- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Atria Books (September 8, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684856239
- ISBN-13: 978-0684856230
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #822,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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At the Water's Edge : Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
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Michael S. Y. Lee Nature One of the most fascinating topics in biology....[Zimmer] clearly understands the diverse scientific issues involved, and cuts through the scientific jargon so anyone can comprehend them.
Philip Gingerich The New York Times Book Review Zimmer does a good job of explaining how profoundly different are the physiological and structural requirements of life in water compared to life on land.
Booklist A fascinating story, which Zimmer unfolds as a tale of high-stakes scientific sleuthing...thanks to marvelously lucid writing.
Publishers Weekly More than just an informative book about macroevolution itself, this is an entertaining history of ideas written with literary flair and technical rigor.
Ernst Mayr Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University Zimmer is a born storyteller and succeeds in giving us pure pleasure while at the same time teaching us up-to-date science.
The Atlantic Monthly Zimmer, an honored science journalist...leaves life among the fossils agreeably bright.
Kevin Padian Professor and Curator, Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley Anyone with an interest in evolution should pick up this book to get on the cutting edge of discovery.
James Shreeve author of The Neandertal Enigma From the first page Carl sets his book apart by diving straight into the most neglected, least understood mystery of all: how wholly new body plans and parts could have been created by natural forces that at first glance would seem to work to destroy innovation. Macroevolution is adaptation without a net. Carl's lucid, often lovely prose is making me finally understand how a species could pull it off without plunging into extinction. He is also very deft at crafting quick-bear narrative out of the lives, inspirations, foibles and occasional dastardliness of the scientists who have pursued this question, both historically and in modern times. I fully expect that At the Water's Edge will do for macroevolution what Jon Weiner's The Beak of the Finch did for microevolution or David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo did for extinction. I'm sure the book is going to really soar.
Robert L. Carroll McGill University, author of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution Zimmer is an accomplished popularizer of scientific subjects. This book provides a strong basis for the public understanding of evolutionary patterns and processes
Peter Ward University of Washington, author of The End of Evolution This most compelling of evolutionary episodes is told with grace and style, Zimmer's book is a rock hammer blow to those who doubt that evolution is an understandable law of nature.
About the Author
Carl Zimmer writes for National Geographic, Natural History, Science, Nature, Audubon, and National Wildlife. A former senior editor at Discover, he has won the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award and the Evert Clark Media Award. At the Water's Edge is his first book. He lives in New York City.
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Top customer reviews
Zimmer takes us on a remarkable journey through time attempting to piece together the available evidence to make sense of the transition of life from water to land. In chapter two, he introduces a concept known as exaptation, which captures the idea of an evolutionary adaptation that is later co-opted for different use later on. It seems likely that many functions employed by the land-based tetrapods may have been in development long before they began their adventures on land. I enjoyed the detailed explanation of the development of limbs and hands in chapter three; I thought this material was well presented. For example, Pere Alberch and Neil Shubin noticed a sequence in the development of limbs - each one formed by the same short chain of events. They could actually sketch out the growth with a set of symbols, delineating the development of a limb like a sentence. This came to be called the homology of growth. It explains why you never see triple thighs or other such anomalies; the branching rules just don't allow for it. In chapter four, yet another powerful concept is introduced - correlated progression, where change in one character (feature or attribute of an organism) may influence change in another, such that the rate of change of the two characters is not independent. He continues on with an explanation of lung evolution and the development of amniotes.
From chapter five on, the discussion turns to the cetaceans (large aquatic mammals such as dolphins and whales). Evidence indicates that these creatures actually descended from land animals. Zimmer provides an in-depth analysis of the evolutionary history of the whale from the early Archaeocetes (meaning ancient whales) such as Pakicetus to the present day cetaceans.
When reading this book, one must keep in mind that it was written in 1998. Today, in 2012, we have fourteen years of additional research and advances that change the picture somewhat. Zimmer alluded to these future developments in chapter nine when describing the conflict in findings between the fossil record and the emerging field of molecular phylogeny (the craft of building gene trees) at that time. Whales were thought to have descended from the mesonychians, an extinct group of hoofed carnivores. However, evidence since then, and the emerging genetic data of that time indicate a relationship to the artiodactyls instead. Nevertheless, there is such a wealth of historical data presented that it is still definitely worth the read.
Zimmer describes not only what is known about the evolution of early tetrapods and cetaceans, but he also introduces the reader to the scientists involved, as he narrates the paths of discovery blazed by these evolutionary biologists, embryologists, geneticists, paleontologists, etc. I'll admit I was never much interested in "the human side" of such discoveries until this book introduced me to the people making them. An example that sticks out in my mind is of a PhD candidate who, being unwilling to leave his wife and child for exotic lands, made an important fossil discovery in a road cut in the Catskill mountains, not far from his home.
Published in 1999, this book is, of course, now behind by over a decade's worth of discoveries. Chief among these is probably Tiktaalik, a beautiful fish-tetrapod transitional species unearthed in Northern Canada in 2004. Paleontologist Neil Shubin's 2008 book on the discovery, titled "Your Inner Fish", would make an excellent companion to "At the Water's Edge." Both books make great reading for anyone with an interest in evolution and paleontology.