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The Garden of Ediacara 0th Edition

2.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231105583
ISBN-10: 0231105584
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Review

[A] thought-provoking personal exploration of what the Ediacaran fossils represent. -- Tree

[A] thought-provoking personal exploration of what the Ediacaran fossils represent. -- Review

About the Author

Mark A. S. McMenamin is professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of a number of groundbreaking books on paleobiology and evolution, including The Emergence of Animals: The Cambrian Breakthrough and Hypersea: Life on Land (with Dianna L. S. McMenamin), both published by Columbia. He edited and annotated the English translation of Vladimir Vernadsky's The Biosphere, and is also the coeditor (with Lynn Margulis) of the English translation of L. Khakhina's Concepts of Symbiogenesis.



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Product Details

  • Series: Biology and Resource Management
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (May 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231105584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231105583
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,794,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first forms of multicellular, complex life formed about 600 million years ago and left fossils first discovered near the Ediacaran Hills in Australia. Hence they are called the Ediacarans. Since their discovery in 1946 little has been written for the lay reader about these early forms of life. Mark McMenamin's Garden of Ediacaria is one of the few books to cover the subject. For that reason alone the reader interested in the history of early life on earth should read it. The scientific facts are presented and the history of their discovery is explained. No other source of this information is readily available to the non-scientist.
The book is, however, both pedantic and annoying. McMenamin's personal role in the discoveries and the importance of his work is explained in intrusive detail. The book is almost a diary that should have been titled "Ediacarans: My Success In The Science Of Paleobiology." For example, to understand the Ediacarans we really don't need to see photos of McMenamin's identification card or hotel in Namibia or read about his travel plans on fossil hunting expeditions.
Worst of all McMenamin's basic theses about the Ediacarans begin to get lost in the somewhat confused narrative of his personal history. Ultimately the book leaves the reader with the impression that the real story of the Ediacarans is only about 100 pages long, but McMenamin needed 250 pages to satisfy his publisher, so he filled in with a lot of unnecessary "history."
Cut to half its length this book could tell a clear and fascinating story of the earliest multicelled life and their discovery. I suggest that the reader quickly skim the protracted personal stories and concentrate on the sections describing the Ediacaran biota. Read that way, the book is interesting and well worthwhile.
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Format: Hardcover
The Ediacaran fossils are an interesting chapter in the history of life. They are also an interesting chapter in "The Garden Of Ediacara." Unfortunately, this book appears to have more material in it about Mark McMenamin than it does about the subject matter. Is it truly necessary to show a photograph of a hotel in Namibia or the author's official Mexican fieldwork badge in order to discuss the first complex life forms? I don't think so. The reader truly has to pick and choose what paragraphs to read in order to learn about Ediacaran fossils as opposed to the author's travelogues. Much of the material is simply extraneous. Proper editing would have made this book much more interesting and pleasurable.
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By A Customer on October 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Garden of Ediacara reads like a 295-page Valentine card written by Mark A. S. McMenamin to Mark A. S. McMenamin. I have never seen such egotistic indulgence in a work which claims to be a scientific treatise. Nor have I ever seen an author cite his own (rather ordinary) words in a chapter epigraph! Where the reader might have enjoyed a color photo of an Ediacaran animal, he or she is treated instead to a color photo of Mark A. S. McMenamin's identification card. This is like showing the reader your driver's license (by the way it happens to have a photograph of Mark A. S. McMenamin's face on it). Columbia Press really let its guard down and this thing will take its rightful place as an awkward sore, much like the writings of Wilhelm Reich of "orgone energy" fame.
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Format: Hardcover
McMenamin takes up where Dolf Seilacher left off in theorizing that the Ediacara (precursors to the animals of the Cambrian explosion) were in fact a separate experiment in body plan, distinct from both plants and animals. He goes so far as to suggest that they may have independently developed nervous systems and sense organs. If McMenamin is right he is presenting evidence for the independent development of intelligence in more than one evolutionary lineage. Such a finding would have profound implications to our understanding of our place in the universe. Unfortunately, I didn't find his arguments very convincing. Seilacher has made a good case for the Ediacara having a unique and tough body plan unlike that of subsequent animals. Some Ediacara do show organs that may be heads--but to assert this is not to assert that they were heads, that they had nervous systems or sense organs. There may be plenty of other sensible explanations for Ediacaran body plans. We j! ust don't have evidence either way. As to the debate about whether the Ediacara were precursors of Cambrian animals or a separate line, there is no reason why they could not have been a separate evolutionary line; the fact that Ediacaran fossils are preserved in sediments that wouldn't preserve Cambrian-type organisms or soft-bodied creatures like worms suggests that a parallel development of animals with Ediacarans was possible, but simply isn't recorded. This is a very intriguing book, and obviously a very political one, designed to land like a bomb in the middle of the debate about Ediacara. As such I think readers should read it with some skepticism, bearing in mind that the Ediacara are almost the last virgin territory for evolutionary biologists to stake fundamental claims. If McMenamin is right it's groundbreaking stuff--but it's way too early to say.
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Format: Hardcover
In my experience, scientists are a modest lot. Unfortunately, some science popularists seem to have an ego the size of all outdoors. However, if you have the patience to battle your way through the I said..., I did..., I am..., then McMenamin's book contains a few interesting snippets for anyone interested in the Vendian biota.
Alternatively, you could read Chapter 3 of "Major Events in the History of Life" (Ed. by J. William Schopf and available from Amazon) in which Bruce Runnegar writes about the fossils (rather than about Bruce Runnegar.)
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