150 Years of Continual Discoveries

Sean B. Carroll’s latest book has been sitting on my reading shelf (and been read by my wife) for over four months, but now I’ve finally read it. Remarkable Creatures is a collection of mini-biographies of people who have made important discoveries in evolutionary biology.

I won’t mention names, but we’ve got both of the scientists who discovered evolution, the guy who discovered mimicry, the man who found the first Homo erectus fossils on Java, the man who discovered the Cambrian Burgess shale with its soft-part fossils, the man who found the first dinosaur nests, the father and son team that figured out that the Cretaceous ended with an asteroid impact, the man who convinced paleontologists that birds are theropod dinosaurs, the man who found a fossil leggèd fish and named it Tiktaalik, the couple who finally focused hominid palaeontology’s attention on Africa, the man who got two Nobels and invented the molecular clock, and the people who applied it to Neanderthals.

Being a fan of Stephen Jay Gould I had read before about several of the earlier figures covered here. I could see that Carroll has left out some of the less flattering or simply weird bits of their intellectual biographies. But still, his book was an enjoyable read, very much focused on the adventurous side of making important discoveries and making sense of them. Its sub-title is “Epic adventures in the search for the origins of species”. The later half of the book held a lot of news for me, and I enjoyed it a lot, especially since we are shown how the work of each scholar built upon that of the forerunners. There’s an extensive bibliography and an index, and so the book will work well for reference purposes and as an entry point for further reading. But anyone with a bit of intellectual curiosity may simply read it for fun.

For a longer review, check out Brian Switek’s at Laelaps from back in April. I reviewed S.B. Carroll’s book about evo-devo, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, in 2006.


One thought on “150 Years of Continual Discoveries

  1. Have you read ‘A Reason for Everything’ by Marek Kohn? Brilliant short biographies of six (I think) British evolutionary scientists including Wallace, Haldane, Maynard Smith and Dawkins. An odd and wonderful book.


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