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The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures that Have Ever Lived 1st Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198503118
ISBN-10: 0198503113
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Editorial Reviews Review

It takes a brave writer to tackle the truly Herculean task of describing The Variety of Life with the astronomical numbers of organisms living today, let alone all those that have fallen by the wayside over the billions of years of life on Earth. No one is quite sure how many living species there are, but it is estimated to be somewhere between 10 million and 100 million. Fortunately, since the days of the great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, around 250 years ago, life has been grouped and classified into hierarchical schemes. As a result, it is possible to encompass this enormous variety of life by describing the relatively few groups into which it can be clustered. And, since the mid-19th century and the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution by natural selection, classification has taken on an extra, evolutionary dimension.

Colin Tudge, a well-known British science writer, has training in whole animal biology and a self-proclaimed love for the natural-historical foray among our fellow creatures. The first part of this big book (all of 90 pages) deals with the thorny problems of what Tudge rightly calls the craft and science of classification. Since the 1950s, the word cladistics has terrorized many traditional naturalists and biologists. But it is here to stay, and Tudge provides a very welcome guide that will be invaluable to both lay people and students.

The bulk of the text, nearly 500 pages, forms part II and includes the descriptions of the main groups, from the most primitive (alpha proteobacteria) prokaryotes to Eupatorium, a large genus of 1,800 or so species of plant. In between these two groups, at either end of the biological spectrum, lie all the more familiar bugs and beasts, including ourselves. Inevitably, given so many millions of organisms, difficult choices have to be made. Some groups are only dealt with at phylum level (for example, brachiopods), while others are detailed down to family level (for example, primates). Some extinct groups (not surprisingly, the dinosaurs) get a look, but not many overall. The short epilogue concerns conservation and is followed by a useful reference list of sources and an index. Altogether, the 600-odd pages are enlivened with a large number of excellent black-and-white drawings of individual organisms and diagrams illustrating evolutionary relationships. For all natural historians and anyone interested in biology, the The Variety of Life is a must. --Douglas Palmer,

From Library Journal

Science writer Tudge (The Time Before History) has taken an enormous subject--the inventory of all living things past and present--and created a very readable work on the science of classification and the classifications of life. He draws from the work of dozens of scientists from around the world as he endeavors to bring the theories into a workable whole. Tudge imbues his work with a contagious passion for an area of biology that has dropped in profile in recent decades. The first part of the book serves as a well-developed introduction to the history, philosophy, and potential future of classification suitable for the interested lay reader, the undergraduate biology student, or the biologist specializing in any area other than taxonomy. The latter part of the book contains the actual survey of all living things. One of the highlights of this work is Tudge's writing style. He diligently explains every concept using a wide variety of clear examples and down-to-earth analogies. Highly recommended for science collections in both public and academic libraries.
-Marianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Houston Libs., TX
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 684 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (May 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198503113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198503118
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 1.5 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Frank Paris on May 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about breadth, not depth. From the perspective of this book, Passeriformes are about as interesting as all of the little rodents scurrying around, regardless of what birders think about them. And the book DOES explicitly place lice in their proper perspective, to correct an error made by another reviewer. There are all kinds of interesting small articles that treat particularly interesting aspects of certain groups of organisms: a vertable gold mind of fascinating relationships. Don't go to this book to find out about particular plants an animals, but to find out about the vast diversity of life on this planet and how it all relates together.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This work excels at providing the reader with information about a diverse group of organisms. The line drawings and the schematic "evolutionary tree" diagrams are very helpful. For the price, this book is a steal. However, I must mention that it is obvious that the author has severe gaps in his knowledge (which is to be expected, since he is covering everything). For example, Passeriformes include over 1/2 of all birds and he basically just mentions the word. Instead he describes some of the other orders. With his coverage of insects he is also not complete. Several orders are completely left off that any insect lover would recognize (i.e. lice are missing).
The reason why this is not good is that it appears that he is giving a complete coverage of a group down to a certain level and including all of the representative groups of that level. He should be consistent (if covering families then include all families within a group, or all orders not 27 orders and leave off several obvious ones).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on July 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Colin Tudge has produced a remarkable book that captures the complexities of the Earth's biota. Probably already somewhat out of date (phylogenic studies are producing new results at a fantastic rate) this book is still a necessary reference for biologists everywhere. The old two-kingdom concept, which gave way to a five-kingdom concept, is now a multi-kingdom concept. At the very least we should have six kingdoms- Animalia, Fungi, Plantae, Protoctista, Archaebacteria and Eubacteria. The exact final number is yet to be decided. However, it can be easily argued that the Protoctista and the Bacteria could be broken into even more kingdoms and indeed several authors now talk of at least three domains, containing procaryote (bacterial) and eucaryote kingdoms.
All of this is primarily a result of studies on DNA and other chemicals of life. This research has especially shown the bacterial and "single-celled" organism world to be much more complex than anyone ever thought. From slime molds to cyanobacteria and oak trees to humans, the variation on life on this planet is what fascinates biologists. Tudge's book is a very good review of this extreme diversity and gives us a very good reason to avoid destroying it! Read this book if you are interested in the diversity of life on Earth.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By prime8 on May 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book pulls together an enormous amount of information and makes it digestible to the average undergraduate - no small feat. It's scope is magnificent, as is its treatment of fundamental concepts of evolution. Although I think there are some problems with the sections on extinct birds and cetaceans (based on new discoveries), Tudge does as well as anybody could in defining outgroups and sister taxa, always erring on the conservative side. I think the most novel and thought-provoking portion of the text concerns the number of kingdoms we might now wish to recognize - I discuss Tudge's reasoning for this with my biology undergraduates and it never fails to make an impression. A splendid accomplishment, and I'm waiting eagerly for a second edition, and a third, and so on. Well done Dr. Tudge, and sincere thanks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. Byrne on July 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an amazing read. With clear, concise and lyrical prose Colin Tudge accomplishes what I've always sought in my education--a well rounded synthesis of biological theories and principles explained in context of the diversity of life. This book gave me the perspectives and deeper insights about systematics needed to become a good naturalist and ecologist--perspective that weren't explicitly taught in my college biology courses. The phylogenetic tree illustrations are a brilliant, accessible reference. In today's world where molecular biology and reductionistic perspectives dominate our understanding of life, Tudge successfully brings back the importance to understanding and appreciating the whole organism.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Professor Tudge has done all of us a great service with this terrific book. He lays out a clear way for generalists to get a basic understanding on the way life on this planet is related at present and into the past to our best understanding of life's origins.
He explains a variety of classification systems (and some specialists might disagree with his characterizations - but that is a smallish point to those of us who aren't specialists) and provides wonderful illustrations that give us a broad sweep of how the branches flow together in the past. He explains the current limits of our understanding. And he has a wonderful treatment of the Domains as currently understood - Bacteria, Archae, and Eucarya. Obviously, most of the book is on Eucarya because that is most interesting to us humans, but the bulk of life on earth is bacteria and that is kind of interesting to understand.
This book really updates my understanding of what I was taught in 7th grade biology too many years ago. I think every bright high school student ought to read it as well as anyone who wants to understand the amazing range of life now living and that has lived on this earth. You won't look at your life here the same way ever again.
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