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Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved [Hardcover]

by Ivan R Schwab
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 21, 2011 0195369742 978-0195369748 1
With predation and carnivory as catalysts, the first known eye appeared in a trilobite during the Cambrian explosion approximately 543 million years ago. This period was a crucible of evolution and teemed with anatomic creativity although the journey to formed vision actually began billions of years before that.
The Cambrian period, however, spawned nearly all morphologic forms of the eye, followed by descent over hundreds of millions of years providing an unimaginable variety of eyes with at least ten different designs. Some eyes display spectacular creativity with mirror, scanning or telephoto optics. Some of these ocular designs are merely curiosities, while others offer the finest visual potential packed into a small space, limited only by the laws of diffraction or physiological optics.
For example, some spiders developed tiny, well-formed eyes with scanning optics and three visual pigments; scallops have 40-100 eyes circling their mantle, each of which has mirror optics and contains two separate retinae per eye; deep ocean fish have eyes shaped like tubes containing yellow lenses to break camouflage; and some birds have vision five times better than ours; but this is only part of the story. Each animal alive today has an eye that fits is niche perfectly demonstrating the intimacy of the evolutionary process as no other organ could. The evolution of the eye is one of the best examples of Darwinian principles.
Although few eyes fossilize in any significant manner, many details of this evolution are known and understood. From initial photoreception 3.75 billion years ago to early spatial recognition in the first cupped eyespot in Euglena to fully formed camera style eyes the size of beach balls in ichthyosaurs, animals have processed light to compete and survive in their respective niches.
It is evolution's greatest gift and its greatest triumph. This is the story of the evolution of the eye.

Frequently Bought Together

Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved + Animal Eyes (Oxford Animal Biology) + The Optics of Life: A Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature
Price for all three: $143.98

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Editorial Reviews Review


This book shows what can be achieved by combining insights from sensory physiology with anatomy, phylogeny and the fossil record across the widest range of organisms to document the evolution of a biological system. It demonstrates how the study of living forms can successfully be used to interpret fossil ones, and vice versa. The book's magnificent sweep is all-encompassing, and remarkably up-to-date for such a cross-disciplinary work. It's rare for one person to have such a broad background, but Schwab has achieved this, such that the work provides an example for future studies of the kind.
-Prof. Jennifer A. Clack, ScD, FRS
Professor and Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology,
University Museum of Zoology

An astounding erudite and exciting visual description of eye evolution, something every inquisitive biologist, veterinarian, neuroscientist, or ophthalmologist should have in their library. This book contains 400 illustrations that define and refine the text providing a unique look at the how the eye was achieved. It is truly one of a kind.
Bruce E. Spivey, M.D., M.S., M.Ed.
President, International Council of Ophthalmology

Schwab's lavishly illustrated book documents the amazing proliferation of eyes across the animal kingdom, in all their variations and all their splendour, and it explains the pathways by which these eyes have evolved. Aimed at the non-specialist but intelligent reader, the book begins with the early evolution of life on earth, and sets the scene for the advent of eyes that took place some 500-600 million years ago (mya). By combining fossil evidence with information from extant "primitive" organisms, Schwab explains current ideas about the simple animals that were present during the Ediacaran period (around 600 mya), about the light-detection mechanisms and the genetic machinery that they possessed, and about the split of these primitive animals into two major divisions - comprising on the one hand most invertebrates and on the other hand our own line that led to vertebrates and mammals.

High on the agenda is the invention, around the time of the Cambrian explosion in body forms (more than 500 mya), and the subsequent re-invention, of the two radically different forms of eye: the camera-style eye (as we have) with a single lens, and the compound eye, with multiple repeated units each having its own lens or mirror. Using beautiful images, Schwab charts the myriad variations on these two themes that have been employed by countless species, extinct and extant, over the course of 500 million years of global experimentation, refinement, and rejection. The result is a stunning book that will serve both to introduce non-specialists to the concepts of evolution and eye evolution and also as a reference work for experts.

Trevor D Lamb
Professor of Neuroscience
John Curtin School of Medical Research
The Australian National University
Canberra, Australia

The evolution of the eye was unquestionably one of the most important innovations in the history of life. Ivan Schwab has synthesized a huge array of disparate information to provide us with an indispensable guide through the complexities of visual systems throughout the animal kingdom.
Richard Fortey FRS FRSL

"Which leads to a just published book -- a most remarkable book -- that needs to be in the library of every school and college, and maybe in every household ...There aren't many books like this one, transformative books that provide a wondrous experience -- especially for young people -- just by turning the pages of mesmerizing illustrations of the evolution of the eyes that are looking at the book... A deep majestic event: human eyes looking at a book explaining the evolution of human eyes. (The only event that I know of with more majesty is the human brain contemplating its own evolution.)" -- Dan Agin, Huffington Post

"Evolution's Witness: How the Eyes Evolved is an outstanding book. It can be highly recommended. Every neuroophthalmologist should strongly consider adding this book to their library. It would also be valuable for ophthalmologists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons interested in the field of evolution." -- Walter M. Jay, MD, Neuro-ophthalmology

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (November 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195369742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195369748
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ivan R. Schwab, M.D., F.A.C.S. graduated from West Virginia University (WVU) with a bachelor's degree from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. He obtained his M.D. from WVU in 1973. Completing his ophthalmology residency at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and following two fellowships in ophthalmology, Dr. Schwab returned to WVU as a faculty member in the WVU School of Medicine (1982-89). In 1989, he moved to the University of California, Davis (UCD) where he is has been a faculty member ever since. He is currently a Professor of Ophthalmology at UCD. His interest in comparative optics and ocular physiology stems from a childhood interest in all manner of animals and an educational process devoted to biology.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Episodically a book is written of such profound importance that it not only encapsulates and defines a subject, but transforms our understanding of it as well.
Such is "Evolution's Witness," by Professor Ivan Schwab M.D., at once both magisterial treatise and kaleidoscopic visual treat on the subject of the evolution of eyes. Dr. Schwab has managed, apart from being a Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of California at Davis where he is an ophthalmologic surgeon and well-published and internationally recognized basic and clinical research scientist, to have found the time, focus and diligence to comb the world's literature, communicate with leading authorities in the fields of paleontology, invertebrate and vertebrate biology, comparative anatomy and physiology, collate hundreds of splendid color photographs, microphotographs and histopathology images, and bring to bear an enormous quantity of wide-ranging scientific discourse on how eyes have evolved over the eons, and in so doing, to explicate how the eye is indeed the "visual witness" of the story of evolution.
For years, it had been argued that the complexity of the eye was a reason for some kind of intelligent design in its creation,that the eye could not have developed simply from a combination of time and natural selection. This book, much as Richard Dawkins' seminal work "The Blind Watchmaker," is implicitly a paean to and defense of the concept which Darwin championed, that over an impossible-to-comprehend period of time measured in the billions of years and often by only subtle mutations and changes responding to natural selection, nature actually could, and did, design, refine and re-design the eye as a response to predation, biochemistry, environment, natural catastrophes and extinctions.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science writing at its very best November 14, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Evolution's Witness has quickly become one of my all-time favorite science books. Have you ever wondered what the insides of an owl eye look like? How spiders see with 8 eyes? Why we have color vision? What did dinosaur eyes look like? This book is for you. The author was very passionate about his subject and it shows. There are lots of photos and histology sections to look at. The format of the book made it easy to read. The main text is broken up into short sections followed by many case studies, examples and diagrams that helped explain difficult ideas. I rarely felt lost. There are 8 appendices and a glossary to help provide background information if you need it (I did). I think it is accessible to pretty much anyone with an interest - from high school students to PhDs. What set the book apart for me was the writing. Instead of an encyclopedia, the author took all of the information and put it together into one narrative. It really tells a good story from the beginning of life up until the present. Highly recommended.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fabulous eye November 10, 2011
By marmot
This is a marvelous book, beautifully written, constructed and illustrated, that shows the extraordinary diversity and power of eyes throughout the animal kingdom. It is humbling to realize that our own eyes, good as they are, are surpassed in one or another capabilities by many other species. The photographs show eyes that will amaze, amuse and tease--but the bottom line is top-notch science written to enlighten everyone. The evolution of remarkably complex eyes in seemingly diverse animals challenged Darwin, and is still a challenge, but this book brings us closer to understanding how and why vision is so critical to all types of creatures...including us!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book January 29, 2012
By Eyevan
Thoroughly researched, beautifully presented, detailed and engrossing, this amazing book filled me with wonder and excitement. I find myself not only reading and re-reading chapters through from beginning to end, but going back and dipping into chapters read already. Ivan Schwab has done us all a great service to bring this together so comprehensively and to make it intelligible for the interested lay reader.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure July 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have said enough, but I just wanted to chime in about how amazing this book is. Aside from being comprehensive, well organized, attentive to alternatives, very well written, etc., there are few books as unique as this in terms of subject matter; to cover the history of life essentially from the perspective (no pun intended) of perhaps the most important organ animals have is novel and ends up being perfectly executed. Each page was so dense with interesting ideas and facts that, even though there were large pictures on every page, I could hardly get through two pages in a sitting before having to give my brain a rest. I wouldn't say it's written so that a non-specialist won't be frequently confused, but I think it tries hard enough to be accessible without caving completely on technical sophistication that I learned quite a lot of science through reading it that I didn't know before. A rare book indeed. I guess the only thing I would say I missed in reading it was more discussion of the relationship between the evolution of the eye and of the brain. There is some discussion of it but not much, probably because it would have made the writing task astronomically more complex concerning an organ that probably preserves even more poorly in stone than eyes (and which gives up far fewer of its secrets by its shape than do eyes).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything in here except how eyes evolved.
This is an impressive array of information and the photos are wonderful but you won't find anything in here about how eyes evolved. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Bruce
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to learn more about evolution read this.
it is a spectacular demonstration of, with compelling evidence for, evolution. The photographs and the research that went into the book are extraordinarily. Read more
Published 9 months ago by norman christensen
1.0 out of 5 stars Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved
I normally don't write reviews but I feel compelled to do so in this case. I was initially intrigued by a review in Skeptic magazine and further by the reviews on Read more
Published 12 months ago by James
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a wow
This book is a stunning production and a full biology course in color and narrative. Kind of technical reading, but that's unavoidable for such a complex and fascinating story... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Curious Sue
3.0 out of 5 stars This book didn't meet my expectations
I'm not sure this rating is fair but this book wasn't for me. I bought based on NPR interview with the author which was fascinating. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Donald L Fuller
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye evolution through time
Wonderful book that goes through different time periods of eye evolution and how eyes adapted to the environment in order for species to thrive and flourish. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Carl
5.0 out of 5 stars Very pretty
Excellent work of comparative ophthalmology in animal species that are not generally studied as well as animals common to most vision scientists. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Denny
5.0 out of 5 stars Review by Dan Agin should be cited
The comments below, which appear in the product section, are lifted from a review of this book by Dan Agin in the Huffington Post and should not be published here without... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Red Giant
1.0 out of 5 stars Delusional
"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correcting of... Read more
Published 21 months ago by HighNosetheHighway
5.0 out of 5 stars Science becomes art
The book is gorgeous, a truly sumptuous feast. It is a monument to the scholarly process and at the same time virtually a work of art in its own right. Read more
Published 23 months ago by WSP
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