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Evolution (2007)

af Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
991210,936 (4.8)6
THE book on how we came to be what we are. Unprecedented in its appraoch, teh number and diversity of the species presented and the quality and diversity of its photographs, this is spectacular,elegant, mysterious, grotesque. Skeletons of the vertebrates that inhabit the earth today carry with them the imprint of an evolutionary process that has lasted several billion years. A dual approach, scientific and aesthetic, combines stunning photographs of whole or part skeletons with a short text that illuminates chosen themes of evolution.… (mere)
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Let me start off by saying there are two versions of this book. One is large - about a foot square, while the other is the size of a regular hardback.The smaller one is titled Evolution in Action, but it's the same book. That’s the one I first encountered while staying in a hotel in Milwaukee. I carried it up to my room, entranced by the photographs. They’re gorgeous in terms of lighting, poses and the structure and grace of the skeletons themselves. And no, I didn’t steal it, I bought it, but made sure I got the coffee table sized edition so that the photographs would be easier to see and more life sized. While the smaller version is perfectly fine, the photographer in me knew I would be happier with the larger one so I found a used copy (as it’s out of print) and wow, it is a beautiful package. Warning - if you get this edition, you’ll need a nice comfy pillow on your lap when you read it.

Basically this book examines the skeletal structures of animals living with us today and compares how evolution has selected the same basic group of bones to fill ecological niches around the world. Bones have been elongated, shrunk, twisted, bent and even eliminated in the quest to live long enough to pass along those genes. It’s truly amazing and the photographs illustrate the text very well.

Oh yeah, there’s text, too. The book is divided into sections dealing with different aspects that affect evolutionary selection -

I. Architecture
II. The birth of species
III. Seduction and selection
IV. Evolutionary tinkering
V. The power of the environment
VI. Evolution and time

Within each section there are chapters with photographs showing exactly how that concept or situation resulted in today’s animals. There are also comparisons of similar species side by side to show how one set of circumstances resulted in creature A, while another took the same ancestor and created creature B.

Here are some highlights from each section; some are what I learned and others just illustrate points that I love about how natural selection works!

In section I, Architecture, chapter 2, A Deep Unity - I love how across species within a genus or across different genuses, bones almost always correspond exactly. A humerus in one animal is articulated and placed in almost the same way in another. It’s wonderful and because some of the placements and articulations are awkward, they are sure signs that a force is making do rather than making perfect.

In section II, The Birth of Species, chapter 12, Hybridization - fascinated to learn that the ancestral species of horses, asses, onagers and zebras was native to North America. It died out though and no horse species existed in North or South America until introduced by Europeans. I often wonder how humanity and society would be changed if one had persisted and could have been domesticated (unlike the zebra) here in the “new world”. Would people on both sides of the ocean have met more as equals? Oh boy.

In section III, Seduction and Selection, chapter 22, Competing Fangs - clears up any confusion as to why vegetarian species like gorillas have such enormous fangs. Mandrills have them, too, and they’re pretty much only used by males to battle for mates. Females of both of these species have fangs, too, but they’re much smaller. And speaking of fangs, those of the babirusa (a type of pig) grow long and curve over the skull eventually piercing the braincase if the animal lives long enough. I guess the ladies find that sexy.

In section IV, Evolutionary Tinkering, chapter 28, Paws, Wings and Fins - bats fly with their hands, penguins and manatees swim with them. Kiwi hands are pretty much useless, but the albatross and the vulture couldn’t exist without them, soaring high and fast in search of food. Some lemurs have opposable toes, but not thumbs. Isn’t it grand how the same parts can be changed and used for so many different things? Hey...look at me typing with mine!

In section V, The Power of the Environment, chapter 37, Eating Ants - originally all ant-eating species were lumped together for the simple reason that they all eat ants. Science has improved and they are now separated. Ant eating has made them structurally similar and has done some weird stuff. The giant anteater has no teeth and no zygomatic arch (the cheek bone that supports jaw muscles). It doesn’t chew so what does it need that stuff for? Gone! The aardvark looks very similar, but has some vestigial teeth and also a cheek bone. The pangolin (spiny anteater) doesn’t look much like the giant anteater, but has also lost its teeth and chewing muscles, while the armadillo possesses both.

Oh and chapter 38, Mirroring, is marvelous. It demonstrates how because of isolation, marsupial mammals became dominant in Australia and New Zealand and how those species often have placental mammal counterparts on other continents. Take the vicugna and the kangaroo. Wildly different, right? Not really. Both are large herding herbivores and if you look at their skulls, they’re eerily similar. Zoom out though and wow! Couldn’t have predicted one would jump from place to place and the other walks. I also learned that marsupials have two bones articulating out from the inside of the pelvis - they’re just to support the pouch! Why didn’t I know that already?

In section VI, Evolution and Time, chapter 41, Figures from the Past - I was enlightened and annoyed by this section. The writer condemns the practice of calling animals such as the coelacanth a “living fossil” and rightfully so. Even though skeletally the animal hasn’t changed much in millions of years, we can’t know anything about its soft tissue or habits that might have changed. The idea that something hasn’t changed in that long baffles a lot of people including the writer who seems to have snagged on that popular snare which is the idea that evolution is a race or something with a goal. That there is some perfect species out there waiting to be formed.

Bogus. Every species is a perfect species. Perfect for what it does and the ecological niche it occupies. Just because the coelacanth or the North American opossum hasn’t changed much doesn’t mean they are inferior, less advanced or lacking in some vital characteristic. Their very existences prove they are successful in their spheres. If an animal is sufficiently adaptable in its current form, change is wasteful and unnecessary. Why change if there is no need?

Phew! I didn’t mean for this review to be so long, but the book is so good that I just got carried away. If you’re at all interested in evolutionary biology, comparative anatomy or photography, this book will be a great addition to your library. ( )
2 stem Bookmarque | Sep 7, 2017 |
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THE book on how we came to be what we are. Unprecedented in its appraoch, teh number and diversity of the species presented and the quality and diversity of its photographs, this is spectacular,elegant, mysterious, grotesque. Skeletons of the vertebrates that inhabit the earth today carry with them the imprint of an evolutionary process that has lasted several billion years. A dual approach, scientific and aesthetic, combines stunning photographs of whole or part skeletons with a short text that illuminates chosen themes of evolution.

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