The theory of evolution unites the past, present, and future of living things. It puts humanity's place in the universe into necessary perspective. Despite a history of controversy, the evidence for evolution continues to accumulate as a result of many separate strands of incredible scientific sleuthing.
In The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero explores the most fascinating breakthroughs in piecing together the evidence for evolution. In twenty-five vignettes, he recounts the dramatic stories of the people who made crucial discoveries, placing each moment in the context of what it represented for the progress of science. He tackles topics like what it means to see evolution in action and the distance between species in space and time, following figures from Darwin to lesser-known researchers as they unlock the mysteries of the fossil record, the earth, and the universe. The book also features the stories of animal species strange and familiar, including humans – and our ties to some of our closest relatives and more distant cousins. Prothero's wide-ranging tales showcase awe-inspiring and bizarre aspects of nature and the powerful insights they give us into the way that life works. Brisk and entertaining while firmly grounded in fundamental science, The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries is a captivating read for anyone curious about the evidence for evolution and what it means for humanity.
Part I: In the Beginning: Everything Evolves, and Earth Is Very Old
1. Everything Evolves and Changes: Discovery of the Evolving Universe
2. The Abyss of Time: The Immense Age of the Earth
Part II: Darwin’s Evidence for Evolution
3. Evolution in Action: Transformation in Real Time
4. Our Common Body Plan: Homology
5. Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny: Evidence in Embryos
6. The Sinking of Noah’s Ark: Biogeography
7. The Branching Tree of Life: Phylogeny
8. The Case of the Cruel Wasps: Nature Is Not Moral
9. Jury-Rigged Contrivances: Nature Is Not Optimally Designed
Part III: Great Transitions in the History of Life
10. A Whale of a Tale: Vestigial Organs and Walking Whales
11. Invasion of the Land: Amphibians Crawl Out of the Water
12. Missing Links Found: Macroevolution and Transitional Fossils
13. Birds with Teeth: The Dinosaurs Among Us
14. A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse! The Evolution of Equines
15. How the Giraffe Got Its Neck: Lamarck, Darwin, and the Left Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve
16. How the Elephant Got Its Trunk: The Evolution of the Proboscideans
Part IV: Eyes and Genes
17. A Warm Little Pond: How Did Life Originate?
18. Genetic Junkyard: Most of Our DNA Is Useless
19. Legs on Their Heads: Homeotic Mutants and Evo-Devo
20. The Eyes Have It: The Evolution of Photoreception
Part V: Humans and Evolution
21. A Tinkerer, Not an Engineer: Are Humans Well Designed?
22. The Third Chimpanzee: Are We Really 99 Percent the Same?
23. The Ape’s Reflection: Are Humans Really That Different from Other Animals?
24. Bones of Our Ancestors: The Human Fossil Record
25. The Once and Future Human: Are Humans Still Evolving?
Donald R. Prothero is a palaeontology and geology researcher, teacher, and author. He is adjunct professor of geological sciences at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and research associate in vertebrate palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His Columbia University Press books include The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution (2015), The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them (2018), and The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries: Amazing Fossils and the People Who Found Them (2019).
"This compelling presentation of the undeniable evidence for evolution offers stunning and engaging reading for the enormous explanatory power of Darwin's great idea. Written by Donald R. Prothero, a leading paleontologist of our times, this book promises to enlighten even the staunchest skeptics of the theory of evolution."
– Don Johanson, discoverer of Lucy and founder of the Institute of Human Origins
"A hallmark of a truly great scientific insight is its ability to make sense of wildly different kinds of evidence, even kinds undreamed of when the insight first originated. Evolution is such an insight, and Prothero's survey of the field, in 25 short and lively chapters, illustrates the many lines of evidence for evolution from Darwin's day to our own, debunking misconceptions galore along the way. The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries is a fine introduction for any reader who wants to appreciate the evidence behind the science."
– Ann Reid, executive director, National Center for Science Education
"This is an informative and engaging work about the discovery process, mainly centered around evolution. Readers will be well informed about why biologists think evolution is not only real but also important for discovering who we are. Prothero provides a useful service in clearing up many misconceptions about evolution."
– Norman Johnson, author of Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes
"Donald Prothero has emerged as our foremost defender of evolutionary theory against creationists and intelligent design theorists and our most articulate expositor of the theory to the general public since Stephen Jay Gould, his mentor. The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries is the best single volume I have read that captures the reality and grandeur of this grand theory of who we are, where we came from, and how we know all this about our species. A tour de force of science and reason."
– Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic magazine
"An outstanding update on evolution."
– Kirkus [Starred Review]
"Accessible overview of the history of the idea of evolution. Prothero is skilled at translating specialist material into entertaining stories."
– Publishers Weekly
"With The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries, Donald Prothero provides a masterful, lively primer on the abundant evidence for evolution, including the latest fossil findings at digging sites and laboratories around the world – all furthering to close this case, once and for all."
– Foreword Reviews