- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (21 Jun. 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1848312628
- ISBN-13: 978-1848312623
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,103,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Written in Stone Paperback – 21 Jun 2011
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`Well researched and beautifully written' -- BBC Focus `Magisterial ... part historical account, part scientific detective story. Switek's elegant prose and thoughtful scholarship will change the way you see life on our planet.' -- Neil Shubin, author of `Your Inner Fish' `A fine guide to the four-dimensional tapestry of life' -- Nature `Switek has produced in his first book prose and paleontological inspiration comparable to the work of the late Stephen Jay Gould ... Highly recommended.' -- Choice
About the Author
BRIAN SWITEK writes a blog for Wired magazine which has been featured in the Guardian, Daily Mail, New Scientist, The New York Times and The Times ('Brilliant writing about palaeontology and evolution, with great daily photos'). He has been a guest on BBC Radio 4's Material World and written for The Times and the Guardian.
Top customer reviews
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His answers are detailed and entertaining. The earliest fossils were shoe-horned into proving the veracity of the Bible; later fossils were equally misinterpreted to comply with a belief in directed evolution. The truth, as Switek demonstrates, is that we never have enough bones to fill in all the gaps, but we do have enough evidence to show that species expand and contract according to environmental changes. There is no 'progress', no 'ascent' or 'descent' - there is simply 'best fit'.
The Kindle edition suffers slightly in that a few of the detailed diagrams are hard to decipher; and, as usual, Kindle seems to create typos. The book is heavily annotated - 25% of the book is linked footnotes and references (some of the web references can be accessed directly - how cool is that?).
I enjoyed it. It is well-researched and written with humour and enthusiasm.
The book is structured in an episodic way looking at different aspects of paleontology, for example the evolution of whales, or the evolution of horses, by first looking at the history of the science in these areas over the last couple of centuries or so showing how knowledge of the science has gradually built up followed by a summary description of current knowledge on the subject.
The structure of this book is what makes it a comfortable (but not shallow) read. By focusing to start with on the history of an aspect of evolution, the author takes the opportunity to include a large number of entertaining anecdotes about early scientists and their quirks, which keep you interested and entertained, whilst the way that he describes there understanding of what the science is takes you from the intuitive assumptions that you initially had on the subject to the more counter intuitive facts that are the modern day view on an easy to climb learning curve. This is impressive science writing.
The book is modern enough that if you haven't took much notice of the science over the last four or five years, like me, you'll find that things have moved on......e.g. Previous reading made me aware that birds had evolved from dinosaurs, I wasn't aware that many dinosaurs that we traditionally think of as scaled were in fact feathered.
I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend reading it.
Only one important remark: the text on human evolution is outdated. Our ancestors did not evolve directly from the trees to the plains (this would have resulted in some sort of baboon-like quadruped) as the author believes in the old tradition: all data (fossils, anatomy, physiology, paleo-environment, nutrition etc.) converge to indicate:
(1) Early hominoids (Mio-Pliocene "apes", including australopithecines) typically lived in swamp forests and wetlands (e.g. K.Reed 1997 J.hum.Evol.), where they not only collected fruits and nuts, but also wetland foods, like extant bonobos and lowland gorillas still do sometimes, wading bipedally and swimming in shallow water for waterlilies, papyrus sedges, cattails, frogbit etc. Google "gorilla bai" or "bonobo wading" illustrations.
(2) Early-Pleistocene archaic Homo dispersed intercontinentally, not running over open plains as still popularly assumed, but simply along African and Eurasian coasts (continental shelf hypothesis), where they waded and walked bipedally for waterside and dived for shallow-aquatic foods, including shellfish, which are richest in brain-specific nutrients (DHA, iodine, taurine, oligo-elements), and from the coasts they gradually also ventured inland along the rivers. European Neanderthal fossils are found in river valleys, beaver ponds and oxbow lakes, or else at the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Northsea coasts: probably they seasonally followed the river to the sea.
With these corrections, I highly recommend Brian Switek's book.
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