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Extinction and Evolution


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About the Author

Niles Eldredge is one of the world's most renowned paleontologists. He was on the curatorial staff of the American Museum of Natural History since 1969. He is the author of Life in the Balance, named the most important science book of the year by Publishers Weekly. Carl Zimmer is a distinguished New York Times science writer.


[Review of hardcover edition: ] Palaeontologist and acute thinker Niles Eldredge describes how life has evolved through geological time, partly through 160 beautiful colour plates depicting more than 200 specimens of fossil and living species. Among them are Eocypselus rowei, an extinct relative of swifts and hummingbirds that inhabited Wyoming some 52 million years ago, and the coelacanth Latimeria menadoensis, a 'living fossil' whose close relatives are nearly exclusively from the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras, 541 million to 66 million years ago. Most of the photographs are by the late, great Murray Alcosser. Eldredge emphasizes the existence of many species that resist evolutionary change for long periods (such as the brachio pod Mucrospirifer mucronatus), and the importance of mass extinctions in creating conditions that aid the emergence of new species. He argues convincingly that it is palaeontology, rather than evolutionary genetics, that allows us to recognize these points. Splendid photographs, vivid language and concise text: a great read.-- (07/23/2015) [Review of hardcover edition: ] Niles Eldredge has published a book in the Simpsonian tradition of evolutionary paleontology that is also indisputably "full of pictures of fossils"-- there are 160 color plates, the vast majority of which are beautiful photos of paleontological specimens. These pictures accompany seven concise chapters, plus an epilogue, that first bring the reader up to speed on the basics of evolutionary theory and then launch into a brief but admirably clear and informative exploration of some of the ways in which that theory has been augmented and modified by paleontologists over the past few decades of ongoing research... [including] an explanation of "punctuated equilibrium," the model of evolution that Eldredge developed with Gould beginning in the early 1970s. "Punk eek," as it's sometimes called, is the notion that species normally exist in a condition of stasis; most large-scale evolutionary change is associated with the formation of new species. Eldredge lays out the idea deftly and persuasively, drawing for his primary example on the trilobite fossils that first got him thinking about stasis during his graduate student days... The photos, most of which were taken by the late Murray Alcosser, add up to an important work of popular science in their own right: not only visually appealing, but also able to convey morphological information with an efficiency that makes them worth the proverbial thousands of words of written description. When the pictures are well integrated with the text, the book's presentational style works beautifully. In the chapter on human evolution, for example, the numerous photos of skulls and other bones of Homo erectus, Australopithecus afarensis, and other hominins do an excellent job of supporting the written discussion and bringing the reader almost literally face to face with the raw facts of the human fossil record... The amount of evolutionary ground covered in the relatively short text, and the clarity with which it's laid out for the benefit of the reader, are exemplary. I would recommend Extinction and Evolution to anyone who wants a quick, pithy, and authoritative, if sometimes idiosyncratic, introduction to some of the most important current thinking about evolution as revealed in the fossil record--or to anyone who appreciates excellent photos of interesting paleontological specimens.--Corwin Sullivan"Reports of the National Center for Science Educati" (05/01/2015)

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