National Book Award Finalist: A biologist’s “thoroughly enjoyable” account of the expeditions that unearthed the history of life on our planet (Publishers Weekly).
Not so long ago, most of our world was an unexplored wilderness. Our sense of its age was vague and vastly off the mark, and much of the knowledge of our own species’ history was a set of fantastic myths and fairy tales. But scientists were about to embark on an amazing new era of understanding.
From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Big Picture, this book leads us on a rousing voyage that recounts the most important discoveries in two centuries of natural history: from Darwin’s trip around the world to Charles Walcott’s discovery of pre-Cambrian life in the Grand Canyon; from Louis and Mary Leakey’s investigation of our deepest past in East Africa to the trailblazers in modern laboratories who have located a time clock in our DNA. Filled with the same sense of adventure that spurred on these extraordinary men and women, Remarkable Creatures is a “stirring introduction to the wonder of evolutionary biology” (Kirkus Reviews).
“Charming and enlightening.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“As fast-paced as a detective story.” —Nature
It's unclear whether the title refers to the daring naturalist/explorers Carroll depicts or the creatures whose remains they found. In this thoroughly enjoyable book, Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful), a molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, provides vignettes of some of the fascinating people who have made the most significant discoveries in evolutionary biology. He starts with some of the experiences and insights of great explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, then turns his attention to paleontologists who searched for the fossil evidence to support the new theory of evolution. Among them are Eug ne Dubois's discovery of Java Man; Charles Walcott's discovery of the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian explosion; and Neil Shubin's recent discovery in arctic Canada of Tiktaalik, the intermediary "between water- and land-dwelling vertebrates." Carroll closes with studies of human evolution, from Louis and Mary Leakey to the advances of Linus Pauling and Allan Wilson, which indicated that Neanderthals were cousins of Homo sapiens rather than direct ancestors. While there's little that's new here, Carroll does weave an arresting tapestry of evolutionary advancement. Photos, maps.