- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press (November 30, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1934137294
- ISBN-13: 978-1934137291
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #519,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Beginning with a recently discovered 47-million-year-old primate fossil, Switek effectively and eloquently demonstrates the exponential increase in fossils that have been found since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. In delightful prose, he blends information about fossil evidence with the scientific debates about how that evidence might be best interpreted. Switek, who writes the Smithsonian's Dinosaur Tracking blog, focuses on evidence for the evolution of major lineages, from reptiles to birds and from fish to tetrapods. He also explains at length how whales, horses, and humans evolved, marshaling compelling fossil evidence and combining it with information from molecular biology; at every step, he makes clear what is still unknown. He underscores that life forms have not "progressed" through evolution to end with Homo sapiens as the highest life form; rather, evolution has produced "a wildly branching tree of life with no predetermined path or endpoint." He superbly shows that "f we can let go of our conceit," we will see the preciousness of life in all its forms. 90 b&w illus. (Nov.) (c)
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In this thoroughly entertaining science history, Switek combines a deep knowledge of the fossil record with a Holmesian compulsion to investigate the myriad ways evolutionary discoveries have been made. Just one chapter encompasses an 1817 Amazon expedition, Richard Owen and London’s Natural History Museum, the musings of Darwin, an array of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century naturalists, some digs in Greenland, and paleontologist Jenny Clack’s 1980 research in old field notebooks and a trip to the Sedgewick Museum basement. All of this leads in a roundabout way to the 2006 discovery of Tiktaalik: a fish with a critical position in the record between fins and fingers. From there Switek moves on to “footprints and feathers” and a dozen other topics that all further his mission of exploring natural history and portraying the scientists who spent their lives asking questions and finding answers. It’s poetry, serendipity, and smart entertainment because Switek has found the sweet spot between academic treatise and pop culture, a literary locale that is a godsend to armchair explorers everywhere. --Colleen Mondor
Top customer reviews
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Switek mostly focuses on how evolutionary theory has changed over time. He starts with some of the earliest naturalists and their various theories while at the same time touching on important discoveries, historical events, mindsets of the time, and general notes on dinosaurs and prehistoric species. The book closes with a chapter on the evolution of man and a brief few notes on DNA and molecular evolution. He doesn't go into much detail on the latter which is fine.
I had to order this for a class I took and I wasnt too excited. This is not a topic I generally go for. Wow was I surprised! A lot of time learning names and dates can be kind of difficult to retain but Switeck really shows you the contributions some of these scientists made to the field that you cant possibly forget their names! A great book for a beginner or someone who just wants a good read! I read the whole book even though my class only required a few chapters.
-Interesting topic overall, and put together pretty well
-Switek turns the entire thing into a decent narrative--he's telling the story of the evolution of evolutionary theory
-The whale, horse, and elephant chapters were pretty awesome
-Some neat illustrations
-For a book written by a professional writer and published by a reputable, non-vanity publisher, it contains a surprising number of misspellings and/or grammatical errors
-As someone else said, there are several pages of notes in the back of the book, which should have instead been included as footnotes throughout the book