358 pages, 5 b/w photos, 226 b/w illustrations
For the past 450 years, tree-like branching diagrams have attempted to show the complex and surprising interrelationships of organisms, both living and fossil, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals. This stunning book celebrates the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human ingenuity revealed in these exquisite trees of life.
Theodore W. Pietsch has chosen 230 trees of life – from among thousands of possible contenders – dating from the sixteenth century to the present day. His arrangement gives readers a visual sense of the historical development of these diagrams and shows how, in Darwin's words, "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
Pietsch's brief, accessible prose accompanies the diverse trees to display the engrossing history of evolution. Over the centuries, trees of life appeared in a wide variety of forms;, some were revered as iconic while others incited intense controversy. The earliest examples were meant to reveal the imagined temporal order in which God created life on Earth. More recent scientific trees represent hypothetical histories of life.
Never before has the full spectrum of trees of life been brought together in a single volume. Pietsch has spent decades collecting and researching the origin and meaning of these evolutionary trees and presents a visually breathtaking and intellectually brilliant history of the form.
"For those with an interest in the history of evolution."
– Birdbooker Report
"Trees of Life is the sort of book that instantly fascinates [...] This exemplary work is an important contribution to the history of evolution."
"Better than any work before it [...] Anyone interested in the history of phylogenetics and the study of evolutionary relationships should certainly pick up this wonderful book. In a field advancing as quickly as systematic biology, it is nice to look back at the past once in a while."
– Prosanta Chakrabarty, Systematic Biology
"Trees of Life is a beautiful book, and the diversity of beautiful images within its pages should be of interest to historians of science, biologists, folks working at the intersection of science and art, and, honestly, anyone with a genuine interest in science and the study of the natural world. This is a taxonomy of trees of life, if you will."
– Michael Barton, Dispersal of Darwin
"Evolution is often visualized as a branching tree, with the format depending on what the author desires to show. Evolutionary biologist Pietsch is more interested in the history of such trees as art."
"With the concept of evolution now often iconified to the point of misrepresentation, Trees of Life reminds us that both the idea and its representation were – and are – fluid, debated, and reconstructed."
– Camillia Matuk, Science
"Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation."
– Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness
"Looking at the ways images of trees have been used to depict the relationships between organisms over the past five centuries, Pietsch explores how the visual history of these 'trees of life' reveals changing human understandings of evolution."
– ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
"Pietsch, an evolutionary biologist, gathers together and explains more than 200 'tree of life' diagrams going back 450 years. These branch-like drawings – some simple, some incredibly elaborate – were made to illustrate interconnectedness between organisms and the process of evolution. They can be seen as scientific documents, artistic renderings, or both."
– John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine
"The book testifies to Pietsch's encyclopaedic ambition and his unmistakable passion for the subject. His collection is rich and wide in scope [...] Because of this diversity, the book provides a very stimulating overview of (Western) attempts to make graphic sense of life and its history on this planet. It has no rival as an introduction to the subject."
– Nils Petter Hellstrom, Journal Archives of Natural History
"Of interest primarily to naturalists and historians, the collection of symbolic relationships presents a unique evolutionary transition through time."
– Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review
"Systematics and the exact tracing of evolutionary pathways increasingly continue their renaissance as a major enterprise of biology. Theodore W. Pietsch's Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution is an excellent way to study and think about the historical process that is under way."
– E. O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
"Notable in this work is a nice balance between text and graphics [...] the book is an excellent source not only of the diversity of diagrams, but of the meaning behind each."
– E.O. Wiley, Quarterly Review of Biology
"A luminous book [...] For classroom use, the brevity and simplicity of the introductory remarks will serve instructors who wish to teach these images' and their authors' significance to the history of biology and the history of scientific illustration. Biologists, historians of science, scholars interested in the intersections between art and design and science will find an abundance of images and wise commentary that reveals new details with each reading."
– Christine Manganaro, Journal of the History of Biology
"The author has given us a new insight into the varying approaches to evolutionary trees, and an essential source book for the history of evolutionary concepts."
– Gina Douglas, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
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Theodore W. Pietsch is Dorothy T. Gilbert Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Curator of Fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is author of more than a dozen books, including The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science and Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea.