cover image Evolution: A Visual Record

Evolution: A Visual Record

Photos by Robert Clark, text by Joseph Wallace. Phaidon, $39.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7118-9

This art-as-science book by National Geographic photographer Clark (Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage) is more a haphazard, if attractive, celebration of biodiversity than a study of evolution through living creatures. Broad categories—insects, cold-blooded species—house subsets of fan-favorite subjects: for example, dogs dominate the “Mammals” section, and flowers and leaves are the focus of “Plants.” Images focus tightly on their subjects without visual context: the bright, saturated colors of beetles and butterflies are emphasized by stark white backgrounds, and Clark’s photos of individual dogs, birds, and lizards have the personality of portraiture. The paragraph-long notes on the specimens’ biology, natural history, and nomenclature are well researched and composed for the general reader, but they sit in bunches, in small font, often several pages away from the full page images they describe, which makes it easy to overlook them and diminishes the value of the photos as visual science. Clark brackets the contemporary nature shots with displays more typically associated with books on evolution, starting with a miscellany of fossils and ending with hominid skeletons. The book is a good demonstration of the wide range of Clark’s work, but not well configured for its teaching purpose. Color photos. [em](Oct.) [/em]