- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 13, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192862022
- ISBN-13: 978-0192862020
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals Paperback – January 13, 2000
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The Burgess Shale deposits, in western Canada, have joined the Galapagos Islands as a destination of choice for vacationing scientists and fans of evolutionary theory. The fame of these places is in part due to the unique flora and fauna (living or dead) they boast, and in part to the scientists who have described and attempted to explain them. Like Stephen J. Gould's Wonderful Life, this book from Simon Conway Morris, original describer of the fascinating, troubling fossil Hallucigenia, gives an account of the Burgess Shale and the scientists who argue over the tiny remains of once-living creatures. Conway Morris calls the place "the most wonderful fossil deposit in the world," and his emotion is contagious. Beyond describing the creatures that formed the fossils, he speculates about how the Burgess Shale fits in to the story of human evolution. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Scientific American
The Burgess Shale, a thin outcrop of rock in the Canadian Rockies, contains a rich store of extraordinarily well preserved fossils of creatures that lived in the Middle Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. The fossils have provided a vital key to understanding the early evolution of animal life. Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at the University of Cambridge, has explored the shale since 1972. He describes the scene and the fossils vividly, using the device of a time machine that takes a group of scientists back to the Middle Cambrian and disgorges a small submersible wherewith they venture into the sea to view the creatures as they looked and acted in life. But he has a further purpose, which is to dispute the interpretation that some other scholars-notably Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University-have put on the evolutionary significance of the Burgess Shale animals. Gould, he says, argues that if the tape of life were rerun from Cambrian time, we would end up with an entirely different world, which would include among its various features the absence of human beings. "On the contrary," Conway Morris writes, "I believe it is necessary to argue that within certain limits the outcome of evolutionary processes might be rather predictable." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Certainly the first chapter was tough going just in his writing style (I skipped the glossary), I'm sure I missed things throughout and he actually mostly lost me on the trilobite head shape analysis. But overall, a very interesting discussion of the creatures and how evolution might have been working during that strange time.
Conway Morris is also very persuasive in how much prominence "contingency" (randomness) in biological evolution deserves. Against Gould, Conway Morris finds it unremarkable and discusses how evolution by natural selection is more coherent and predictable than Gould would have one believe. CM also shows that the facts just do not support Gould's contention that anatomic forms are more impoverished today compared to the welter of body forms that appeared during the Cambrian Explosion.
In sum, this is a fun, well-written book for the lay crowd that enjoys palentology, the Paleozoic Era, and a glimpse at the issues debated in the academic arena.
Conway Morris takes a diametrically opposite view to S.J. Gould on the implications of the Burgess shale - perhaps mainly due to the Religious and political views he expresses strongly in this book. Perhaps this antagonism forces Conway Morris into adopting the extreme view that "while contingency exists it is unimportant." Here his arguments are at their weakest, and are far from convincing. The chapter on quantitative measurements of disparity and convergence is fascinating (the book is almost worth getting for this alone - I wish it were longer). It is clear that the data is not yet of sufficient quality to quantify the degree both random events and more conventional evolutionary pressures constrain the history of life, but that it may soon be.
Add this book to your collection alongside Wonderful Life!