Mammals first evolved at about the same time as dinosaurs, and their story is perhaps the more fascinating of the two – in part because it is also our own story. In this literate and entertaining book, eminent naturalist David Rains Wallace brings the saga of ancient mammals to a general audience for the first time. Using artist Rudolph Zallinger's majestic The Age of Mammals mural at the Peabody Museum as a frame for his narrative, Wallace deftly moves over varied terrain – drawing from history, science, evolutionary theory, and art history – to present a lively account of fossil discoveries and an overview of what those discoveries have revealed about early mammals and their evolution.
In these pages we encounter towering mammoths, tiny horses, giant-clawed ground sloths, whales with legs, uintatheres, zhelestids, and other exotic extinct creatures as well as the scientists who discovered and wondered about their remains. We meet such memorable figures as Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Edward D. Cope, George Gaylord Simpson, and Stephen Jay Gould and learn of their heated disputes, from Cuvier's and Owen's fights with early evolutionists to present controversies over the Late Cretaceous mass extinction. Wallace's own lifelong interest in evolution is reflected in Beasts of Eden's evocative and engaging style and in the personal experiences he expertly weaves into the tale, providing an altogether expansive perspective on what Darwin described as the "grandeur" of evolution.
List of Illustrations
Prologue. The Fresco and the Fossil
1. Pachyderms in the Catacombs
2. Dr. Jekyll and the Stonesfield Jaws
3. The Origin of Mammals
4. The Noblest Conquest
5. Terrible Horns and Heavy Feet
6. Mr. Megatherium versus Professor Mylodon
7. Fire Beasts of the Antipodes
8. Titans on Parade
9. Five-toed Horses and Missing Links
10. The Invisible Dawn Man
11. A Bonaparte of Beasts
12. Love and Theory
13. Simpson’s Cynodont-to-Smilodon Synthesis
14. Shifting Ground
15. Dissolving Ancestries
16. Exploding Faunas
17. The Revenge of the Shell Hunters
18. Simpson Redivivus
19. Winds Thieves of the Kyzylkum
20. The Serpent’s Offering
21. Anthropoid Leapfrog
Epilogue. Cenozoic Parks
David Rains Wallace is the author of fifteen books, including The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, California, 2003), winner of the John Burroughs Medal; The Bonehunter's Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age (1999); and The Monkey's Bridge: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America (1997).
"Wallace argues that it is mammals – not the flashier dinosaurs – that have led the way to a greater understanding of evolution in general [...] A nice stroll through the amazing array of unusual species that have populated Earth and reminds us that natural selection runs a close race with chance."
– Gloria Maxwell, Library Journal
"Ties together in an interesting way many of the old chestnuts of vertebrate paleontological lore [...] Wallace has skillfully woven his tale around the Zallinger art [...] his literary use of the Zallinger frescos succeeds in drawing us into deep time."
– Malcolm C. McKenna, Trends In Ecology & Evolution
"[Wallace's] fine study deftly weaves together history and science to reveal the origins of our current scientific understanding [...] Wallace meticulously traces the story of humankind's attempts to interpret the evidence of fossils [...] It's a complex story but he succeeds in bringing alive a bizarre pantheon of prehistoric mammals."
– P. D. Smith, The Guardian
"If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this excellent work proves that a mural is worth 300 pages. Wallace (The Bonehunter's Revenge, etc.) uses the often overlooked [The] Age of Mammals mural at Yale's Peabody Museum as the theme around which he builds the story of the evolution of scientific thought on mammalian evolution [...] Paleontology buffs will not be the only ones entranced. [A] charming story, skillfully told."
– Publishers Weekly
"This compelling book examines the lives of the scientists whose indefatigable labor in the field and the laboratory gave rise to modern theories of evolution [...] An eloquently written and thought-provoking book that only adds to the author's considerable reputation as a master of the genre."
– John A. Murray, Bloomsbury Review
"Brings the story of ancient mammals to a general audience, drawing from history, science, evolutionary theory and art history to present a lively account of fossil discoveries."
– Dallas Morning News
"There is a richness of detail and history."
– Times Of Acadiana
"Wallace does an excellent job of enlivening a complex tale, full of the jaw-breaking names of our extinct mammal relatives."
– Douglas Palmer, New Scientist
"Engaging, award-winning exploration of the evolution of mammals."
– H. J. Kirchhoff, Toronto Globe & Mail
"[Zallinger's] mural serves perfectly as the organizing motif for David Rains Wallace's fascinating new book, Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, which tells the story of mammal evolution and discovery [...] Wallace traces the study of mammals from the earliest finds to the latest research, making his story come to life with details of discoveries as recent as 2003 [...] Well-written and engaging."
– David B. Williams, Seattle Times
"Wallace brings together the best theories here to tell the story of mammalian discovery and evolution. Vivid reports of fossil finds bring some long-gone creatures back to life and aid the author in explaining how the evolutionary process has shaped the mammalian class." – Science News
"A thoroughly researched, richly detailed and lively book."
– Helen E. Fisher, New York Times Book Review
"Opens a wondrous window on paleontology's investigations of the origins of mammals."
– Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
"Charming [...] A fine survey."
– Harry Eagar, Maui News
"As we understand it, evolution is a magnificent – but unfinished – symphony. Let [...] Wallace conduct it for you."
– Richard Ellis, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Beasts of Eden is a wondrous journey through the vanished worlds of extinct mammals. Exciting, insightful, and accurate, it is everything that good science writing should be."
– Tim Flannery, author of The Eternal Frontier
"A compelling scientific adventure story [...] . Peopled with colorful and larger-than-life characters, this account of the history of paleontology dramatically demonstrates how the interactions between crude but charismatic fossil seekers, ascetic intellectuals, temperamental artists, and many others have forever changed the ways in which we view life's prehistoric beginnings."
– Ian Tattersall, author of The Monkey in the Mirror
"Beasts of Eden is a true delight. Each page drips with the drama and passion of scientific pursuit. Wallace is a keen observer, a learned writer, and a great story teller – this is a must read!"
– Don Johanson, Director of the Institute of Human Origins