Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  1,028 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Over the past twenty years, paleontologists have made tremendous fossil discoveries, including fossils that mark the growth of whales, manatees, and seals from land mammals and the origins of elephants, horses, and rhinos. Today there exists an amazing diversity of fossil humans, suggesting we walked upright long before we acquired large brains, and new evidence from molec...more
ebook, Columbia University Press E-Book, 429 pages
Published November 22nd 2007 by Columbia University Press (first published 2007)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Evolution, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Evolution

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Daniel Bastian
“Evolution is happening all around us. It happens every time a new germ invades your body, a new pest or weed destroys our crops, or a new insecticide-resistant fly or mosquito bites you. Creationists may get some personal comfort from their beliefs, but they cannot change the fact that life is evolving all around us and threatens our survival if we don’t come to terms with that evolution.” (p. 118)

If the most profound truths are destined to be the most polarizing, then Darwin is a heavyweight i...more
"Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters" is the best book I have ever read emphasizing the importance of the fossil record as the indisputable "facts" of biological evolution, documenting the history of life on Planet Earth. Its publication is long overdue, and yet, remains quite timely, when major publishers like Simon and Schuster have mistakenly published sterling examples of mendacious intellectual pornography like Michael Behe's "The Edge of Evolution". Indeed, Prothero's book o...more
Steve Van Slyke
It's my own fault that I did not read the book description or the other reviews here closer. I didn't get the impression from the book description that so much of it would be devoted to countering the fallacious arguments of the creationist-ID crowd. Not expecting that, and not one needing to be convinced, I was a little annoyed at all the time and ink spent describing and shooting down the creationist positions. For those who need a little more convincing, or who regularly debate creationists,...more
Adam Smith
Fascinating read. Very enlightening on the subject.

I mainly bought this book because I thought it would cover some of the more unique factors and discoveries within evolutional history. While it does contain some interesting facts about evolution (like how whales and snakes still have hips), an portion of the book is spent discussing the ignorance and deceitful tactics of fanatical creationists; which is understandable given the fact that prothero has dedicated his life to the subject and has t...more
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald R. Prothero

“Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters" is an outstanding book that focuses on the fossil record as strong evidence for evolution. It covers the science of evolution with great expertise and eloquence. The book is basically broken out into two main parts. The first part focuses on the science or progression of evolution while the second part gets into the more technical and fossil case studies. Dr. Prothero’s sc...more
Chris Branch
I sincerely hope that I never again read or hear an argument against the truth of evolution based on the lack of transitional fossils - or so-called "missing links" - from anyone who hasn't read this book.

Prothero describes dozens of transitional fossils here - and to be extremely generous in giving creationists the benefit of the doubt, many of these have been discovered and/or documented in the past 20 to 30 years, so anyone who relies on data older than that will find some gaps. But that is...more
This book has some great images, figures, and information, but it's real value lies in the introductory material dealing with the evolution/creation controversy and WHY it exists. I have read far and wide on the topic, and this is one of the best treatments of the matter I have come across.

I do take issue with a few of the figs, in particular 8.18 on p.195. It is highly misleading, as there have never been any dragonflies or dragonfly-like creatures that had more than at most 3 pairs of wings (e...more
This isn't a book for the feint of heart. The first half is thorough and convincing, the second half is a bit overwhelming. The second half of Evolution is devoted to going over fossil evidence, and it's very detailed and technical. Overall I thought this was a fine book, and a good one if you need a reference book. My only complaint is Prothero's intense interest with creationism, it can get a bit distracting, though in the light of the immensely overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution I su...more
Apr 14, 2012 Ahmad marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
لو كان هناك كتاب جاد يسعى لإثبات الداروينية بطريقة "علمية" ممنهجة فهو هذا. تحد حقيقي يجب على كل من يسعى لتسويغ نفيه للانتخاب الطبيعي على أسس العلم الحديث أن يخوضه
قرأت بعضه ولي عودة إن شاء الله.
So there's the tetrapod clade, then the amniote clade, which includes mammals, THEN comes the reptilia. So we're not descended from reptiles. I'm having an identity crisis.
Rob Smith
In the past ten to fifteen years there's been a renaissance in science writing. This is partly fueled by the controversy of intelligent design to be inserted into textbooks and curriculum in public schools. This lovely little book by Donald Prothero joins the constellation of evolution defenses that has formed in recent years, and is actually one of it's brightest stars. Whether the information inside is familiar or fresh, this is a book that nearly everyone can read.

The main thrust of the book...more
As a individual curious about fossils and their importance, i found the book to be more than i could chew for a light reading; however, i was not disappointed, the book delivers, chapter by chapter, in a short form, different species and their evolution through time; also, it explains even more: from the genetics and embryology point of view our relationship with the rest of the living world.
I really liked that it does not compromise the difficult parts of paleontology for the sake of quick rea...more
I'd unreservedly recommend this book to anyone curious about the evidence for evolution. It appears to be targeted at the scientifically interested but non palaeontologically educated reader.

The production values of the book are superb and, like its text, it oozes business-like quality. It is hardback, printed on a beautiful heavy paper stock. The author's style is very clear and remarkably concise, considering his academic background. (My past experience is that many learned gentlemen - and it...more
Paul Bruggink
The book is obviously intended for the popular audience, since the only footnotes in the entire book are in Michael Shermer's Forward. Donald R. Prothero does, however, provide a rather extensive "For Further Reading" list after each chapter, plus an 11-page bibliography and a 9-page index.

Prothero points out in his "To the Reader" at the beginning of the book that many Christian denominations and Christian scientists have come to terms with biological evolution. He then goes on to make no attem...more
Aug 21, 2014 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: Book
Shelves: science, evolution
My second book on evolution (the first was Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth). This one is probably a bit more palatable to those with a creationist background, since Prothero is at least a theistic evolutionist. He mentions in the acknowledgement section "I am grateful to my brilliant pastor, the late Rev. Dr. Bruce Thielmann, who showed me that you could be religious and intellectual at the same time." Anyway, there is a wealth of info on fossils for all the major branches of the tree of life...more
Alison Dellit
Despite Prothero's somewhat agitated style (the list of things that annoy varies from the incorrect use of the word fish to creationist distortions of science) this is possibly my favourite of the evolution primers around at the moment. Prothero discusses comprehensively the various mechanisms currently thought to contribute to evolution, and the varied areas of scholarship, from molecular biology to paleontology, which contribute to the field. He has a much more expansive view of evolution than...more
This is an outstanding book. Donald Prothero has put together an extremely comprehensive account of the fossil record as it stands today. There are chapters on the origin of life; prokaryote development; microfossils; the evolution of the backbone and the first vertebrates; the transition from fish to tetrapods; from primitive tetrapods to amniotes; the evolution of dinosaurs and from avian dinosaurs to birds; from primitive synapsids to mammals; and the evolution of humans.

Each chapter lists th...more
This book covers a lot of ground, only hinting at the incredible detail involved in the study of the fossils. It is accessible and interesting to the casual reader, and for anyone wishing to focus more deeply on a particular aspect, there is a bibliography at the end of each chapter.

The fact is not that there are no transitional forms, it is that EVERYTHING is a transitional form: life is a tree, a continuum, and the concept of categorizing everything is a holdover from the biblical concept of s...more
This book gives the person interested in fossils a look at what's been found in the last 20 or 30 years. It's fascinating stuff! I didn't want to put the book down at times.

Prothero goes from detailing both the finding of the fossils and the fossils themselves, to how pissed he is at creationists who do no actual science at all, then spend their time taking pot shots at the work of real scientists, and quote-mining their works. I enjoyed Prothero's attacks on such people, Duane Gish most promin...more
Jon Beckler
An excellent read for understanding the science of the geology, archaeology, and paleontology that tells us who we humans are and where we exist on the massive tree of life. It humbles me to think what we have accomplished with our modest background in DNA structure. We are, after all, just one of the great apes. And yet that humble beginning also reminds us that we are still quite new to the planet (compared to most other organisms) and that we might be just another accident that marks the long...more
Donald Prothero is an insightful and gifted writer, and his skills definitely came to good use in this book. If you are looking for an in depth primer on the mountain of evidence for evolution as well as the ongoing mechanations of the Young Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents, it would be hard to find a better book than this one. Although a bit technical at times, Prothero ultimately does a good job of making the latest findings of the leading evolutionary scientists accessible...more
Leigh Jackson
Very good book. Prothero isn't a great writer, and the prose is awkward at times, but this book (especially the second half) is a relentless barrage of well-documented facts about the existence of the transitional forms and fossils creationist nut jobs like Duane Gish and Ken Ham like to pretend do not exist. If anyone open minded doubts that the fossil record is best explained by the theory of evolution then this book should convince them.

Prothero doesn't target religious belief in general and...more
I very much enjoyed this book. Though I was familiar with a lot of the arguments, it was great to have an overview from an expert in the field. It's remarkable how many incredible specimens have been discovered even in the last 30 years, and how they have added clarity to the picture of the past. It's also amazing how well defined a lot of the "transitions" are in the record. (sea to land, reptile-like to mammal, dinosaur to bird, etc.) I appreciated the introduction to cladistics, as well.

I'd h...more
Jeffrey Cavanaugh
A nice primer on the current contributions paleontology is making to evolutionary theory. In short, the fossil record is much, much richer than is commonly acknowledged by those skeptical of evolution's role in shaping life on Earth, and the past several decades of research have unveiled many, many examples of transitional fossil that, combined with molecular data, field research of living animals, and lab experiments with micro-organisms, simply makes the alternative hypothesis - supernatural c...more
Dave Peticolas
A review of the latest research in paleontology with an eye towards debunking creationist misinformation. Perhaps a bit too strident, but I can understand his frustration with their tactics.
Very good & thorough answer to silly creationist and I.D. critiques of evolution. The first half of the book explains what science is and how it works, what the theory of evolution is and how it works. The second half of the book follows the fossil trail of evolution through the geological strata. I am constantly amazed at how incredible the true history of life on this planet is; and at how much more amazing these facts are than the hoped for fantasies of creationists.

My wife made fun of m...more
Etremely informative and well written, the wealth of knowledge in this book is almost overwhelming and I honestly don't see how any could doubt the author's premise with the wealth of data present.

That said, the information regarding the author(s) of Genesis is a bit out of date and is likely not how things went down. The book could be a bit overly caustic at times regarding Young-Earth Creationist proponents; believe me, I have a great deal of antipathy towards the snake-oil salesman of the "In...more
Joe Iacovino
Outstanding treatment of the subject matter. Works great on the high-side of intermediate level as there are a great many Eras and fossils discussed in rather rapid succession, so a solid precursory knowledge of paleontology is helpful. I actually did not expect such a bruising account of the Creationist mythology that was offered in the first half of the book, and then made example of to a lessor degree as the book went on, but Prothero fully excoriates the phonies with absolute contempt, and y...more
Scientific language and readability come together in this book. I was surprised by some things that he presented and can't wait to discuss them with my paleontology professor. However, while I understand that a war has to be waged against the creationists, I became bored with the constant ranting. I understand that most of the leaders of the creationist movement have not actually studied fossils or have actual scientific training, I don't need to be told eighteen times. Given that, the last chap...more
This is one of several recently published books that address some of the "objections" to modern evolution, in this case the claims by some that there are "gaps" in the fossil record, or otherwise that the fossil record really doesn't support the evolutionary hypotheses. Prothero addresses and dismantles these claims one by one, showing how they are either based on hopelessly out-of-date results, or are in some cases willful distortions of known data. For those who wonder whether "creation scienc...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
  • Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • What Evolution Is
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution
  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
  • Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  • The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  • Why Evolution Is True
  • The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
  • Climbing Mount Improbable
  • The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans
  • Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
  • Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated
Donald R. Prothero is a Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 an...more
More about Donald R. Prothero...
Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals Bringing Fossils To Life: An Introduction To Paleobiology Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters

Share This Book

“[N]early every creationist debater will mention the second law of thermodynamics and argue that complex systems like the earth and life cannot evolve, because the second law seems to say that everything in nature is running down and losing energy, not getting more complex. But that's NOT what the second law says; every creationist has heard this but refuses to acknowledge it. The second law only applies to closed systems, like a sealed jar of heated gases that gradually cools down and loses energy. But the earth is not a closed system -- it constantly gets new energy from the sun, and this (through photosynthesis) is what powers life and makes it possible for life to become more complex and evolve. It seems odd that the creationists continue to misuse the second law of thermodynamics when they have been corrected over and over again, but the reason is simple: it sounds impressive to their audience with limited science education, and if a snow job works, you stay with it.” 0 likes
More quotes…