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The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals Paperback – 7 Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (7 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192862022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192862020
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Review

'tells a great story and manages to be informative at all levels. (New Scientist)

spiritually uplifting (THES)

The centerpiece of The Crucible of Creation is a descripion, authoritative and readable, of the animals themselves (New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Palaeontology in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge. He was one of the team of three scientists who uncovered many of the fossils and worked on the interpretation of the Burgess Shale in the 1970s, for which work Stephen Jay Gould said "Palaeontology has no Nobel prizes though I would unhesitatingly award the first to Whittington, Briggs, and Conway Morris. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990, and presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1996. His search for fossils has taken him all over the world, including China, Mongolia, Australia, and Greenland.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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We live on a wonderful planet that not only teems with life but shows a marvellous exuberance of form and variety. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Nov 2001
Format: Paperback
A decade on from the publication of Stephen Jay Gould's 'Wonderful Life' there is much new information to be told about the Burgess Shale and similar deposits around the world, and Conway Morris is in the best place to tell it as one of the leading researchers in this subject. He succeeds brilliantly in bringing the fossils to life by visiting them in a time travelling submersible to view their ecology.
Conway Morris does not agree with Gould's interminable arguments for contingency in 'Wonderful Life' and makes a very strong case for a degree of predictability in evolution, there being only a limited number of ways to scratch a living on planet earth. If you have read 'Wonderful Life' you really should read this.
I can find no justification for the reviewer below complaining of excessive religious content - this is an objective, scientific account seeking to piece evidence together to address important questions, and there is no 'religious' material. Conway Morris does have a philosophical side, however, rightly condemning our current behaviour towards our environment as 'utterly reckless'. Unfortunately, the evolution of consciousness came with extraordinary capacities for greed and self-deception, linked traits that suggest the experiment will not last for very long.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JA Woolven-Allen on 3 Feb 2010
Format: Paperback
Conway Morris's use of the time travelling scientists as a vehicle for providing the imaginary licence required to describe living ecosystems that existed half a billion years ago is original and neat, although I found it slightly childish and detracting from the academic nature of the subject of the book - the fauna of the Burgess Shale. Comments I've read about Conway Morris's style not being a polished as S.J.Gould's were well founded. However I don't think either of these two critisisms need deter from an enjoyable read, or more importantly distract from the author's main message - that contingency does not play the central role in evolutionary outcomes that other authors, especially Gould, would credit it with. The book not only tries to overturn the central conclusion of Gould's Wonderful Life, but also updates the field of Cambrian palaeoecology, to include insights gained from newly discovered fossil faunas in Greenland and in China, as well as correcting erroneous fossil reconstructions, most famously that of Hallucigenia. Going on previous reviews of Conway Morris's work, I had expected to read a near-religious interpretation. This work is as objective and scientific as any, and I found no affront to the scientific method or principle. If you are interested in the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments and the life that existed in them, or the nature of macroevolution, then I recommend this book, not only as a sensible counter-balance to Wonderful Life, but as a stand-alone interpretation of Cambrian life, and its subsequent evolution over 500 million years.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 Dec 1998
Format: Hardcover
Conway Morris gives us his first-hand, expert point of view on what the fossil record tells us about Evolution. Not only the Burgess Shale, but other recent discoveries in the farthest places in the World, that complement former data, are taken into account. The main outcome following these new discoveries is the finding of right places to every bizarre animal that Wondeful life introduced to us, all of them fitting in the main present animal groups. All the questions you had raised when reading Gould's book are answered here. Some may think that Conway Morris has come back to Walcott's old shoehorn and that he is ungrateful to Gould for putting him on the map. This is untrue. Just he got more recent data than he (and Gould) had before. Thus he has changed his conclusions. I am a molecular biologist who was an unconditional follower to Gould's points of view, but Conway Morris' data have convinced me. Wise men know when to modify their opinions. So did Conway Morris and so do I, after having read The Crucible of Creation. Anyway, I will carry on reading Gould's wonderful books. Gould's fascinating prose has gained many converts. Conway Morris' writing is more scientific and less rhetoric. He is not such a good Science popularizer as Gould (who could be?). But he probably knows more about Cambrian fossils than no other person in the World. So you must give him a chance and read this book, It is a really worthwhile work.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 15 Aug 2000
Format: Paperback
You have a choice in reading this book; take a senior course in evolutionary biology, or spend an hour carefully reviewing the introductory glossary. Don't be intimidated by this initial labour, however, there are great rewards awaiting you for the effort.
Our present view of life's parade is unaccountably dominated by the parade of dinosaurs encountered in cartoons, advertising and poorly conceived cinema. Conway Morris brings to view the truly important period in evolution's pageant. Fossils of the Cambrian era were hidden from view until the 1909 discovery of a city-block-sized outcrop in the mountains of British Columbia. The Burgess Shale revealed fossils of a plethora of hitherto unknown soft- bodied creatures. Conway Morris recalls this find, and expands this initial discovery with other sites around the globe to give us a more intimate view of the creatures inhabiting that time.
Reference to Stephen Gould's WONDERFUL LIFE is almost mandatory here. Conway Morris doesn't 'disparage' him, but shows that Gould's excited imagination and desire to support his invalid thesis of 'punctuated equilibrium' led him into fallacious assumptions. Conway Morris has brought hard science to point out the realities of the Cambrian record. Evolution's mechanics have been addressed from several angles. Conway Morris reviews these, offering sound critiques to each in developing his thesis. What caused the 'Cambrian explosion' of novel life forms? Predation. Animals that had scuffled along the sea bottom or waited for food to drift into reach were challenged by more ambitious life forms. Conway Morris has given us an engaging account of the development of life.
There are few flaws in this account. It's amazingly complete for so brief a treatment.
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