Top positive review
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The most magnificent book on the fossil demonstration of evolution.
on April 15, 2015
I seem to simply agree with what so many reviewers have already said.
This is such an extraordinary book and of such excellent presentation that, like some other reviewers, I wish Prothero would have included more stuff in it, going to 500 or 600 pages for instance. It is such a pleasure to read and revisit that, coming to the end at page 359, I felt disappointed that there was no more. The quality of this book is astounding and pure joy to read and consult.
And like some other reviewers, I have never taken creationism and ID as credible opponents of evolution. They're just a social phenomenon with roots in the religious history of the US, and their pretense of being a valid refutation of the science of evolution is simply ridiculous. To me, Bill Maher had the right approach in his Religulous DVD: at best denounce the absurdity of the ludicrous beliefs of advocates of creationism and ID.
And so, looking above all for the facts and Prothero's expertise of the fossil record, l feel there's a bit too much space wasted on demolishing creationism, as this debunking takes away pages that would have been better used in presenting more valuable info on the fossils record, with more trees, more pictures, and more photos.
The 12 color plates are sources of sheer pleasure, but I personally regret that there are not enough of them. The photos are superb, and the drawings of great artistic clarity. The trees describing the classifications of fossils and their groupings are masterly. Again, I wish there were more of them.
In most of them the geologic time scale is usually shown in some manner with dates in millions of years (MY) ago related to its significant time phases:
- the 3 key eras (Paleozoic 550-251, Mesozoic 251-66, Cenozoic 66-present);
- or the 13 periods (Vendian 600-550, Cambrian 550-488, Ordovician 488-444, Silurian 444-416, Devonian 416-360, Mississipian 360-318, Pennsylvanian 318-300, Permian 300-251, Triassic 251-200, Jurassic 200-145, Cretaceous 145-66, Tertiary 66-2, Quaternary 2-present);
- or the 7 epochs of the last, Cenozoic, era (Paleocene 66-56, Eocene 56-34, Oligocene 34-23, Miocene 23-5, Pliocene 5-2, Pleistocene 2-0.01, Holocene 0.01-present).
These persistent reminders of the time scale in MY with its 23 names do provide us with a constant framing of past events which contributes greatly to firming up in our minds a clear picture of geologic time and geologic history.
The short bibliographical references presented after each chapter as "Further Reading", and the 11-page general bibliography at the end of the book are invaluable, even though they miss many excellent books that have appeared since the book's publication in the 2007-2015 period. The index (9 huge pages on 3 columns) is also meticulous and extremely useful.
Overall this is a high-quality book I constantly go back to whenever I read anything elsewhere on the past of evolutionary history.
This book embodies the kind of overall quality that only top glossy paper makes possible. I feel immensely thankful to Columbia Un. Press for having taken the challenge of publishing this engrossing, beautiful scholarly book, that no mass-market trade publisher could have produced with cheapo paper and cheapo reproductions.
Yes, the criticism is justified: Creationism and ID could have been easily dismissed in a few pages in an introduction and/or an appendix instead of continually reappearing here and there unexpectedly throughout the book as flotsam brought back by the waves. This would have cleaned up the bulk of the text of what is after all just rubbish, all those long paragraphs devoted by Prothero to debunking step by step, line by line, the specious and tortured "arguments" of evolution deniers.
Prothero takes their pseudo-theory too seriously and gives it too much honor and too much space by pretending to debate it as if it were a valid opponent of evolution. Prothero, to his credit, does value highly his human role as a passionate activist for science and clarity of mind in an American social context where obfuscation and superstition still reign rampant. And this, as much as he values his professional vocation as a passionate researcher in paleontology. Prothero sees it as part of his life mission to neutralize the delibitating effect of moronic creationism and the clouds of dust thrown in the eyes of innocent American kids by the futile ID fantasies.
But for us, his readers, primarily interested in the solid facts of evolution, what we first and foremost expect from this book is Prothero's immense, unmatchable, knowledge of fossils. We silently applaud him in his ideological polemics against the vestigial ideas of Christianity conceived in remote Antiquity.
And we suffer as marginal, even if necessary, digressions to the core of Prothero's story his passionate demolishing of what is, after all, for most of us, pure mythology.
April 15, 2015