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The New York Times Book of Fossils and Evolution.

The New York Times Book of Fossils and Evolution

edited by Nicholas Wade

Lyons Press

New York

ISBN: 1585742643 $16.95; 258 pp.

The first dinosaurs with wings. The first dinosaur eggs and nests. Amber treasure troves of ancient DNA. Legged snakes and land-walking whales losing their legs at sea. Cometary birth. Asteroid extinction. The co-existence of ancient species of mankind. To paraphrase the opening line of this book: Nothing is as dead as a fossil yet nothing is livelier than this study of fossils. The New York Times Book of Fossils and Evolution is a treasure trove of articles on some of the most amazing scientific discoveries of our times. Culled from the Science Times section of the famed paper just as its fossilized subjects are from the ground, these articles chronicle our growing knowledge, the endless scientific debates about our evolving understanding of the past, and the most startling discoveries made so far. For instance, far beneath the glaciers of Antarctica (over two miles) there lies a massive pristine ancient lake sealed like a prehistoric vault. Is it teeming with the still-living remnants of or the long lost evidence of ancient life? There is a debate underway currently among the superpowers over whether or not we should drill into it and study (or unleash or contaminate) its contents. Sounds like the start of a good thriller.

This is a brief, informative read which highlights some of the great discoveries and deepest arguments in evolution. The articles are short and loosely grouped by subjects. You can skip around or read it straight through, but never cease to be amazed. Beyond gaining details about stories you may have heard in the news (is Lucy our earliest ancestor? Can we clone dinosaur DNA?), you also begin to have a feel of personalities and some of the behind the scenes maneuvering by the scientists involved. The debates and outright catfights flow and ebb throughout. There is also the sad revelation of fossil hunting and theft by unscrupulous individuals and groups whose profit motives end up destroying invaluable scientific knowledge. On the other end of the spectrum you get entrenched scientists unwilling to touch or share finds with the world at large. It is all part of a fantastic detective tale of revelations on the origin of life.

This informative book is good for most ages, due to the brevity of the entries, illustrations, and the common man language or lack of overwhelming scientific jargon. Straight forward and accessible, Nicholas Wade has compiled a great collection for all to enjoy. The good news is, of course, that as long as there is a rock left on earth or a spade full of dirt somewhere to turn over, we'll still be discovering new things about our past. So perhaps in a decade or so we can look forward to a newly updated collection of fossilized discoveries from Mr. Wade. Thus the obligatory pun: I'll certainly be waiting to dig write in.
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Author:Fortenberry, Thomas
Publication:Reviewer's Bookwatch
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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