The Story of Life in 25 Fossils

Donald R. Prothero. Columbia Univ, $35 (432p) ISBN 978-0-231-17190-8
Despite his title, paleontologist Prothero (Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters) eschews a narrow focus on 25 critical fossils to instead examine sets of fossils that demonstrate the bridges between divergent groups. As he makes clear, “fossils that do not fit into modern groups, but are squarely between them, are true transitional fossils, sometimes called (improperly) ‘missing links.’ ” Prothero presents a wealth of information about the origins of various lineages. In each case, he demonstrates the depth of the fossil record and shows that scientists have developed a deep understanding of the evolutionary changes that have occurred over time. At the same time, Prothero points out that there is still much to be learned in situations where the evidence is not completely clear. After demonstrating “that snakes did evolve from four-legged ancestors,” he notes that “the mystery of the nearest relatives of snakes is still unresolved.” The text’s only flaw is Prothero’s assertion, in the face of ample recent genomics research demonstrating otherwise, that “about 60 to 80 percent of our DNA is ‘junk’ that is never read or used, but is carried around passively generation after generation.” Still, this is an accessible, well-done book that will better enable general readers to understand the fossil record and how paleontologists interpret it. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/22/2015
Release date: 08/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 408 pages - 978-0-231-17191-5
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