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Evolution: The Whole Story

Evolution: The Whole Story

Evolution: The Whole Story by Steve Parker (general editor)

Summary: Evolution: The Whole Story provides an in-depth and up-to-the- minute account of evolution, one of the ultimate keystone theories in modern science. Ten esteemed experts thoroughly survey how each of Earth’s major groups of living things diversified and evolved through time and using visual features that make the story comprehensible, the book gives readers, even those with no previous knowledge of the topic, a clear understanding of evolution and how it brought us to the present day.

Each of seven chapters takes one of Earth’s major living groups and describes the evolution of its subgroups and how they diversified and evolved. The stories are fascinating. In some cases, a subgroup fell off the evolutionary chain, like the dinosaurs that were part of the Early Reptiles group, and which became extinct by the second extinction event. In other cases, a living subgroup may contain a life form virtually the same as its evolutionary ancestors, such as the horseshoe crab from the Invertebrates group, which is a “living fossil” closely related to prehistoric sea scorpions.

Along with profiles of the most important scientists that have influenced evolutionary theory, the book reveals how these advances have added to and often changed the story. For example, the now-extinct Pederpes, formerly thought to be a fish, was restudied and reclassified in 2002 and is now known to be the first four-limbed vertebrate to evolve to a life on land.

Evolution: The Whole Story makes the story of evolution comprehensible, straightforward and stimulating. The introduction provides an important overview. It includes:

·         Modern evolutionary theory
·         Terms such as convergent evolution and speciation; time charts and their eras, periods and epochs
·         Explanations of graphic devices such as phylogenies and cladograms that depict evolutionary relationships
·         How we know or surmise about long-gone animals, plants, habitats, and ecosystems
·         Factors and pressures that drove evolution
·         How fossils formed and are studied.

Having laid the base for readers, the story begins. Important features include:

·         Thematic essays that provide a complete account of all the major life groups, explaining in detail their comparative anatomy and evolutionary legacies.
·         Photographic features that investigate the characteristics of individual organisms, including living species, fossils and skeletons, and how they are direct ancestors or relatives to members of modern life groups.
·         160 Key Focus features that investigate topics of particular interest.
·         Stimulating lifelike reconstructions of past habitats and ecosystems.
·         Historical timelines highlighting key evolutionary events and discoveries.
·         In-depth coverage of 20 eminent scientists that have made major contributions to our understanding of evolution.
·         Coverage of Mass Extinctions in their chronological position on the evolutionary timescale.

The 160 Key Focus features investigate topics that add color while they reveal important developments in evolution and its study. Examples are:

·         Hallucigenia, a wormlike creature so odd that a scientist thought he was hallucinating.
·         Flowers, insects and co-evolution — how organisms can progress “hand-in-hand”
·         Peripatus, today’s walking worm with stumpy legs, which may show how arthropods evolved
·         Eurypterus, at almost 5 feet long it was a real monster for its time.
·         Arthropleura, a giant millipede-like arthropod the size of a sports car.
·         Othniel Charles Marsh, Edward Drinker Cope and the Bone Wars, as rivals competed to find the biggest, best dinosaur fossils.
·         Hobbits, an amazing discovery in 2003 of 3-feet-tall fossil humans — are they a distinct species?
·         Reversing evolution and de-extinction — will we be able to “de-extinct” long-gone species?
·         Gigantopithecus, a 10-feet-tall close cousin of humans living in Asia up to 100,000 years ago.
·         Today’s sea eagle — what modern eagles tell us about the evolution of their group.
·         Are new species evolving?

Evolutionary theorists, paleontologists, paleoecologists, molecular biologists, geneticists, climatologists, the occasional amateur fossil-hunter, and many more people, have contributed to our understanding of evolution. Their passion and work will continue to unravel the complex and challenging story, but in the meantime, Evolution: The Whole Story reveals the compelling evidence we have today.

This book is ideal for all general readers and anyone working in or interested in fields related to the study of evolution. It is an essential selection.

Angies comments: Yes, I read the whole book (over 500 pages), although it took some time. Indiana gets a lovely mention due to the Falls of the Ohio fossilized coral beds. This is intended more as read what you want book, rather than a book that needs to be read cover to cover. It highlights interesting plants, animals, and other lifeforms. The enteries are relatively easy to understand, and I especially enjoyed the section on plants.

Recommended for anyone interested in evolution or biology.