Thursday, 9 June 2011

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species

A Review

With Remarkable Creatures Sean Carroll, the evolutionary-developmental biologist, expands his already impressive popular science oeuvre. His latest book features 13 sketches of some of the greatest discoveries in evolutionary biology, but also an inspirational appreciation of the creative, smart, often lucky, but always supremely dedicated scientists behind the textbook facts.

Starting, as a prelude, with the great polymath Alexander von Humboldt’s achievements, and his influence on Darwin, Wallace, and Bates, Carroll divides the rest of the book into 3 sections dealing with different aspects of evolutionary origins: the theory of species’ origins; the actual origins of various animal taxa; and the origins of humans. Chances are you will have met some of the scientists, and their discoveries, before; the trinity mentioned above, of course; Louis Leakey, quite possibly; others might ring vague bells, but due to the breadth of the discoveries covered, revelations are guaranteed. The tenacity and daring of Eugene Dubois, discoverer of Homo erectus, and the part played by Linus Pauling in the development of molecular clock theory, were two such revelations for me.
This anthology, of biography melded with discovery, succeeds in finding a wonderful balance between human drama and scientific fact. The excellent referencing and clear scientific content also make it a great introduction to the evolutionary topics covered. Give this book to young scientists whom you wish to inspire; it’s just the antidote for a textbook!