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

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  943 Ratings  ·  121 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 Hunt
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 3rd 2009 by Mariner Books (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
Feb 05, 2010 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nick Garza
Feb 07, 2017 Nick Garza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you liked those little vignettes in Cosmos where a scientist's achievements were laid out fully and beautifully, you'll like this book.
Jan 16, 2015 Ryan rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
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 05, 2010 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 26, 2009 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Koen Crolla
May 09, 2011 Koen Crolla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology
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
Mar 29, 2009 Nurul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2013 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Mar 20, 2012 Tony rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Jan 19, 2012 Alida rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 04, 2011 Jason Thatcher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This resonated - it illustrates the interplay of chance and effort required to conduct research. I plan on asking my doctoral students to read it.
Oct 16, 2016 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was okay*, I mean I liked it, but as far as it being the best science-y book I have ever read... nah. It was more of a book to read to hear about all the great people who went on those adventures and made discoveries, like Carroll says in the Sources section, he read all of the material so you didn't have to. Thus it was more about the content then the writing that made this book for me. Also, and this might be a little too feminist, but I didn't like how Carroll never focused on one w ...more
Jan 25, 2017 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another great book from Dr. Carroll. This book specifically focuses on the scientists who are responsible for what we know about species origins. Dr. Carroll is an excellent storyteller and brings excitement to the field of scientific discovery. For anyone who thinks that science is boring, you will not think so after reading this book.
Jun 08, 2014 Rossdavidh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purple
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
Sep 08, 2009 Athena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Feb 20, 2014 Rama rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evolution
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
Apr 21, 2012 Sandie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Remarkable Creatures, Sean Carroll takes the reader on a lively tour of the discoveries in evolution, biology, genetics, archeology, geology and scientific dating that have revolutionized the thinking about how man appeared on earth and changed over the years. Carroll is a professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The book is structured in three areas
Jun 26, 2009 Xine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lucas  Piekarski
Feb 22, 2013 Lucas Piekarski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you believe in the story of Adam and Eve? Well you might be rethinking that after you've Remarkable Creatures. This book is a collection of all the great paleontological discoveries in history from Charles Darwin in the 1850's to Louis Leakey in the early-mid 1900's. It mainly focuses on where life itself came from, but a large part of it is dedicated to the origin of the modern human. It's not so much about the creatures that were discovered, but the people that discovered them. This book w ...more
Apr 26, 2010 Even rated it liked it
Enjoyable and interesting, but there is definetly some room for improvement. Carroll provides several brief biological sketches of some of the most important and interesting scientific discoveries in the histroy of evolutionary biology and geology. his focus is really about the process and joy of discovery. He begins broadly with the development of evolutionary theory and the voyage of the Beagle and proceeds foward in time and more narrowly in focus to modern biochemical analyisis of modern hum ...more
Mar 08, 2013 Alazzar rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Disclaimer: the two-star rating is an indication of my own enjoyment of the book, not of the book's actual quality.

I wanted to read a book on biology, so I did a quick search on Goodreads and came up with Remarkable Creatures. But apparently I didn't realize what I was getting into, because the book isn't about biology so much as it is the history of biology. And, I tell ya--if there's one subject I hate, it's history.

The book started out okay (it's kind of interesting to think of what it must h
A great little overview of some notable biologists and their discoveries. Carroll tempers his wonder with rigor, succinctly but thoroughly explaining a great deal of science alongside the zany adventures of his heroes, with ample citations in appendices. My only critiques are that it was too brief to be completely satisfying for someone familiar with the science (at least in broad strokes), and the occasional moments of dorkiness (Snakes on Plane reference (p. 145)? Seriously?).


"I did not w
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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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