A guide to museums where the original fossils or high-quality reproductions are housed and more than 150 illustrations...

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THE STORY OF LIFE IN 25 FOSSILS

TALES OF INTREPID FOSSIL HUNTERS AND THE WONDERS OF EVOLUTION

How the discoveries of 25 fossils provide links in the chain of evolution that confirm Charles Darwin’s primary thesis.

Paleontologist and geologist Prothero (Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessi and Other Famous Cryptids, 2013, etc.) uses the discovery of a feathered dinosaur and 24 other fossils of missing links to make a strong case for the evolution of life from simple one-celled “mats of bacteria and (much later) algae, growing in the shallow waters of the shorelines and coating the rocks.” As the author notes, “when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the fossil record was a weak spot in his argument.” Some of the 25 finds occurred by chance. In 1860, the discovery in a limestone quarry of the impression of a single feather (and the subsequent find nearby of a nearly complete reptilian skeleton) provided evidence of a missing link between dinosaurs and birds. Tracing the history of life on Earth over the past 3.5 billion years was more complex, requiring advances in science and technology and a new field of research, “biogeosynthesis.” Not only did the condition of ancient rocks make discovery of fossils problematic, but microscopic fossil traces were difficult to decipher. Politics entered the picture in the 1970s, when the Pakistani government allowed access to American paleontologists on fact-finding missions. They were able to collect fossils of primitive land mammals that resembled whales, thus confirming Darwin's prescient hypothesis that whales were land mammals that had returned to the sea. The author convincingly attributes the controversy over the African origins of humans—anticipated by Darwin in 1871 but rejected by later proponents of a Eurasian origin—to “a deeply held racism that regarded African peoples as sub-human.”

A guide to museums where the original fossils or high-quality reproductions are housed and more than 150 illustrations accompany Prothero’s lively account of the science and politics that shaped the rich history of these discoveries.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-17190-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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