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Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,047 ratings  ·  71 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 ...more
Hardcover, 408 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Columbia University Press (first published 2007)
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Daniel Bastian
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
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 dont come to terms with that evolution. (p. 118)

If the most profound truths are destined for the most polarizing receptions, then Darwin's ideas
Steve Van Slyke
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a very scholarly book, equivalent to a university level text covering an overview of the origin of life on Earth. It has been written as a definitive rebuttal to the assertions of creationists who believe that the bible book of Genesis is literally true. The author has debated Creationists over many decades and this work is also an autobiographical account of his absolute frustration that his opponents simply won't accept facts. The book would serve as a wonderful text book for an ...more
Chris Branch
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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 ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to uosɯɐS by: Book
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 ...more
Adam Smith
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: evolution
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. Protheros
Ian Murphy
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fantastic read, clear and concise and a great book for both laypersons and experts alike
I think a more appropriate subtitle of this book would have been "Creationists Can't Be Bothered." Having been one and having spent some of that time trying to sort out why everybody thought the way they did, I understand why he kept coming back to that phrase. When you don't understand science and when it doesn't interest you, reading about it piecemeal on the Internet is exhausting. The conclusion I came to out of that exhaustion was just to think, "Gee, there's nothing one side can argue that ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Rob Smith
Jun 13, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, reviews
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
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 17, 2008 added it
Shelves: science, evolution
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.
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's a good and comprehensive (for a non-technical work) book about evolution with a focus on the fossil evidence for transitional forms for modern families and species. I didn't think it needed all the space devoted to refuting creationism  the evidence is abundant and clear, and I don't think anyone who would take the time to read this book is on the fence about it. I also would have liked to learn more about how and why so many species are extinct now (for instance there used to be many more ...more
Jo Green
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presents facts against creationist arguments. The author presents early on that religion and science are not incompatible for many Christians or scientists, he just explains the arguments that creationists use and has rebuttals. He also gives information on how science has been leaving the classroom due to a direct attack by a relatively small group of people and how that group of evolution deniers has grown as a result. It is full of fossil history, where fossils are stored, and how a ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book was a little different than I expected. He has a focus through out the book of discrediting Creationist claims about the evidence of evolution. The first part describes evolutionary history and basic evidences. The second part gets into what I thought was the main focus: fossils. Here he clearly shows his stuff going through many fossil families and explaining them. It is filled with much latin, phrases (names) etc, that I found uninteresting but that is the how they are classified.

Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Instead of the narrow, claustrophobic extremist worldview of the creationists, we can accept the vastness of the universe and the immense length of geologic time, and reach a humbler, less anthropocentric, less arrogant attitude about our place in nature. We can embrace the fact that we are part of the biosphere and need to shepherd and care for this planet before we destroy it."
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
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
Nov 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
After reading this I'm not completely sure who the audience is supposed to be. Whether this is written for the creationist or someone trying to argue with a creationist it completely fails on both accounts. The reasons for being a creationist are based on culture, comfort and a perceived way of life. It's not about rationality and impartially examining evidence. You can't defeat and argument about identity with facts. 75% of this book is a waste of ink as it would convince nobody to believe ...more
Elliott Bignell
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This beautiful book deserves the epithet of magisterial, but it is only fair to clarify that it is a work of advocacy as well as documentation. Richly illustrated and referenced, it is a mine of information about the current state of the record of evolutionary transitions from a professional palaeontologist and experienced defendant in the continuing creationist propaganda war. Prothero serves up a deluge of evidence of transitions in many major lineages, evidence which has burgeoned in recent ...more
Paul Bruggink
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of four recent books I consider indispensible for convincing any skeptic that evolution by natural selection is a fact*. Dr. Prothero accomplished two important tasks in this book. First, he demolishes the most common creationist arguments using facts and their own words (which demonstrate their duplicity). Second, he destroys the argument that the fossil record is somehow bereft of evidence supporting evolution. The number of examples he provides to support evolutionary theory is ...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
Apr 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Extremely informative and fast paced read.

I am generally very interested in reading about progressive perspectives in evolution (providing the most up to date evidence) and generally not very interested in reading about the creationist - evolution debate. We spend too much time allowing creationist myths to be an anchor that keeps us from furthering a real scientific discussion. Even though the backdrop is answering to creationists, I still enjoyed the great summary of evidence for evolution. I
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
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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 ...more

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“[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.” 6 likes
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