutionary uninformed public" about the vast number of transitional fossils, embryologic similarities between species and DNA evidence for macroevolution. We need more writers and researchers like Carl Zimmer to help the masses aquire the knowledge to propell us into the 21st Century. It was a pleasure to read..only wish it was longer!
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