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Inconsistent and disappointing overall
on March 6, 2001
I was excited to read an up-to-date history of life on earth. This book contains chapters which examine the emergence and diversification of all the major animal forms from the Precambrian Era to the emergence of Homo sapiens. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field.
Unfortunately, I was very disappointed in the book, and have actually stopped reading it about two-thirds through. The book's style and approach wildly fluctuates not only from chapter to chapter, but even within chapters. There are some true gems in this book, from the description of the geological ages and the accompanying illustrations on pages 24-25, to the discussion of the function of the plates on the back of Stegasaurus on page 136.
Unfortunately, to get to these eminently readable gems you often must wade through pages of monotonous and technical descriptions of the fauna which characterize a period. It would be much more memorable and pedagogically sound to pick just one or two examples and give detailed descriptions of them.
Compounding the disappointment with the dry text, the pictures which accompany the text fail to give a sense of the actual evidence the paleontologist must grapple with. For instance, it is very disappointing that there are so few photographs of fossils. The book has many paintings and drawings of what animals might have looked like, but the descriptions of fossils are not accompanied by photographs of the actual fossils! In a science such as paleontology, where visualization is half the battle, this omission seems quite strange.
Also, technical anatomical descriptions, such as of the pelvic structure of dinosaurs on page 133, would be much easier to digest with some nice diagrams. Introductory undergraduate texts make better use of pictures than this supposed popularization!
Finally, there are a bit too many highly cluttered phylogenetic trees containing species which only the aficianado will appreciate. This only accentuates my final point: the book is written for a popular audience, to whom I cannot recommend it. I would instead recommend it to the aficianado who has lost touch with recent molecular and paleontological efforts at phylogeny reconstruction. The neophyte should look elsewhere.