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Donald Ross Prothero (born 1954) is an American paleontologist, geologist, and author who specializes in mammalian paleontology. He has written many other books, such as Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology,The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution,Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids,Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future,Evolution of the Earth, etc.

He explained in an introductory section of this 2007 book, “Many people find the topic of evolution and religion troubling and confusing… If you find yourself puzzled by all this confusion and wondering whom to believe, I welcome you to read these pages with an open mind. The fundamentalists have long been spreading myths and misconceptions and denying the self-evident facts about the fossil record. But they have no published research on fossils in peer-reviewed scientific journals, so they are no more qualified to write about fossils than they are qualified to write about auto mechanics or music theory… Unlike the creationists, I have seen and studied many of the fossils discussed in this book, and in many cases, I have done the basic scientific data collection and published the research myself. I hope that… you will let the fossils speak for themselves and not be tricked by the creationists’ distortions or the false premise that to accept evolution is tantamount to atheism. Indeed, a scientific view of the earth and life is inspirational by itself.” (Pg. xvii-xviii)

He suggests in the Foreword, “So why do so many people not accept evolution? I suggest there are at least seven reasons. 1. Misunderstanding of evolutionary theory… 2. A general fear that science is a threat to religion… 4. The fear that evolution degrades our humanity… 5. The equation of evolution with ethical nihilism and moral degeneration… 6. The fear that evolutionary theory implies we have a fixed or rigid human nature… 7. The equation of evolution with mutual struggle instead of mutual aid.” (Pg. xi-xii)

In a chapter on “Science and Creationism,” he observes about the biblical story of Noah’s Flood: “Genesis 6-7 gives us the story of Noah twice, once from the J source and once from the P source, with verses from the two intermingled so that they sometimes contradict each other… such as Genesis 7:2 … saying that Noah took seven pairs of each clean beast in the ark, but Genesis 7:8-15… saying he took only one pair of each beast in the ark. In Genesis 7:7, Noah and his family finally enter the ark, and then in Genesis 7:13 they enter it all over again… According to Genesis 6:4, there were Nephilim (giants) on the earth before the Flood, then Genesis 7:21 says that all creatures other than Noah’s family and those on the ark were annihilated---but Numbers 13:33 says there were Nephilim after the Flood.” (Pg. 29)

He points out, “Even if we concede the world looks designed, it does not follow that the designer is the Judeo-Christian God. It could have been the god of another religion or culture, or the work of a committee of gods, or a juvenile god who makes mistakes. Jews and Christians simply assumed that if there was a Designer, it must be their God, but there is no compelling evidence to show that it wasn’t some other god.” (Pg. 36)

He then turns to “evidence… that did not reflect well on the Divine Designer… one could point to many examples where nature is poorly-designed or jury-rigged so that it just barely works, or where nature shows astonishing cruelty that does not reflect a caring, compassionate God… pandas have modified a wrist bone… into a crude thumb-like device, which is not jointed and not very flexible or strong, but just strong enough to allow pandas to strip off the leaves from the bamboo as they eat… evidence of a very clumsy Designer at best. Examples of poor or at least very puzzling design can be accumulated endlessly. Many cave-dwelling fish… have the rudiments of eyes, but they are completely blind. If God specially created these creatures to live in totally dark caves, why bother to give them nonfunctional eyes in the first place? Even more peculiar is the course of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which … allows us to speak. In mammals, this nerve… [is] seven times longer than it needs to be!... Not only is this design wasteful, but it also makes an animal more susceptible to injury… In fact, the more one looks at nature, the more one finds examples of clumsy or jury-rigged design because, unlike a Divine Designer, evolution does not require perfection.” (Pg. 37-39)

Turning to fossils, he acknowledges, “the fossil record was embarrassingly incomplete when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, but it soon became one of his strongest lines of evidence. During the twentieth century, our fossil collections have vastly improved, so that hundreds of evolutionary sequences and transitional forms were documented. This transformation… to an embarrassment of riches by 1960 represented the hard work of thousands of dedicated paleontologists and geologists. Yet they battle against enormous odds… even with nearly 200 years of collecting behind us, the fossil record is relatively complete only in certain areas… Fossilization is still a highly improbable event, and most creatures that have ever lived do not become fossils.” (Pg. 51)

He says of the notion of a worldwide flood when applied to the Grand Canyon, “If the Noah’s flood story were actually true, we would expect to find that the geology around the world… would begin with coarse-grained poorly sorted deposits of sand and gravel and boulders from the fast-water stage of a flood. Once a flood recedes, it can leave only one kind of deposit: a single layer of mud… Even a worldwide flood would produce only one relatively thin layer of mudstone… How does this compare to the real Grand Canyon? It’s not even remotely close! Even a cursory glance at the sequence of layers in the Grand Canyon… shows that it … cannot be explained by a single superflood… A clear falsification of the flood geology model is the abundant mudcracks … found in many of the shale units of the Grand Canyon Series… There’s not just one layer of mudcracks, but hundreds of them, sometimes stacked in a long sequence. Clearly, these rocks represent dozens of small episodes of mud deposition and then complete drying, not a single catastrophic flood.” (Pg. 65-66)

He explains, “We have seen that punctuated equilibrium is simply an application of modern biological speciation theory to the fossil record, which happened to explain and highlight the long-known fact of stasis in fossil species. This stasis, in turn, is now causing discomfort among many evolutionary biologists, because there is not yet any good mechanism in Neo-Darwinian theory for it, suggesting we still have a lot to learn about evolution and speciation. But this is a good thing! If we had all the answers, and paleontology provided no new or interesting facts and ideas, science would be very boring.” (Pg. 81)

He comments on Origin of Life experiments: “Naturally, some people (especially creationists) label this as ‘guesswork’ and refuse to accept any of the experimental evidence… They prefer to just say ‘God did it’ and stop there. They are welcome to their opinion, of course, but… no true scientist falls back on this ‘god of the gaps’ approach. The supernatural hypothesis is simply untestable and leads nowhere. Scientists may not have all the answers yet to this very complex and difficult problem, but they are not … surrendering to the unscientific supernatural approach. They… have made a huge amount of progress---much more than creationists realize.” (Pg. 147)

Of the so-called “Cambrian explosion,” he points out, “the Cambrian explosion is a myth. It is better described as the Cambrian slow fuse… the fossil record shows a gradual buildup from single-celled prokaryotes and then eukaryotes to multicellular soft-bodied animals with tiny shells, and finally… the full range of large shelled invertebrates. This gradual transformation … bears no resemblance to an instantaneous Cambrian explosion that might be consistent with the Bible but instead clearly shows a series of evolutionary transformations. All of this information has been known for at least the past few decades… But the creationists either don’t want to know or cannot understand the implications of these discoveries.” (Pg. 168-170)

Of recent fossils showing the possibility of fishes evolving into land-crawling animals, he states, “Creationists, of course, cannot admit that this animal [Ichthyostega] is a true transitional form, so they stoop to all sorts of dishonest arguments to deny its fishbian features… The amazing array of new transitional fossils… documents the transition in such detail that the creationists can’t dodge behind just trying to discredit Ichthyostega any more… The discovery of Acanthostega and Tiktaalik … show that the earliest tetrapods used their legs, not for walking about on land, for primarily for walking under water!.... How do the ID creationists deal with this extraordinary evidence? They cloud the issue by denying these fossils exist, or by distortion and misstatements… I have no expectation that creationist books will ever acknowledge the existence of these fossils. I’m sure they will replay their discredited and outdated arguments.” (Pg. 229-230)

He reports that creationist debater Duane Gish did this during a 1983 debate with Prothero. (Pg. 250) Of dinosaur transitional forms, he says, “You could not ask for a nicer series of transitional forms. Apparently, Gish has never heard of any of these.” (Pg. 253) He adds, “The creationists are so wedded to the idea of distinct ‘kinds’ that they cannot even conceive of intermediate forms. Gish has been embarrassed during several debates in just this way. When his opponent puts up an image of the forelimb of a modern bird and of a theropod dinosaur and challenges Gish to sketch the likely intermediate anatomy, Gish declines (because he knows it is a trap). Sure enough, his opponent then reveals the forelimb of Archaeopteryx as a perfect intermediate between birds and dinosaurs. Gish then mumbles something irrelevant and then tries to change the subject.” (Pg. 262)

He continues, “all these arguments of the creationists, as well as the ‘birds are not dinosaurs’ minority… are now rendered entirely obsolete by an amazing array of new discoveries that have occurred in the past 20 years… new transitional bird fossils and feathered nonbird dinosaurs … that fill in most of the gaps between theropods and advanced birds, so we now have a wealth of transitional forms, of which Archaeopteryx is just one link… Most of these fossils do not have flight feathers or other indications that their feathers were used for flight. Instead, they show that feathers were apparently a widespread feature among theropod dinosaurs… Feathers, then, did not evolve for flight but were already present in theropod dinosaurs, presumably for insulation, and were later modified to become flying structures.” (Pg. 263) He concludes, “The creationist books that focus only on Archaeopteryx and distort the fossil record are so laughably outdated by the new discoveries that their writings are only fit to line the bottom of a birdcage.” (Pg. 268)

On Therapsid transitions, he says, “creationists… betray their complete lack of understanding of evolution and try to discount the entire example by arguing that it is not a single ancestral lineage but many different lineages. That is EXACTLY how most evolutionary transitions work in a bushy, branching system---not as ‘missing links’ on a nonexistent ‘chain of being’ … but as multiple closely related lineages that each show progressively more mammalian characteristics.” (Pg. 280)

On bats, he observes, “the creationists are wrong when they claim that these Eocene bats are just like modern bats. That may be true for an untrained, unobservant amateur, but anyone who knows bat anatomy can tell how primitive these fossils are. For one thing, the earliest bats did not yet have the ear structure necessary for the modern system of echolocation that bats use to catch insects on the wing… to someone who actually knows their fossils and mammals, a bat is NOT just a bat!” (Pg. 288)

Of whale transitions, he says, “Every time Duane Gish gets into another debate, his opponent brings up … the amazing sequence of transitional whale fossils and shows any open-minded individual how whales evolved. Gish… never addresses the main evidence but snipes at minor quibbles between specialists… His verbal gyrations basically boil down to this… he dodges the problem by defining whales in his mind so they cannot have the possibility of intermediate forms… the final clinching evidence is the fact that living whales DO have hind legs---they are merely vestiges of hip bone and thigh bone, usually buried deep in their muscles and not visible on the surface.” (Pg. 322)

He gives the example of a human’s vestigial organ: “Every once in a while, a human is born with an atavistic tail, a throwback to our evolutionary past, when the regulation that normally shuts down our genes for tails fails to operate. The human tail comes complete with fully developed vertebrae, muscles, and other features of animal tails.” (Pg. 345)

This marvelous book is the best presentation of the fossil evidence for evolution I have ever read. One might supplement it with Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True and Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, to get “up-to-date” on modern evolutionary theory.
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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.

ROO BOOKAROO
April 15, 2015
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on January 15, 2017
I just finished reading EVOLUTION: WHAT THE FOSSILS SAY AND WHY IT MATTERS by Donald R. Prothero, professor of geology at Occidental College and of geobiology at California Institute of Technology.  The book is 359 pages long and quite challenging, requiring careful reading.  It showed me that my education in zoology, evolution and genetics at the University of Michigan 50 years ago is obsolete.  The evidences for evolution come from anatomy, fossils, embryos and the molecular clock (DNA and mitochondrial-DNA).  The book is heavily illustrated in black-and-white and in color.  It contains a devastating critique of creationism and intelligent design, based upon thousands of new discoveries within recent years.  The book as a whole is a tower of excellence.
I do have a few minor criticisms.  There are a huge number of technical terms not in my dictionary, so the book would be improved by a glossary.  Alternatively, one could use  specialized dictionaries of zoology and paleontology, or look up definitions on the internet.  The book covers zoological evolution only, not botanical evolution.  The discussion of cladistics (not in my dictionary) is unclear, so I'll Google cladistics for a more thorough explanation.
I'll give some representative quotes from the book to give an idea of what it's like: "The oldest fossils that are clearly formed by living things are microscopic fossils of cyanobacteria...from 3.5 billion year old rocks.  Tiny zircon grains from Australia were recently discovered that seem to have a distinctive chemistry indicating oceans as early as 4.3-4.4 billion years ago...If so, then the Earth's surface cooled down to below 100C (the boiling point of water) in only 250,000-350,000 years after its formation 4.65 billion years ago.  There is nearly a billion years of time between when the first oceans form and the first clear fossils are known, plenty of time for life to form (more than once, if necessary)" (Pages 145-147).  "There are hundreds of microfossil localities around the world...in rocks dated between 3.5 and 1.75 billion years ago, and they yield plenty of good examples of prokaryotes.  The first fossil cells that are large enough to have been eukaryotes do not appear until 1.75 billion years ago, and multicellular life does not appear until 600 million years ago.  For almost 2 billion years, or about 60%, of life's history, there was nothing on the planet more complicated than a bacterium...and for almost 3 billion years, or 85% of Earth's history, there was nothing more complicated than single-celled organisms." (Page 162)  "A detailed examination of the stratigraphic record of fossils through the late Precambrian and Cambrian shows that life did not explode in the Cambrian, but appeared in a number of steps.  Thus the Cambrian explosion took over 80 million years to develop, and was no sudden event, even by geological standards.  Thus we have seen that the Cambrian explosion is a myth.  It follows a series of logical stages from simple and small to larger and complex and mineralized.  First, of course, we have microfossils of cyanobacteria and other eukaryotes going to as far as 3.5 billion years ago and spanning the entire fossil record since that ancient time.  In short, the fossil record shows a gradual buildup from single-celled prokaryotes and then eukaryotes to multicellular soft-bodied animals to animals with tiny shells, and finally by the middle Cambrian the full range of large shelled invertebrates.  This gradual transformation by logical advances in body size and skeletonization bears no resemblance to an instantaneous Cambrian explosion.  All of this information has been known for at least the past few decades...They are published in all the standard geology and paleontology textbooks and have been for decades.  But the creationists either don't want to know or cannot understand the implications of these discoveries.  Their out-of-context quotations of real scientists...are all from old sources that do not reflect what we have learned from recent discoveries.  Even their most recent, including the intelligent design texts, persist in perpetuating this out-of-date picture." (Pages 168-170)  "An amazing array of new transitional bird fossils and feathered nonbird dinosaurs have been discovered...that fill in most of the gaps between theropods [carnivorous dinosaurs] and advanced birds, so now we have a wealth of transitional forms, of which Archaeopteryx is just one link.  Feathers were apparently a widespread feature among theropod dinosaurs.   Feathers, then, did not evolve for flight but were already present in theropod dinosaurs, presumably for insulation, and were later modified to become flying structures." (Page 263)  "In addition to Archaeopteryx, there are now dozens of new transitional birds from the Mesozoic, each of which shows a mosaic of evolutionary changes from more dinosaur-like creatures like Archaeopteryx to forms that are similar to modern birds in many ways." (Page 266)  "The transition from the most primitive synapsids all the way to mammals is so smooth that it is rather arbitrary where to break the continuous sequence and begin calling advanced synapsids mammals." (Page 276)  "More and more transitional whales are being discovered, so that by now the amazing transformation from land mammals to whale is one of the best examples of evolutionary transitions in the fossils record.  There is no excuse for creationist ignorance or denial of these fossils.  And the final clinching evidence is the fact that living whales DO have hind legs--they are merely vestiges of the hip bone and thigh bone, usually buried deep in their muscles and not visible on the surface." (Pages 321-322)  "A quick look at some of the creationist pamphlets and books shows just how misleading and dishonest their presentations are.  There are now dozens of normal, undiseased specimens, and they clearly show that Neanderthals was a distinct species that is NOT modern Homo sapiens.  [Creationists] managed to get every single example in their attack on hominid fossils COMPLETELY WRONG.  1920 description of... Australopithecus africanus was the first good fossil hominid [two-legged primate] that was not a member of the genus Homo.  Decades of hard work in the field by hundreds of scientists has turned up thousands of hominid fossils...including a few good skeletons and many good skulls that show clearly how humans have evolved over 7 million years...mostly in Africa. We are members of the order Primates [five-digit flexible hands and feet], the group that includes not only ourselves and the great apes  but also...monkeys...and lemurs...and many other archaic primates still alive today...We can trace the fossil record of most of these lineages back to the Cretaceous [136 million years] and Paleocene [65 million years] primate Purgatorius." (Pages 334-336)  "The oldest specimen that can be truly described as a member of our own family was discovered and described only a few years ago.  The best specimen is a nearly complete skull...from rocks about 6-7 million years in age...from Chad...Although the skull is very chimp-like with its small size, small brain, and large brow ridges, it had remarkably human-like features, with a flattened face, reduced canine teeth, enlarged cheek teeth...and an upright posture at the very beginning of human evolution.  By 4.2 million years ago, however, the first members of the advanced genus Australopithecus, the most diverse member of our family in the Pliocene, are also found...in Kenya ranging from 3.9 to 4.2 million years in age.  These creatures were fully bipedal, as shown not only by their bones but also by hominid trackways." (Page339)  "IT TURNS OUT THAT HUMAN AND CHIMPANZEE DNA IS 97.6% IDENTICAL!  This made sense, but the real shock was just how similar our genes are to that of most of the great apes.  Molecular biologists pointed out that the genetic similarity between humans and chimps was closer than between any other two species they had studied, such as two closely related species of rats or two kinds of frogs.  Since these experiments, the actual sequence of the mitochondrial DNA and the nuclear DNA has been determined for both chimps and humans, and the results are the same."  (Page 344)
Zoologists have also discovered that Hox genes on DNA can cause sudden, large evolutionary leaps, so not all evolution is gradual.
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on September 3, 2014
Evolution is a very simple concept. The word simply means "change over time" and change affects just about every thing in the universe. The earth itself has gone through countless changes in its 4+ billion years. All the plant and animal life on earth has also gone through numerous changes over time. And everyone has heard that old cliché: "nothing is as constant as change." And yet the instant the word "evolution" pops up, a large portion of our population still throws up an endless series of flimsy and in some cases ridiculous defenses that insist that it just isn't--can't be!--so. EVOLUTION: WHAT THE FOSSILS SAY AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT is yet another attempt to clarify this very straightforward concept. Does this book answer all the doubters questions? Does it resolve this seemingly endless debate? No to both of those questions. But it does add a few more planks of reason to this growing edifice of facts about the process of evolution.
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on December 27, 2013
I can sympathize with author David Prothero and his fellow paleontologists in their desire to conduct their research without the clamor of creationists who lack the field and research experience in paleontology to even understand the context of their own statements. Prothero humbly observes that his own undergraduate thesis on paleontology was torn to pieces by a graduate school mentor (p.284) because he was not yet a seasoned researcher. It takes several years of first-hand field work and data analysis before a person is in a position to contribute to a specific research field in a meaningful way. Research is difficult--due in large part to its very nature as a search for new ideas, techniques, and theories which must be rigorously tested and analyzed. I therefore applaud Dr. Prothero for taking time from his demanding research to address the fallacies put forward by creationists.

Dr. Prothero devotes the first two chapters (pp.1-49) as well as the last chapter (pp.349-359) of his 380-page, 16 chapter book to explicitly dealing with creationists. In addition, the author devotes some space in every chapter to making it clear that none of his statements support the claims of creationists--in part to insure that his words are not misquoted or distorted. The author lays bare the disingenuous nature of the creationist strategy, which currently focuses on pretending to conduct scientific research under the aegis of entities such as the Discovery Institute which receive much of their funding from fundamentalist evangelical groups (p.42). He often touches upon the canned lecture of creationist Duane Gish, who Dr. Prothero agreed to debate at Purdue University in 1983 (p.46). For this debate Gish's organization jacked up the admission fee to discourage university students from attending while bussing in fundamentalist churchgoers. Because Gish's lectures focused largely on outdated statements regarding gaps in the fossil record, Prothero was able to counter Gish's statements with his own slides which showed these "gaps" to be amply filled by current research.

There are a number of interesting discoveries in paleontology that I have enjoyed reading about in this book. The evolution of the horse primarily occurred in North American rather than Europe or Asia (p.301). The understanding of evolution in the formation of geological strata plays a leading role in oil exploration (p.57). Also interesting is the role of Hox genes to produce macroevolutionary changes with a few simple mutations (pp.194-195).

The most interesting story in this book, however, is that of the often less than optimal designs found in animal physiology. This is particularly true for the often looping path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve--which in mammals is seven times longer than necessary (p.37-38). Such jerry-rigged designs are what would be expected from evolutionary improvisation rather than from an all-knowing and almighty creator. Despite the author's observation that theology has no place in explaining paleontology, however, he also contends that science has no place in addressing theological concerns (pp.10-12; 332).
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on March 10, 2015
I'm a member of Biologos, which should sum up my world view.

This is the best summary of evolutionary biology I've come across. Prothero examines multiple phyla and explains that the fossil record is much more complete than most people realize. He also does a wonderful job dismantling many of the well-known Young Earth arguments.

It is a very technical book, designed for the serious reader. I have a degree in Biology (and left the "pure sciences" for medical school) yet I had trouble keeping up with his frequent references to various periods and epochs. I would also imagine that those untrained in biology would have a difficult time keeping up with lengthy un-illustrated descriptions of anatomy.

In short, I'd like to see a chapter explaining eras and epochs, and I'd love to see even more illustrations, as this is a very visual topic.

Excellent read. Young earth creationists benefit from an untrained public, who are duped into thinking there is controversy when there isn't. If you're interested in putting an end to pseudo-science, this needs to be on your bookshelf or in your Kindle.
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on November 13, 2013
Wonderfully detailed, readers beware! This is no superficial evolution sales job. It's the real deal. This book is detailed and complete enough to be a college-level introduction to the current state of paleontology. It is therefore not a quick read on this subject. If you are looking for the "Reader's Digest" guide to evolution, go somewhere else.

This book is a thorough refutation of Creationist claims of fixed created species ("kinds") by detailed documentation of the fossil evidence for Darwinian Gradualism. By citation of specific anatomical changes over time Prothero demonstrates in meticulous detail what is currently known about the transitions from species to species.

Importantly, he points out that his sources for the book are peer-reviewed papers, published in professional journals, not simply his own or anyone else's personal opinions. Also important, Prothero discusses the predictive power of evolutionary theory by citing examples of scientists' extrapolations beyond known anatomical structures to what would be expected if one species really were transitioning to another species. He then shows that these predicted forms were then found sometime later!

The author clearly demonstrates the existance of transitional forms ("missing links") from invertebrates to vertebrates to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals. And let's not forget dinosaurs to birds, the current focus of much research.

If you want a serious book on this subject, look no further. It's the best book I've ever read on the science of evolution.
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on November 19, 2012
I'll try to keep this brief. This is the best book on the fossil record I've ever read. It's one of the best science books I've ever read. Anyone who has been conditioned to think there aren't that many fossils, or there are gaps, or whatever nonsense they've been told, is in for one hell of a shock. This book is thorough, devastating, logical, fascinating and extremely educational.

On top of his impeccable academic credentials, Donald Prothero gives the reader a multitude of references to check material for yourself after you've been thoroughly briefed on the details. You won't realise how deep the fossil record is just of hominids, or dinosaurs, or synapsids, or prehistoric mammals. Transitional forms from hominid ancestors to humans? Plenty. Transitional forms from reptile to mammal? Yep they're there too. Dinosaurs to birds? Spot on, it's there too, and much more than just Archeopteryx.

Buy it. Read it. Then read it again. Superb.
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on July 29, 2015
Prothero is the consummate scientist. I wish I had been exposed to his world view earlier in my formal education. I vacillate on the term spirituality. So maybe I cannot call myself a scientist. I can't help but see our earth through the eyes of the wonder and trepidation. Yet there is the Origin Story as told through The Big Bang Theory and Big History. It is a unifying story - the only one we have which explains our existence. It is factual but it leaves room for later correction which is the scientific method. If Prothero is not methodic in his revealing of the fossil record he is a saint for science.
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on March 22, 2014
This is definitely the best book on the fossil evidence of evolution I have read so far. This book, along with Relics of Eden, Your Inner Fish, and Why Evolution is True would form a great introduction to the overwhelming evidence of the Theory of Evolution for interested non biologists. My biggest criticism is that there is just not enough book. It could be twice as thick. Also, I wish that the author reduced the amount of criticism leveled towards the (admittedly poorly formed and dishonest) arguments of ID supporters. I think an appendix would have worked better. Over all, an amazing book, and definitely one I would recommend to anyone with an honest interest in paleontology or biology.
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