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Good Reads  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution

The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries The Evidence and the People Who Found It

Popular Science
By: Donald R Prothero(Author)
360 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables
The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries features well-written vignettes, though the secondary aim of combatting creationism leaves out many topics one would have expected.
The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries
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  • The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries ISBN: 9780231190374 Paperback Dec 2022 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries ISBN: 9780231190367 Hardback Oct 2020 In stock
Selected version: £19.99
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About this book

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?


Customer Reviews (1)

  • Well-written, though omits some logical topics
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 11 Aug 2021 Written for Hardback

    After three previous books in this format on fossils, rocks, and dinosaurs, geologist and palaeontologist Donald R. Prothero here tackles the story of evolution in 25 notable discoveries. More so than the previous trio, this book tries to be a servant to two masters, resulting in a mixed bag.

    Prothero has organised The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries in a logical fashion. After convincing the reader that the universe and our planet are, indeed, really old, he considers some of Darwin's lines of evidence for evolution, followed by several great transitions in evolution as revealed by the fossil record, more recent evidence from genetics and molecular biology, and, of course, evidence for the evolution of humans.

    As in his previous books, Prothero manages to dig up some remarkable stories. For example, Darwin initially mistook the finches on the Galápagos for wrens, blackbirds, and other species. Only when he handed them to the famous ornithologist John Gould for a second opinion did it become clear that these were all finch species adapted to local conditions on the different islands. It later fell to others such as Peter and Rosemary Grant to do the long-term studies that elevated them to the icon of evolution they have become. Meanwhile, Othniel Charles Marsh's monograph on primitive birds that still had teeth was unexpectedly branded a waste of taxpayer's money when US congress was looking for excuses to cut funding to the US Geological Survey in the 1890s.

    In many places, Prothero is careful and balanced in his coverage. He highlights the contribution of the historically overlooked Alfred Russell Wallace who independently stumbled on the idea of natural selection after Darwin had already been labouring on it for decades. And while Ernst Haeckel was accused of fraud over his famous drawings showing the embryonic development of different vertebrates, Prothero explains how there is a kernel of truth to Haeckel's claim that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, even if "he may have been a bit overzealous in his drawings" (p. 69). On Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and his ideas, Prothero clarifies how there was much more to him than the caricature of the "guy who got evolution wrong" (p. 198) that he became.

    There are classic topics such as convergent evolution, the evolution of the eye, and Lynn Margulis and her theory of endosymbiosis. The relatively young branch of evolutionary developmental biology and the discovery of Hox genes showed that, actually, yes, nature does make leaps and does not always result in slow and gradual changes. Throughout, Prothero repeatedly reminds you that the evolutionary relationships between organisms are like a bush, and not a linear progression from primitive to more advanced creatures. He explains that evolution does not always result in perfect adaptations – they only have to be good enough to help in producing the next generation. And he points out that natural selection can only ever work with the material at hand, resulting in many jury-rigged contrivances, including in humans.

    Now, Prothero is also a noted sceptic. A good deal of this book has the secondary aim of showing that creationism is an utterly flawed idea and that the evidence for evolution reveals no traces of intelligent design whatsoever. The thing is, he already did this exercise in Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, so does it need repeating? He spends no fewer than seven chapters here on examples of transitional fossils that provide a detailed picture of fish leaving the water, whales returning to it, birds evolving from dinosaurs, giraffes evolving longer and elephants longer trunks, horses losing their toes and snakes their legs, and turtles acquiring shells. You almost get the feeling that he just cannot help himself.

    I have few gripes with the topics that Prothero chose to include here, but I felt somewhat disappointed by all the topics he left out as a consequence of this secondary mission. Two notable omissions are the process of domestication, even though Darwin used numerous examples of it in On the Origin of Species and then wrote a separate book about it. The same is true for Darwin's other big idea: there is no mention of sexual selection, sperm competition, or mate choice.

    Beyond these, there is little on speciation and biodiversity, the formation of higher taxa, or the difficulty with species concepts. Epigenetics is mentioned, but not by name. The textbook example of the peppered moth is included, but there is no further discussion on camouflage, mimicry, or warning signals. Richard Dawkins has to make do with two brief mentions, but there is nothing about the different levels of selection, whether selfish genes or group selection. And I am sure Prothero could have beautifully explained the difference between the modern and extended syntheses.

    The focus on convincing the reader of the evidence against design raises the question of who this book is written for. For evolutionary biologists like myself, Prothero is preaching to the choir, while creationists are unlikely to pick this book up. The best this might achieve is to remind biologists of the evidence for evolution if we ever find ourselves debating creationists.

    Prothero is a fantastic science communicator, and I really enjoy this format of 25 vignettes by which to examine the many facets of a topic. The material that he did choose to include is written with verve and balance. In my opinion, however, the dual motive underlying The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries means that he left out many relevant topics and has written a book of narrower focus than the title might suggest.
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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).

Popular Science
By: Donald R Prothero(Author)
360 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables
The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries features well-written vignettes, though the secondary aim of combatting creationism leaves out many topics one would have expected.
Media reviews

"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

"Dont miss The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries. [It] is palaeontologist and geologist Donald Prothero's entertaining guide to the past, present and future of living things – with nature's more bizarre aspects to the fore."
New Scientist

"This book accomplishes a nearly impossible double-task: it conveys enough information to serve as an introductory undergraduate text in evolution while also fascinating the general reader. In the light of Mr. Prothero's fine book, the reading public is better equipped than ever before to make sense of evolution itself."
The Wall Street Journal

"An engaging style that is accessible to anyone."

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