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Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species Hardcover – February 10, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's unclear whether the title refers to the daring naturalist/explorers Carroll depicts or the creatures whose remains they found. In this thoroughly enjoyable book, Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful), a molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, provides vignettes of some of the fascinating people who have made the most significant discoveries in evolutionary biology. He starts with some of the experiences and insights of great explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, then turns his attention to paleontologists who searched for the fossil evidence to support the new theory of evolution. Among them are Eugène Dubois's discovery of Java Man; Charles Walcott's discovery of the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian explosion; and Neil Shubin's recent discovery in arctic Canada of Tiktaalik, the intermediary between water- and land-dwelling vertebrates. Carroll closes with studies of human evolution, from Louis and Mary Leakey to the advances of Linus Pauling and Allan Wilson, which indicated that Neanderthals were cousins of Homo sapiens rather than direct ancestors. While there's little that's new here, Carroll does weave an arresting tapestry of evolutionary advancement. Photos, maps. (Feb. 10)
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"These scientific adventurers inspire the author—and will do the same for experts and novices alike—with their fearless dedication to getting at the truth, as far as it can be known. A stirring introduction to the wonder of evolutionary biology." --Kirkus Review, 12/15/08

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015101485X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014859
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

SEAN CARROLL is a professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Terry Sunday TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species" deserves to be widely read, especially by those unfamiliar with how we gained our current knowledge about the world and our place in it. Unfortunately, those who stand to gain the most from reading it will probably avoid it like the plague because--GASP!--it's about EVOLUTION!

At a time when the battle between science and superstition continues to rage in America's courts and classrooms, "Remarkable Creatures" offers an excellent survey, in a most entertaining and enlightening way, of some of the key scientific discoveries in the last 200 years that shaped our understanding of the history of life on earth. It is an interesting blend of adventure stories and detective mysteries that examines the lives of some of the past and present-day scientists and explorers who came up with "paradigm shifts" that shook conventional wisdom to its very foundations.

The first three chapters of "Remarkable Creatures" tell the stories of Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace and Henry Walter Bates. On epic sea voyages and dangerous wilderness expeditions in the 1800s, these men collectively gathered overwhelming evidence to support the then-heretical ideas of evolution, natural selection and "survival of the fittest." The scope, elegance and impact of their work, which shocked their contemporaries and profoundly changed the face of scientific inquiry forever, are still amazing to consider even today.

Next are six chapters telling the stories of paleontologists who, through tireless efforts under the most primitive field conditions in remote regions of the earth, deciphered the long natural history of life before man.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on January 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sean Carroll has written another winner, sure to sharpen the scientific literacy of its readers. This one is not as technical as Carroll's other books. It is a series of mini-biographies of scientists who contributed evidence to and refined the theory of evolution - starting with Humboldt, who inspired Darwin. Much of the time, enough background information is given to link their childhood obsessions to their life's work. One of them has had hundreds of books written about him - Charles Darwin. Although none of the others were as famous as Darwin, they appear to have worked with the same vision and determination and most were famous during their time. In every case possible, Carroll uses original field notes and original scientific articles written by his subjects - if not personal interviews.

Carroll follows Humboldt, Darwin, Wallace, and Bates on their individual voyages of discovery. They were all subjected to the dangers of ocean travel, wild animals, tropical disease, tribal people, and a primitive lifestyle. He takes us along with Dubois, who found the first primitive human remains in Java - Java Man. We meet the diplomatic Charles Wolcott who excavated the Grande Canyon for the United States. He was responsible for one of the most important mother lodes of fossils ever found - the Burgess Shale - and its treasures involving the Cambrian explosion.

We go with the pistol-toting Roy Chapman Andrew to Mongolia and find the first dinosaur eggs. Scared to death of snakes, Chapman is said to have inspired the George Lucas's character, Indiana Jones. Father and son Alvarez follow their curiosity about a strange archeological layer found around the world at the 68 million years ago mark. The layer never has fossils in it, but lots of iridium.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Sottelbaum on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'll try leave the trite evolution vs. creation vs. alien debate elsewhere, and focus on what this book is all about: The STORY of how our science(s) have come to be; our understanding of ourselves, and of our past, which still is not complete, and may very well never be complete.

And what a fantastic adventure it is. The author has a special ability to mix science with a compelling narrative to keep that keeps the level of interest high. Each character (past scientists) are given their own stories, accompanied by their own struggles, beliefs (right or wrong), methodologies, and findings. Building upon one another, as the adventures of these "remarkable creatures" (human beings and the scientists themselves), the story flows well through the times and advanced in sciences to almost be something out of a movie, with each successive scientist receiving the baton of knowledge to further the knowledge... except, these stories are not only entertaining, but true.

Regardless whether your beliefs are that your god (whichever one you picked) created everything, or that we evolved from some kind of soupy glop (against highly improbably odds), or that we're the offspring of extraterrestrial bacteria that was seeded (intentionally or not), this book is an incredible read, and whose facts are nary debatable.

Certainly the best book I've read in a long while, and one that is really worth of 5 stars - EXCELLENT.

Would highly recommend. Storytelling at it's finest: Stories of the scientists whom are sorting out the stories of our ancient past.
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