Every fossil tells a story. Best-selling paleontology author Donald R. Prothero describes twenty-five famous, beautifully preserved fossils in a gripping scientific history of life on Earth. Recounting the adventures behind the discovery of these objects and fully interpreting their significance within the larger fossil record, Prothero creates a riveting history of life on our planet.
The twenty-five fossils portrayed in this book catch animals in their evolutionary splendor as they transition from one kind of organism to another. We witness extinct plants and animals of microscopic and immense size and thrilling diversity. We learn about fantastic land and sea creatures that have no match in nature today. Along the way, we encounter such fascinating fossils as the earliest trilobite, Olenellus; the giant shark Carcharocles; the "fishibian" Tiktaalik; the "Frogamander" and the "Turtle on the Half-Shell"; enormous marine reptiles and the biggest dinosaurs known; the first bird, Archaeopteryx; the walking whale Ambulocetus; the gigantic hornless rhinoceros Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; and the Australopithecus nicknamed "Lucy," the oldest human skeleton. We meet the scientists and adventurers who pioneered paleontology and learn about the larger intellectual and social contexts in which their discoveries were made. Finally, we find out where to see these splendid fossils in the world's great museums.
Ideal for all who love prehistoric landscapes and delight in the history of science, this book makes a treasured addition to any bookshelf, stoking curiosity in the evolution of life on Earth.
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 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy. Dr. Prothero has been a Guggenheim and NSF Fellow, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and in 1991 received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40, the same award won by the renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He has authored or co-edited numerous books, including Horns, Tusks, Hooves and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals, the best-selling textbook from McGraw-Hill, Evolution of the Earth, Evolution: What the Fossils Say & Why it Matters, Bringing Fossils to Life, After the Dinosaurs, and the textbook Sedimentary Geology. He is also a Technical Editor of the Journal of Paleontology.
Even though I have indeed learned much of scientific interest perusing Donald R. Prothero's The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution, in particular with regard to so-called transitional forms/fossils, that they are fortunately ever increasingly common, more and more the rule and not the exception and thereby of course also showing and proving evolution at work and as truth, no matter what the creationists might claim otherwise (and that I also happily and joyfully appreciate how the author generally does not make narrational, textual use of all that much convoluted scientific jargon and thus keeps his writing delightfully understandable and never too obtuse and difficult even for those of us who do not have advanced university biology or palaeontology degrees), I still and nevertheless do have to with rather a bit of personal annoyance admit that there also is just a bit too much first and last name dropping and occasional verbal arrogance coming from Donald R. Prothero, which does indeed sometimes make The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution a bit tedious, a bit of a frustrating reading slog (as particularly the listing of one fossil hunter of the past after another and over and over again has been just a bit monotonous to and for me, as I for one would much rather have more information, more scientific and zoologic, palaeontologic details about the fossils themselves included and how they are related to one another).
And furthermore, even though I do realise that science keeps moving forward, I do not necessarily think that it is really good form for the author, for Donald R. Prothero to as an example in a roundabout but rather obvious manner seemingly take me to task for the fact that when I took biology during high school (in the 1980s) the specific animal group that gave rise to us mammals was still being called mammal-like reptiles (even though currently, they are of course more correctly known as synapsids). For truth be told and definitely, I do indeed at times while perusing The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution somewhat feel as though Donald R. Prothero far too often seems to portray and carry a rather "holier and better than thou" attitude towards biology, towards palaeontology and towards his views and considerations regarding evolution and such (and even though I even do totally agree with MOST of the author's musings, the way Prothero sometimes verbally attacks and quite stridently criticises, this is certainly something that I for one tend to consider as frustratingly mannerless and occasionally even rather mean-spirited, and also as something that has most definitely lowered my potential reading pleasure of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution).
Before we had the technology to examine the genetic sequence of, say, humans and chimpanzees and bonobos, in order to determine that we were rather closely related, there was another way. In Europe and Africa and Asia, people (who had often travelled far to get to places with harsh weather and hard working conditions) examined the fossil record. It appears to take an odd mix of intellect and brute force, chiselling or even in a few cases dynamiting fossils out of their rocky prison, and then finishing the job with tiny tools and indomitable patience.
Donald Prothero does a great job of taking us through over 500 millions years of history, here, as well as a few centuries of fossil-hunting. Even in the 21st century, fossil-hunting still holds its own alongside gene sequencing as a way of filling in the story of how we got to where (and what) we are today. Most interesting is that the majority of the book is NOT about those normal headliners of the fossil parade, dinosaurs and pre-sapien hominids. About 20 of the books 25 chapters are on the equally interesting, but far less often discussed (by the layman) parts of the story. Trilobites, turtles, the earliest fish, snakes, the first flowering plants, the first land plants, the transition from dinosaur to bird, all take center stage for a goodly portion of the book.
Although it isn't likely to do me much good, I did also like the short section at the end of each chapter listing good museums to go to for an in-person look at the kind of fossils that chapter was focused on. If I lived in Denver, Chicago, London, or a few other cities, there would have been a lot of great nearby sights for me to see, and this would have probably given me that last little push to go see them. Ah, well, he can't list every city in the world, and it may be that central Texas doesn't have as much to see as other areas, in this regard. It's a nice idea, and I'm sure for many readers it is quite valuable.
One part of the book I was not as fond of was the occasional burst of exasperation at creationists. I can understand that if you've spent your life studying the wonder and myriad detail of how evolution happened, a group of people who make it their life's purpose to deny your life's work could get under your skin a bit. But, really, how many creationists are even going to be reading a book with this title? It's either wasted ink, or preaching to the choir (which is also wasted ink). Fortunately, Prothero mostly keeps his focus on the aforesaid wonder and myriad detail of a fantastically complex story, which is how we came to be on a planet which half a billion years ago had little more than bacteria.
Another thing which Prothero did very right in this book, was to be generous with the visual aids. Too many authors are excessively devoted to text-only elucidation, and for me at least, the more graphics the better. He uses pictures of the fossils themselves, pictures of the scientists who found them (either photographic or drawn), artist's renderings of their likely appearance in life (mostly by someone named Nobumichi Tamura, who I shall need to investigate further), and a great many other diagrams and illustrations.
While dinosaurs and humans are both intriguing chapters in that story, it's a great addition to have such a well-written, and also copiously illustrated, book on the many other chapters which don't get nearly so much attention. Prothero has done very well, and I look forward to seeing what else he has to tell us.
Very enlightening. "The number of specimens [of fossil hominins] is so overwhelming, and the wealth of detail about human evolution is so impressive, that if we were talking about any other species on the planet, it would be a slam-dunk case of evolution, as well documented as that of any family of animals. But so many people hold nonscientific objections to the idea that it receives unfail scrutiny, is distorted, is denied outright. If the same volume of overwhelming evidence were brought to bear on any other issue, there would be no controversy at all." p. 327.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. This book traces key events in the evolution of life over the past half billion years, as exemplified by twenty-five key fossils. They start with tiny fragments that only an expert would recognize, and then gradually advance in complexity until we get to modern man. Every fossil has a story, and the stories are fascinating.
The discussion of the development of shells early in the predator/prey arms race fits pieces together like a puzzle and leads to a solution that makes perfect sense once you see it. As predators evolved teeth, prey were forced to rapidly evolve, and some of them, through the randomness of natural selection, developed hardened spots of calcium deposits. These weren’t much protection, but they were better than nothing, slightly improving the chances that these creatures would survive long enough to reproduce and pass along their proto-armor genes. Even tiny survival advantages can have enormous consequences in the long run. In every generation life produces more offspring than their environments can possibly support, and nature ruthlessly eliminates all but the best adapted, so the early marine animals with the beginnings of shells had an advantage over those that remained soft bodied. Repeat this process over many generations, and there is a gradual evolution from small shelly creatures with bits of hard spots here and there to fully armored trilobites and their cousins. It is a snapshot of how evolution morphs plants and animals to fit their environment.
The fossils presented here are, for the most part, not the rock stars of the paleontology world: no tyrannosaurs or brontosaurs. Instead, they represent interesting evolutionary developments or key turning points in speciation, such the first amphibians moving tentatively out of the seas to a part time terrestrial existence, the first feathered dinosaurs, and the remarkable group of fossils that clearly show the steps that led the ancestors of whales from land back to the sea.
Although each chapter focuses on an illustrative fossil, the text does not limit itself to a description of the fossil itself. There are also discussions of the changing earth that those creatures evolved to inhabit, their relations with the other species around them, and whether they were an evolutionary dead end or a transitional species whose descendants continue to thrive today. In addition, the discoverers of these fossils have interesting stories of their own, as they made finds by chance or tried to work out a progression of related species despite many missing pieces. There are times when the author shows his exasperation with the creationists, but that is understandable; if they were just a lunatic fringe like the flat-earthers they could be dismissed out of hand, but alas, they count among their numbers powerful politicians who have real potential to set scientific progress back.
The book is well written and engaging. I enjoyed it so much I put other books by Donald Prothero on my reading list. For anyone with an interest in the history of life on earth, it is definitely worth their time.
One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to take them fossil hunting, and we have a bookcase we call The Natural History Museum that groans under the weight of trilobites, amonites, and a variety of fossilized shells (in addition to non fossils like geodes, crystals of various sorts, bird's nests and beehives).
Prothero captures the treasure hunting excitement of finding a fossil as he relates the stories of paleontologists who have made key discoveries, then he explains why these fossils are so important and what they teach us about the history of life on earth. His 25 samples are well-chosen for both interest and importance, and by structuring his book around 25 different fossils he has organized it in a way that makes the subject matter as digestable as it is informative.
While the fossils described in this book are interesting and the commentary regarding them is insightful, the content of the book is overshadowed by the author's egotistical and often snobbish attitude. He has an unfortunate tendency to go on long tangents disparaging the portrayal of prehistoric creatures in popular media, and seems to delight in spending up to a quarter of a chapter debunking modern myths that resemble the fossils he describes. While calling attention to scientific inaccuracies in pop culture and media is all well and good, his attitude and the lengths of his diatribes were very off-putting. Added on top of mediocre grammar, I was out of patience by the end of the book. If I hadn't been reading it for a book club, I probably would have quit by chapter 10. If you want to read something to start gaining an understanding of evolution or paleontology, I do not recommend this author.
This is a very good overview of the history of life as documented in fossils. This is material I studied in graduate school 60 years ago, but have not kept of with since. I was truly amazed to learn what a tremendous amount of fossil evidence has been found in the last 60 years to increase our knowledge of how life has evolved on Earth. An especially large amount of evidence has been found which proves the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution. This book is not terribly technical and easily accessible for a general audience and I strongly recommend it for all who have an interest in the history of life on our planet.
A member of that delightful sub-genre of popular science books in which the reader is taken on an evolutionary journey from the earliest forms of multi-cellular life through to us hominids. I'm a sucker for these books, my favorite of which is The Ancestor's Tale. They always deepen my appreciation for the vastness of time and the tenacity of life.
As expected, this book is packed with fascinating facts and nice explanations of the evolutionary transition from one taxonomic group to the next. The writing is a bit on the dry side though, and the book is in serious need of editing. I counted a couple dozen typos and factual inconsistencies. There are also a number of asides that seem to have migrated here from the book that Prothero co-authored a couple years ago, the very good Abominable Science!. Kinda sloppy, but I enjoyed it.
On the negative side, the writing style just never appealed to me or managed to hook me, and I love paleontology, so I should have been an easy mark.
As for positives, I **LOVE** the fact that the author included "for further reading" suggestions at the end of every chapter, making it very very easy to compile a reading list for the most personally interesting bits and pieces.
I also like how the author used each each chapter as a launching point for broader discussions of the evolutionary process. While some will no doubt quibble along the lines of "why this/why not that" for the 25 selections, that's an inevitable result from a book like this and I think he at least made valid arguments for why he included what he did, and how/why those fossils were/are important in the big picture.
В "The story of life in 25 fossils", геологът и палеонтолог Доналд Протеро, ни повежда през еони, таксони и далечни земи, описвайки еволюцията на живота на родната планета, посредством 25 от най-впечатляващите фосилни находки. От строматолитните образувания, оставени от първите микроорганизми п��ицикали се в древните плитки морета, до етиопската Люси("...в небето с диаманти"). Тъй като книгата е за широката публика, акцентът пада върху гръбначните животни (18 от 25-те глави; феновете на палеоботаниката, трябва да се задоволят само с една). Прилично количество снимки, илюстрации и схеми допълват увлекателната проза на Протеро. Авторът не пропуска и възможността да разсее някои заблуди, (за съжаление) все още битуващи в общественото съзнание.
Best things about this book: Great variety in fossils described. There are many more than 25 fossils discussed. Sources listed for further reading. I was left wanting to know more after each chapter, and now I have an easy list to start with. Lists of museums that one might see the fossils described. I read this as an e-books, so about half of the images had text too small for me to read, but I assume that they are sufficient in print. The images themselves were very helpful and added depth to the descriptions. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learning more about the fossils and creatures that shaped the world to what we have now.
C’era una volta un tappeto mucillaginoso fatto da batteri fotosintetici. Di notte, con la bassa marea, cementavano microparticelle di sedimento con il loro muco vischioso, mentre di giorno usavano l’energia del sole per produrre zuccheri e ossigeno. Per milioni di anni accumularono granuli di sabbia fino a formare delle colonne alte un metro, le stromatoliti. L’ossigeno invece aumentò così tanto di concentrazione da soverchiare quella di anidride carbonica, il gas che manteneva il pianeta caldo, e la Terra fu ricoperta quasi totalmente di ghiaccio. La vita era appena nata e per poco non si estinse.
C’era una volta, in un periodo chiamato Ediacarano, un mondo di organismi pluricellulari simili a materassini ad acqua. Avevano forma di lunghe piume che ondeggiavano nella corrente, oppure di larghi dischi raggiati che strisciavano sul fondale. Furono il primo esperimento della vita pluricellulare, ma di essi oggi restano solo impressioni nella roccia.
C’era una volta, in un mare di artropodi rivestiti da placche chitinose, uno strano “pesciolino” lungo quanto un dito. All’interno del suo corpo aveva un tubulo dorsale che lo sosteneva nel nuoto, la notocorda. Milioni di anni dopo, il tubulo divenne una colonna ossea segmentata in tante vertebre cave, che racchiudevano il midollo spinale.
C’era una volta un primate molto curioso con il vizio di raccontare storie…
Con una prosa concisa ma accattivante, Donald R. Prothero racconta la storia della vita in un arco lungo più di 3 miliardi di anni attraverso fossili particolarmente rappresentativi. È un libro adatto anche ai non specialisti e ogni capitolo è corredato di un piccolo inserto sui siti e i musei più interessanti da visitare, anche durante una vacanza. All’interno, però, ci sono anche le storie di molti paleontologi dall’Ottocento, come Mary Anning, fino ai giorni nostri e aneddoti interessanti sulle loro spedizioni. Non mi aspettavo di divorarlo in così poco tempo e adesso mi butto direttamente sul secondo: 25 Fossili Fantastici e chi li ha trovati!
"The Story of Life in 25 fossils" is a very essential book if you want to understand and see the proofs of Evolution in fossils. Donald Prothero's work is outstanding in delivering this knowledge in history of life from its early stages of development.
Importantly, author had discussed about how fossils are saved, extracted, analyzed and studied. Furthermore, he gave clear examinations and comparative analysis of fossils; discussed major paleontologists and stories relating to fossils. It is worth to note that author is arid science advocate in Darwin's Theory of Evolution and throughout chapters he had comprised a true evidence and made a good job in scattering the myths about monsters such as the Loch Ness Monster or Mokele-mbembe. The book is full of images that also makes you to understand and observe things in your own.
One of the unique parts of this book are unit that is called "See It For Yourself" where author indicated museums and places where you can see fossils, strong references and abundant images.
To sum up, I recommend to read this book for all who doubt in Theory of Evolution or who wants to read about fossil. I truely believe that author had done its job for 100%.
Prothero gives us an interesting and valuable addition to a growing literature of natural history books for general adult audiences with this book, that charts the growth of life through 25 different fossil species. What really stood out for me was the inclusion of the stories of the people who found these fossils, and the academic debates they were a part of, and the political and social contexts it took place in. However, I also felt like some of the sections were lacking in depth and thought; like Prothero wasn't really sure what to say, but included them out of a sense of necessity. That's the only thing that held me back from giving this a 5, but otherwise, a solid book! Recommend for folks interested in natural history!
First things first, I am horrible at writing reviews. If I like a book I like it but it is hard for me to describe why.
Overall I thought it was an excellent survey of the history of time. The author kept a clear writing voice that is easy to understand for both the average reader (like me) as well as for a specialist. There were times, especially in the later chapters, which the author’s tone read as a bit too preachy about his views. (Namely when talking about the threat of global warming or human evolution or anything anti-creationist.) I am likely the primary audience that would agree with these views; however, I believe that the writing could be written less bluntly or preachy, in a manner more similar to Steven J Gould. (If you do not know Gould and love reading about science you should read him immediately. Especially Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, which is referenced by Prothero.) I could be more nitpicky about what fossils he had chosen to highlight or ignore but I enjoyed what selection he curated for this book. I especially enjoyed the peppering of history or popular culture framing around each particular fossil. It is a good survey or general knowledge book. (Great as an opening text for an introductory course for instance.) I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of our world through our fossil record.
I hate giving something with an interesting topic two stars, but reading this book was a misery.
(I think you can see my updates as I liveblogged inaccuracies and rants that made me have to stop reading to go rant!)
There were enough editing issues that I had to stop and reread so many sections, things that I had to stop and double check elsewhere because they sounded wrong/outdated, misplaced rants that damaged the already iffy flow of the writing, and explanations just totally left out. I like the where to see it at the end of chapters, and I like the museum recs in the back. I wish I liked the rest of it.
I loved this book. It discussed a lot of my favorite fossils and some I didn't yet know about. I also enjoyed how DP ended each chapter with a "See for yourself" section listing different museums where the specimens are being kept and other books for further reading. He also calls out the pseudo-science and false claims/hoaxes associated with some of the fossils. For example, when "Discovery Channel" came out with their Megalodon show claiming it still existed. He explains everything in a way that's easy to understand. I was actually sad when I finished the book!
Good overview of evolution. Each chapter is fairly short and to-the-point, but concludes with a list of museums and further reading. My biggest complaint: entirely too much time and space is wasted on ripping into cable channels that have aired fake science documentaries in the last few years. Save that shit for your blog, dude. I just want to know what our latest understanding of evolution and paleontology looks like.
Slow going (because there's a lot to absorb) but oh so worth it. This is a tale of discovery, misdirection, adventure, and astonishing progress. Prothero's 25 chapters don't so much focus on a particular fossil as revolve around it: each has a rich backstory helping us understand contexts: life in that particular era, scientific knowledge at the time of the discovery, the personalities and driving forces that helped advance our knowledge.
A very good book for expert paleontologists and general readers. The stories behind the great fossil finds are just as interesting as the finds themselves. Prothero did a great job in holding my interest by turning the whole process of evolution into a series of mysteries solved. This is also a good book to have on the reference shelf when questions arise.
The title tricked me because I thought this would be an entertaining read. Unfortunately, it read like a college text book. It's very informative & has lots of black & white drawings, but it took me forever to get through.
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this easy to understand and digest guide to life through life's history using not just well chosen fossils but also well written short essays connecting the theory and fact as well the continuing evolution of the theories (and facts).
Definitely interesting and well-written, so I might go back and finish it later. Got it for a class and didn't read it all, and I'm not a huge fan of ebooks, so I just haven't gotten around to finishing it on my own.
TODO full review: Info: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution by Donald R. Prothero is an overview of the discovery, interpretation, and (for some) conclusion on twenty-five fossils. This may not sound like much, because (1) you may not care about paleontology and (2) it's much more exciting to read about the trials and tribulations associated with only one fossil at a time (e.g., the discovery of "Lucy", the hominid), but I think this book is actually a big deal. It's just enough about many fossils you do want to know, plus excellent references that include many of the books I liked.
Key to any good synthesis is, besides excellent knowledge on the topic (which I cannot judge as a paleontologist, which I am not, but I can as a scientist and educator, which I am; and Prothero seems excellent to me), is the quality of the writing. I liked it very much overall, and found the balance between expert and generalist language, and between scientific fact and anecdote, to be very accomplished. If I'd write a similar book about my field, I'd like to reach this exact level. (For people who've read them, this is between the lax style of Ed Yong and the science-heavy style of Nick Lane, both of which are excellent in their own right.)
The fossils themselves include everything from stromatolites to humans. Full list: first fossils, multicellulars, shells, trilobites and other large shelled animals, arthropods, molluscs, land plants, vertebrates, large fish, amphibians and frogs, turtles, snakes, marine reptiles, plesiosaurs + Kronosaur + marine 'monsters', T. rex + other large predators, Argentinosaur + other large terrestrial animals, birds, mammals, whales + mammals returning to the water, sirenians, horses, rhinos + giant land mammals, apes + hominids, the oldest human skeleton. I liked all but the last five chapters, which I thought were either fillers (Chapters 21-23) or incomplete (Chapters 24-25).
The book weaves interesting tales about various fossils, their history and what they say about evolution. Strikes a nice balance between readability and not skimping on the long, Latin names and occasionally difficult concepts. The author's loathing for creationism and the kind of pseudo-science represented by Discovery Channel and Animal Planet documentaries is palpable and fun.
What really makes this a great book is what an amazing resource it is. Each chapter concludes with a list of further reading and most also include an inset on information on where the fossils (or replicas) can be seen (mostly in museums but also some in situ). Added to this is an appendix with information on some of the best natural history museums with fossil collections in the United States and around the world. My wallet is going to regret having dipped into this little gem.
Near-perfect book that can serve as an overview of the evolution of vertebrates for the non-specialist. As Prothero notes himself, the bias of the book is towards vertebrate fossils - either key “transition fossils” showing the origin or evolution of major vertebrate types, or the largest and most spectacular animals from our past. You’ll find very little on fossil plants or microbes. I came away extremely impressed as to just how good the fossil record is at documenting many of the key evolutionary transitions (e.g. the evolution of whales from land-dwelling mammals, the evolution of birds from dinosaurs). Bonus marks for including lots of evolutionary trees and for telling readers where they can see type specimens of many of these fossils for themselves.