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Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  747 ratings  ·  107 reviews
An award-winning biologist takes us on the dramatic expeditions that unearthed the history of life on our planet.

Just 150 years ago, most of our world was an unexplored wilderness. Our sense of its age was vague and vastly off the mark, and much of the knowledge of our own species’ history was a set of fantastic myths and fairy tales. In the tradition of The Microbe Hunte
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2006)
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This is a wonderful book about naturalists and their adventures in search for the origin of species. Sean Carroll is an excellent author. He is also a professor of molecular biology, and his previous books have been excellent, too.

Most chapters follow a naturalist into the wilds. The first chaptera are about the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and Henry Bates and their subsequent analyses of findings. When Humboldt visited the United States, he visited the p
Sooo.....we did evolve from apes. I knew it! That explains so many things, all the hair in unusual places, the urge to groom my husband, why my youngest hangs on me like a monkey. Carroll includes a quote on the last page of this book, talk is cheap, exploration and discovery is hard. Boy, oh boy is that true! Some people are just born to find stuff. Some people are just premade to tackle decades of dealing with sunburns, throwing up, fire ant bites, fevers, sea-sickness, more throwing up, starv ...more
I liked this book because it was as much about the scientists included as their discoveries. Of course now I want to go pick up more thorough biographies about some of the people that it covers...

The very end of the book starts to drag though. After a good overview of Pauling's political activism, things get a bit jargon heavy and we stop getting the same level of personal detail that made the rest of the book so interesting.
Excellent overview of the search to explain how species evolved, as told through the stories of the individual scientists/explorers - from Humboldt (who I didn't really know anything about other than that they named a Squid and a Current after him) through Pauling and Wilson and the latest genetic advances. Would have been 5 stars except for the last two chapters - DNA/RNA, chemistry, etc - which I found a slog and ended up skimming; but I'm sure other readers probably liked that part best - eve ...more
Possibly the best of three books of his I have read so far, as the previous ones dealt with the specific mechanisms of evolution and were therefore more technical. The author is passionate about evolutionary biology, and this is perhaps his way of paying homage to the giants of the field, from Darwin and Wallace to the lesser known but more recent paleontologists and scientists that have made significant inroads into our understanding of the timeline of evolution on Earth and the major events th ...more
Feb 09, 2010 Stephanie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nerds like me
Science has a reputation for being boring. I’ve made the acquaintance of many a science textbook in my time, and I can say that, in spite of my love for science, that reputation is not unwarranted. Textbook writers could stand to learn a thing or two from Sean B. Carroll, author of Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species.

In Remarkable Creatures, Carroll tells the stories of many of the men and women that have made great discoveries in the field of evolutiona
Surprisingly engaging read (my track record with nonfiction is not that good -- I tend to pick up books that I read about / heard about somewhere else that has engaging summaries and find them incredibly dull and long winded once I actually start reading them). It's kind of a...dramatized serial biography of people who are involved in studies of evolution. FAST read, which I definitely appreciate. Note that it IS written by a male Caucasian professor though and so the stories are, with very few ...more
Koen Crolla
Carroll writes a fieldwork-centric, mostly paleontology-centric book on evolution, which is interesting. You sometimes get pretty interesting paleontological popular science (Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, which Carroll covers, being a recent example), but they tend to be quite narrow in scope. It's easy to see why: you can't really give a broad overview of the whole of evolutionary biology without tackling more theoretical work. That work may be borne out in the fossil record, but using the fos ...more
Jenny Brown
Carroll's earlier book about evolutionary biology, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" was an amazing book that takes the reader me deep inside the science underlying evolution and explained in ways comprehensible to the nonscientist how a limited number of genes go about building the myriad forms our bodies take. Given how great that book was, my expectations were high for this one.

Unfortunately, for me at least, this book turns out to be a very lightweight survey of several explorer/scientists whos
In an extremely close, affectionate, life-long marriage, Charles Darwin and his wife Emma were able to tolerate and transcend their philosophical differences. (She was a devout, conservative Christian who believed in the Biblical version of creation.) He entrusted her with the disposition of his writings in the event of his early demise.

Louis Leaky, a son of English missionaries in Africa, was initiated into the native Kikuyu society at the age of 11. He received an African name (Wakuruigi, "So
I've read several of Dr. Carroll's scientific papers. So, standing on science section of a book store and finding a natural history book authored by him was like a tiny adventure for me, a successful one. I couldn't wait to read this book and follow his journey in tracking the pioneers of scientific natural history research in search for all the remarkable lifeforms on earth.

From Darwin, Wallace, Eugene Dubois with his 'Java man', back to the "Cambrian period which marked the early life on earth
This was just absolutely brilliant! It was extraordinarily interesting and informative, exceptionally well written, beautifully researched, marvelously accessible and exciting, and wonderfully cohesive!

So many times I found myself shaking my head with awe and wonder at the discoveries made by the scientists profiled in this book. It was just marvelous--I loved it! It made me wish that I had stopped flirting with the idea of majoring in biology, and just gone ahead and done it. Remarkable, indee
I very much enjoyed this author's style and method of presentation of the material. He makes complex subjects accessible for the non-scientist but doesn't dumb the material down so much that it's robbed of its vigor. While I was familiar with a number of the episodes and scientists portrayed, there was plenty that was new to me and I learned quite a bit. Each chapter is a mini-biography for a key researcher or explorer, combined with the major he advances made. What becomes clear is how each new ...more
James F
This is a popularization of the history of some of the discoveries relating to evolution. It is written at a simple, just beyond YA, level and is a straightforward, unabashedly "Whig" narrative with a biographical emphasis. It has chapters on Alexander Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace (the co-discoverer of natural selection), Henry Walter Bates (Wallace's friend and the discoverer of Batesian mimicry), Eugene DuBois (the discoverer of "Java Man" -- now Homo erectus), Charles Wolc ...more
This book was a fascinating window into the history of the scientists behind our current understanding of evolution. I teach high school biology, so I'll admit that the topic is pretty well-suited to my personal interests, but Carroll's writing is familiar enough and his treatment of the personal stories of the scientists and history surrounding the development of their ideas is so well crafted, the book becomes a page-turner. This is a wonderful book for anyone learning about or interested in e ...more
Champions of natural history

This book chronicles the adventures of some of the great paleontologists, evolutionists, and molecular biologists in search for the origin of species. The book is described in three major parts; the first part focuses on the origin of species in general; the second part on particular kinds of animals; and finally the origins of human beings. In part one, the epic voyage of Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and Henry Bates who laid foundations for the theory of natural s
How can a history of natural historians be unputdownable you ask? I don't know, but it is! Holy crap this a REALLY good book! This author draws up just the right amount of detail and interesting facts around the lives of the men and women who have made the pivotal advances in the sciences of natural history, evolutionary biology, paleontology, anthropology, and evolutionary genetics. I have been taking brief notes on each chapter and once I've finished them I plan on updating this review.
Ashutosh Rai
This book should be used in schools as a textbook. What worries me is the manner in which science is taught in the schools. It is most often just a collection of facts, without any history.

Books like this tell us the stories behind those discoveries. It's very hard to forget the adventures of HMS Beagle or how Pauling was responsible for new trends in evolutionary biology. But if you just present the facts, they become uninteresting and science loses its charm. This is the area where this book
Donna Hutt Stapfer Bell
Another junket book from my local NPR station (support public radio!) - not a story of the origin of species...but about the people and EVENTS surrounding the actual search itself.

Starts - sorta - with Darwin. But then goes into his contemporaries, students...and inheritors.

Simple, lovely stuff. Can be devored in an afternoon.
Virginia Brace
Sean Carroll tells the dramatic stories of the naturalists, anthropologists, paleontologists, chemists and biologists whose discoveries help tell the real story of how our world evolved. For the non-scientist he explains the exciting evolution of man and his world and it is a thrilling story.
James Manders
I found this book in a pound shop, it was about natural science and had an orange cover, so reminded me of Douglas Adams's Last Chance to See (my copy is the orange version) so I was sold instantly!

Remarkable creatures is like a brief history of the theory of evolution, starting with Darwin and Wallace and the origins of the theory, before taking you through the subsequent 150 years and the discoveries that have helped to prove the theory and to improve our knowledge of our biological history on
Very accessible and enjoyable. Made my commute time easier. This a wonderful book to recommend to a teenager interested in science or an adult that needs a quick introduction to the subject.
Jason Thatcher
This resonated - it illustrates the interplay of chance and effort required to conduct research. I plan on asking my doctoral students to read it.
James Maxey
I've read a lot of books on evolution, and this is one of the best in terms of showing the field work underpinning the science. I especially appreciated including the errors and false trails that science followed, such as the widespread belief that humans must have evolved in Asia, or that huge conflict apparent age conflicts between fossil evidence for human evolution and genetic evidence. The book makes for a series of fascinating real life detective stories as again and again evidence comes t ...more
Hard to imagine a more readable book on the history of natural science than this one. Every chapter is a story from the last 150 years or so of natural science's explosive development, beginning of course with Darwin. Each story shares a similar archetype, and indeed, the book mostly follows the "great men" model of history, although their colleagues and wives are included as well. The discoveries covered include the "Wallace line", feathered dinosaurs, the incredible discovery of the story of t ...more
Subtitle: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species. Now that Richard Dawkins has gone from spokesman for biology to spokesman for atheists, we are left to look for who will take up the previous role played by Dawkins, and before him Stephen Jay Gould. Sean Carroll is the author of two (excellent) previous books on evolution; he is part of the new school called Evo Devo, which is less hip but more substantive than the name suggests. Here, he puts aside (but not far aside) the topi ...more
I was very pleaantly surprised by Sean Carroll's book "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures In the Search For The Origins of Species". One forgets (or at least I did) how recent many of the discoveries about life on earth really are. For more than a thousand years, mankind's vision of the development of life, about fossils, the age of man itself were based on legends, superstition, or religious teachings. It was only in the past 150 years or so that great strides were made in our understanding ...more
Cathy Douglas
A good book that could be better. The first 3/4 or so makes very good reading, with the kind of details about the people involved that keep good popular science books interesting to lay readers. There was a lot of familiar material in these chapters, but I found enough that was new and some lively storytelling to keep me going.

Unaccountably, the writing degrades as Dr. Carroll gets closer to our own time and his areas of expertise -- interpreting genetic and other information at the cellular lev
The Nomadic
"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them".

This book is a chronicle of the greatest adventures in natural history in the last 200 years. The author Sean Carroll, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looks at the lives of people who had gone into the wild, with one purpose, to find evidence of evolution. He starts with Darwin and his voyage around the world. Darwin's passion for collecting and for exploring the unknown wa
In 1584, the Catholic monk Giordano Bruno asserted that there were “countless suns and countless earths all rotating around their suns.” He was charged with heresy and burned at the stake in 1600.
And here I thought peer reviews these days were unforgiving.

This book wasn't quite what I expected, but it was really lovely. It's not much about the creatures, but mostly about the discoverers. It's interesting, for all that.

This book features a few of my favorite scientists. That got me all excited
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Sean B. Carroll (born September 17, 1960) is a professor of molecular biology, genetics, and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies the evolution of cis-regulation in the context of biological development, using Drosophila as a model system. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Since 2010, he has been vice-president for science education of the Howard ...more
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