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Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story: Book 3 (The Universe Series) Paperback – September 1, 2006
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"...mammalian evolution told in a way that will engage and enchant, as well as educate, children and adults alike." --Dr. Jane Goodall, Primatologist, Founder of The Jane Goodall Institute
Top Customer Reviews
There is a rising tide of anti-science ideology in the United States, accompanied (and caused) by a vast scientific illiteracy. This is frightening not only because modern economies are so heavily dependent upon scientific knowledge but also because it is science which dissipated the ancient fear-ridden world of witches and ghosts and demons. Take away science and the old terrors can return to haunt humankind. And those terrors long served, and can still serve, to justify man's inhumanity to man.
The reasons for the anti-science tide are complex: America, for example, has an anti-intellectual tradition going back to the Romantic era of the early nineteenth century (see, e.g., E. D. Hirsch's discussion in "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them"). Because knowledge in general, and especially in science, is necessarily "elitist," science also runs against the populism and egalitarianism long endemic in the United States.
Most disturbing is the use of anti-science propaganda by various political and cultural forces to cynically advance their own political agenda (and make some money on the side). For example, Ann Coulter, in her recent book "Godless," launched a lengthy and virtually unhinged attack on the fact of evolution.
At a higher intellectual level, the noted Jewish "neoconservative" intellectual Irving Kristol has declared, "All I want to do is break the bonds of Darwinian materialism which at the moment restrict our imagination." Robert Bork, more briefly, has announced, "Darwinism cannot explain life as we know it." (There is reason to doubt that Kristol at least really believes evolution is false: this may be just a crass ploy for political influence.)
Jennifer Morgan's trilogy is the best cure I have seen for the anti-science hysteria.
Although the evidence for evolution and modern cosmology is, logically and rationally, overwhelming, one of the big problems is that scientists have failed to grab the popular imagination in the same way that mythical religious tales of the Garden of Eden or the Tower of Babel have done.
Morgan has taken the discoveries of science and done what we scientists ourselves seem unable to do: packaged them with a sense of wonder and imagination that can show ordinary people, and most especially children, the grandeur and spectacle of the transcendental truths uncovered by modern science.
Most importantly, she is scientifically accurate: while her books read almost like books of lyrical poetry written for children, I was stunned by the care with which she hewed to the best science available as she wrote (I have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics - I was looking for errors).
This concluding volume in the trilogy discusses the Cenozoic Era, the "age of mammals," focusing especially on the evolution of human beings. Morgan's technique throughout the trilogy is to have the universe tell her own story.
In this volume, she begins by reviewing the chain of catastrophes discussed in the previous two volumes - the nearly total annihilation of elementary particles at the Big Bang, the nearby supernova that is believed to have triggered the formation of the Solar System, the "oxygen crisis" that poisoned much of the early life on earth, and of course the asteroid that ended the age of the dinosaurs.
The theme of this book is that these apparent catastrophes led to us.
She moves through the mammalian and avian radiations, briefly discusses the rise of the hominids, and finally ends the trilogy in an inspiring reminder that, in us human beings, the universe is finally able to understand and comprehend itself.
The book is aimed at children - I read it with my early grade-school children and it would certainly be appropriate through middle school. The book will necessarily offend religious creationists, but should not offend anyone with any other religious beliefs - whether Catholics, mainstream Protestants, non-Christian religious believers, or atheists. It has beautifully imaginative illustrations.
There is a useful appendix with more of the serious science for older kids or adults.
Like most scientists, I am, frankly, skeptical of any attempt to combine "spirituality" with science. In science, the only true "spirituality" is the truth. Morgan shows that this is indeed the truest spirituality of all. She grasps what it is that caused so many of us to become scientists and what motivates so many scientists to continue working at the hard task of patiently teasing out the secrets of reality.
Our generation is the first in human history to have a clear picture of the entire history of the universe and of life on earth. Every human being is entitled to share in this wondrous knowledge.
Get this book (and the other two books in the trilogy) and read it with your kids and grandkids - and for yourself. Show them the incredible beauty, grandeur, and wonder of the universe we inhabit.
This is the greatest story ever told.
In the last few years I have been thrilled to discover Jennifer Morgan, a Princeton author who has written three science books designed for children, entitled A Universe Story Trilogy. The first book, Born With a Bang, covers the history of the universe from its beginning 13.7 billion years ago to the beginning of Earth. The second book, From Lava to Life, tells the story of life beginning as bacteria . . . to the reign of the dinosaurs. Mammals Who Morph, the third book, takes the story from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the rise of Homo sapiens.
The three books are charming and work as wonderful bedtime story reading. But despite the charm and the beautiful illustrations, Ms. Morgan is writing hard science. In a recent seminar which she led, I learned that she spent a number of years talking with cosmologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists, doing her best to be sure that these children's stories were rigorously in accord with current scientific thinking.
To be sure, scientific thinking changes, as Ms. Morgan is the first to acknowledge, and indeed theories which are current today are subject to revision tomorrow. But the extraordinary gift which Jennifer Morgan has given, is a sense that science is full of wonder, excitement and reverence. I, for example, finally got a glimmering of my uncle's work having to do with something called CP Violation and the mindbending concept that if the symmetry between particles and antiparticles had not been broken in the first second after the Big Bang, the rest of the Universe Story would not have happened.
Ms. Morgan's books will turn kids on to science. . . to say nothing of the grownups who literally walked away from Ms. Morgan's presentation with stars in their eyes.