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Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight Paperback – January 15, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (January 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684849658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684849652
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Applying skills honed in the controversial field of paleoanthropology, Shipman (The Evolution of Racism: Human Differences and the Use and Abuse of Science, LJ 6/1/94) draws from a diversity of scientific fields to present a comprehensive analysis of the ideas explaining how adaptations needed for animal flight came about. Using the well-known Archaeopteryx fossils as a keystone, she discusses historical and current hypotheses about bird evolution, along with the provocative debates they spurred. Shipman draws the reader into the debate by providing the science and physical evidence for each point of view, along with rebuttals of its critics. Highly recommended for interested lay readers and science buffs.?Frank Reiser, Nassau Community Coll., Garden City, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An anthropologist (Penn State Univ.) examines one of the most famous fossil organisms ever discovered, and discusses its meaning in the ongoing debates about evolution. The first hint of Archaeopteryx--the impression in stone of a solitary feather--was unearthed in the limestone quarries of Solnhofen, Germany, in 1861. At an estimated age of 150 million years, it was immediately hailed as representing the earliest known bird. The fossil, and seven more specimens later uncovered, reveal a creature much like many small dinosaurs--but with the unmistakable impressions of feathers around its forelimbs. The first discovered skeleton appeared to be a clear-cut example of the sort of intermediate form, part reptile and part bird, that Darwin's brand-new theory of evolution needed to bolster its case. But was it really? One German scientist tried to rename it Griphosaurus, classifying it not as a bird, but as a feathered coelurosaur. Others argued that the feather impressions were faked--a claim that still surfaces in anti-evolutionary tracts. Thomas Huxley led the evolutionists' countercharge in several seminal articles, deploying evidence for the now widely accepted position that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs. Shipman (The Evolution of Racism, 1994) presents a detailed history of the fossils and the debate around them, including quotations from many of the original articles. Shipman pays particular attention to the question of flight itself--how and why over many generations, a small dinosaur developed anatomical structures that allowed it to take to the air. In the process of answering this question, the author investigates aerodynamics, the anatomy of birds and other flying creatures from insects to pterosaurs to bats, modern theories of dinosaur life and ecology, and other issues that will fascinate natural-history buffs. Lively and well written, offering a good sense not only of the intriguing first bird, but of the way science works. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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The author does not say what she thinks and why which would have been useful.
Sarakani
Archaeopteryx lithographica is taken as a guide for a survey of current (well, 1998) thought about the origin of birds and the origin of bird flight.
I. J. J. Nieuwland
This is a shame, because the illustrations are really necessary to understand some of the concepts presented here.
Eric B. Norris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There are seven specimens of Archaeopteryx; and a feather. And from what seems not very much a great deal of academic effort is attempting to discover the origins of bird flight. In jaundiced moments one speculates that when another specimen is found another university will be founded to study it. And a second one to refute the findings of the first.
There are certainly enough academic disciplines involved to start a couple of faculties - geology, palaeontology, biology, anatomy, physiology, ecology, aerodynamic engineering, ornithology - the variety of skills focused on these seven specimens is never ending.
Archaeopteryx probably weighed about 250 grams and had a wing span of 58 cm. To take off it needed to generate more than 9.8 newtons per kilogram of its body weight to overcome the force of gravity. We may have the feathers of Archaeopteryx but we do not have a reliable measurement of its musculature, - their size, strength or efficiency.
This of course can, and does, lead to hugely involved disputes as to whether the beast could take off, if it took off from the ground, or from a tree it had climbed up, did it fly or did it glide or were its feathers there just to keep it warm.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
TAKING WING is the story of Archaeopteryx and therefore it's about the origins of birds and the evolution of flight. Beginning with a history of the 8 fossil remains (7 skeletons and 1 feather) we read about the dozens of people from the myriad sciences (paleontology, biology, ornithology, aeronautics and engineering) that have puzzled over the significance of Archaeopteryx lithographica (Ancient wing from the printing stone). Even the name seems a puzzle until you realize it's named for the smooth limestone slabs that were used in printing. The quarries where most of the fossils were found are in Germany.
One of the persons mentioned in the book is John Ostrom, who Ms Shipman gives full credit for reviving the dinosaur to bird hypothesis for the evolution of aves (birds). Arguments over the origins of birds are legion, and with good reason says Ms Shipman. The morphology of Archaeopteryx "is genuinely ambiguous." Just where do birds belong in the taxonomy of life? Ms Shipman talks about the morphology of hands and wings and provides an interesting synopsis of two different ways of interpreting evolutionary anatomy - homology and analogy. Very briefly, homology looks for evolutionary modifications of some common structure wheras analogy sees similarities based on function, not on common descent.
The two, big, bird questions are:
(1) Did birds descend from dinosaurs or from some older common reptilian ancestor of both dinosaurs and birds?
(2) How did birds learn to fly. "Down from the trees," parachuting, then gliding, then powered flight or "up from the ground," running, then hopping, then flapping to get airborne?
Ms Shipman, after offering a balanced and detailed analysis of the subject, has her own opinion.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Eric B. Norris on August 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The other reviews accurately describe the contents of this book. What I want to emphasize is Shipman's writing. This is probably the best written science book I have ever read. The author breaks down the book into smaller stories, such as the discovery of the fossils themselves, the structure of the skeletal joints of dinosaurs and modern birds, and the evolution and aerodynamics of feathers to name a few. Also recounted are the some of the more interesting human characters interpreting the fossil record of these little birds for the past 150 years. All of this is told in a lively, informal fashion. Yet Shipman does not shy away from some of the more technical details, and that is part of the joy of this book. Instead, she takes us by the hand and leads us through the details, never trying to oversimplify things, but never boring us, either. It reads like a novel.
My only complaint is that the illustrations, in the paperback edition I read, are reduced to such a tiny size that they are often very hard or impossible to read. This is a shame, because the illustrations are really necessary to understand some of the concepts presented here. But don't let that stop you--get a magnifying glass and let your mind soar back tens of thousands of millenia to the time when little Archaeopteryx lived and died.
This is a great book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Louann Miller on August 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a splendid book. Shipman has a clear, entertaining writing style but does not sacrifice detail to "dumb things down" for the reader. The book covers not only Archaeopteryx but flight in general, looking at the development of flight in organisms ranging from bats and pterodactyls to the Wright Brothers. She does not avoid controversial topics such as the accusation that the best-known Archaeopteryx fossil is a forgery; instead she explains in detail how we know this is not the case. I would recommend Shipman's book not only to paleontology fans but to anyone interested in flight or modern birds.
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