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Deep Time: Cladistics, The Revolution in Evolution [Paperback]

Henry Gee
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 July 2008
In Deep Time, Henry Gee, assistant editor of Nature, shows us that everything we think we know about evolution is wrong. For a long time, popular scientists have told us that by looking at a fossilised bone we could tell whether it belonged to our ancestors or not. This is not true. In Deep Time, Henry Gee, introduces for the first time in the popular science market a new way of thinking that has revolutionised the way that scientists are approaching the past - Cladistics. Cladistics ignores story-telling and authority and proposes a method based on shared characteristics, rather than ancestry and descent. As a result of using this new method Henry Gee is able to show us the wealth of new ideas that is radically altering our notions of the past: Dinosaurs with feathers; why fish developed fingers; what it means to be human.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (1 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000729154X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007291540
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 514,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry Gee is a longtime editor at the prestigious science journal 'Nature'. His books encompass the depths of time and the outermost reaches of space, whether in non-fiction (DEEP TIME, JACOB'S LADDER, THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH) or fiction (THE SIGIL TRILOGY, BY THE SEA.) His latest book, THE ACCIDENTAL SPECIES: MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF HUMAN EVOLUTION is already attracting rave reviews. "If you only read one book on human evolution, or indeed one book on evolution, make it this one," writes Ted Nield (SUPERCONTINENT; INCOMING). "Quite simply, the best book ever written about the fossil record and humankind's place in evolution," adds John Gribbin, author of The Monkey Puzzle and In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. Author photo - John Gilbey

Product Description

Amazon Review

For centuries biological scientists have been using the Linnean system of classification, organising hierarchies of life forms by their perceived similarities and differences. In the late 20th century, some scientists started using an alternative system called "cladistics", which bases taxonomic classifications on ecological relationships. Under the first system, all algae fall into a single large category, which is then subdivided into various genera and species; under the second, green algae are grouped with plants, chromophyte algae with waterborne fungi, and so forth to account for the environments in which they live. Under the first system, dogs and wolves and coyotes are separated; under the second, they are united, for, the thinking goes, similarities of behaviour and provenience are more important than mere lines of evolutionary descent, which can only be guessed at.

The debate over cladistics has largely been confined to seminar rooms and laboratories. Henry Gee brings it to the general public in this spirited look at how the science of palaeontology, that grand tour of what Gee calls Deep Time, is conducted. Replacing old family trees with "cladograms", Gee challenges long-accepted notions about the past (for example, the classification of Archaeopteryx, which walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but is accounted for as a dinosaur) and argues for a return to rigour in testing hypotheses. His book, although about difficult issues, is immediately accessible, and readers seeking to learn something about cladistics--which Gee believes is "a revolution in thought as profound as that of Darwinian evolution by natural selection"--are off to a fine start in these pages. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


This book will surprise, outrage and delight you – and make you think.'
Jared Diamond

'Gee takes the reader inside contemporary palaeontology, from the excitement of a fossil dig with Maeve Leakey to the thousands of carefully stored and catalogued specimens at the Natural History Museum.'
New Scientist

'As Gee's brilliant analysis shows, viewed afresh, evolution proves a more interesting and exciting – if more complex – story than we ever thought.' Scotsman

’ A classic piece of reportage… Gee deserve high praise for these stimulating additions to the popular science canon.’ Independent

’Henry Gee’s fascinating book explains how a relatively new method of classifying life revolutionises our picture of the world… In the process of setting out his argument Gee gives us a fascinating introduction to Palaeontological biology.’ A C Grayling, Literary Review

’In Deep Time, Henry Gee eloquently and entertainingly explains exactly why this revolution in evolution is both interesting and important to our understanding of the past.’ Herald

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A little slow to get going - you think that Gee might have been attending a few too many Creative Writing courses. (Why do popular science authors think that every miniscule detail of their field trips is fascinating or relevant to the science?) It's worth the wait however, as this is a very clear explanation for the average person of the aims of cladistics, with some detailed discussions as applied to the fish/tetrapod relationship, birds/dinosaurs, and the hominids.

Gee reminds us that a scientific hypothesis should be testable, a precept virtually forgotten by today's disingenuous science in which total conjecture is always being handed down to us as incontrovertible fact. Contrary to the long-standing viewpoint of palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists, cladistics argues that any temporal or causal link between any fossil and any other fossil or any living species simply cannot be proven - they are after all dead and gone; the best we can do is create bifurcating "cladograms" indicating some sort of inferred relationship, without any temporal axis.

Some of the discussion of birds contained herein may well require a rewrite with the recent exposure of some Chinese bird fossils as fakes. Also, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a book like this really ought to contain some pictures of fossils and anatomical drawings to explain the points made in the text - there are none at all.

Despite such faults, this book should be required reading for anyone intending to embark upon a scientific career - this is what science should be about. Let's get back to our scientific roots.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating? Cladistics? Yes, amazingly, a topic based on things buried eons ago in the past, one that could be dull as ditchwater or dry as desert dust, is given a chatty and almost conversational treatment to bring it to life before us. Even dyed-in-the-wool creationists might find some revelations in here they could find hard to dispute.

Gee has enjoyed many years playing with palaeontology on field trips, in museum basements, and theoretically, as well as contributing extensively to the Nature publication. He has an easy style with words, and the breadth of his knowledge and intensity of his enthusiasm shines through them.

This little book gives us a crystal clear insight into the scale of the problem of time itself, and how one might begin to assign characteristics to an animal from tiny fragments of fossilised remains. And then he illustrates the difficulties found when trying to extend the reasoning, or to construct more about the animal by comparing similarities and functionalities across types.

I'm not a historian, nor an archaeologist, nor a palaeontologist, but an impatient engineer, and so I admire anyone who has the dedication, time and persistence to immerse themselves into these arts and to discover knowledge, for real, for the first time! Gee gives us the voyeur's glimpse into how it is done, and how the techniques of Cladistics can be extended into some surprising new areas.

I think having previously recently read The Invisible Gorilla helped my understanding of the importance of the rigorous cause and effect reasoning that makes Cladistics so effective.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in Deep Time 13 April 2000
Henry Gee's "Deep Time" is, if you will excuse the pun, a most timely book. Over the past ten years or so we have been treated to an increasingly rich diet of 'evolutionary' explanations for almost every conceivable human physical and psychological attribute on the basis of a highly speculative and scientifically untenable interpretation of the role of genes, inspired to a large extent by what biology professor Brian Goodwin termed the "absurd and degenerate concept" of the so-called 'selfish gene'.
If, as Henry Gee states, most professional palaeontologists "rejected the story-telling mode of evolutionary history as unscientific more than 30 years ago', then the appearance of a book about cladistics - the subject of "Deep Time" - is long overdue. Cladistics is the science of relationships based on verifiable attributes, as gleaned from comparative anatomy, physiology and embryology, from palaeontology and recently also from the comparison of gene sequences in plants and animals.
Such studies, in the view of cladists such as Gee, lead only to patterns of kinship - degrees of closeness of relationship based on observable features of structure and form. Any interpretation or extrapolation of such data to generate evolutionary lineages - lines of descent - is unscientific and therefore invalid. Such narratives of human or animal evolution are just that - stories invented to satisfy subjective prejudices about our place in nature, in particular about the presumed inevitable upward progression of evolution. "Deep Time", the 4.5 billion-year history of the Earth, and the extraordinary sparsity of the fossil record allow no valid conclusions to be drawn about how or why evolution occurred.
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