Don Prothero’s superb book on the fossil record

February 22, 2009 • 9:30 am

In WEIT I mention, in the recommended reading at the end, Donald Prothero’s new book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, published by Columbia University Press. Prothero, a professor of geology at Occidental College in California, is a prolific writer, having produced or co-produced 26 books, most of them on paleobiology.

I don’t think that What the Fossils Say has gotten nearly the attention it deserves, so I wanted to give it a shout-out here.  It is simply the best existing book on the evidence for evolution from fossils; there is no competitor. It lays out, for the educated layperson, not only the process of fossilization and the biases it imposes on our knowledge of ancient life, but also discusses systematics, how fossils are used to infer genealogy, and (my favorite part), the evidence.  All the favorite transitional forms are there, in nice detail, and many that are not as well known.  Prothero does not shy away from engaging creationists–he uses the evidence against their wrongheaded claims at every turn.  The writing is superb, the illustrations (many by the great Carl Buell) are a joy.  Everybody with an interest in biology and evolution–whether you be a professional or a layperson–should buy and read this book!  If you have any doubts, check all the positive reviews on Amazon.


18 thoughts on “Don Prothero’s superb book on the fossil record

  1. I’ve just ordered this, as my parents are avid fossil collectors and I would like to get them something to put their collection into context. Looking forward to reading it myself as well.

  2. This is a wonderful book. After reading it I was embarrassed I had believed for so long that there was NO transitional fossils (former creationist here). Indeed, Prothero offers so many examples it almost got tedious.

    “Prothero does not shy away from engaging creationists–he uses the evidence against their wrongheaded claims at every turn.”

    Its good Prothero challenges creationist misconceptions but I wish he had been a little more gentle. I know my Christian peers will be turned off or get defensive when they run into some of it and not give the evidence a fair hearing.

    Other news: I should be receiving your book TODAY! I’m very excited.

  3. I have read this book by Prothero. It is very much written in an anti-Creationist mode. He lines up the Creationist lies about the fossil record, and smashes them to smithereens. Gradual transitions? Got ’em. Major taxonomic transitions? Check. Cambrian “explosion”? You bet. Big section on mammals: whale ancestors and more. One complaint is lots and lots of fossil species, with not much time to spend on each. And of course to top it all off, a good section on human ancestors.

  4. Bonner at Princeton, who is not a religious man, maintains that there is nothing solid in the fossil record, ever-expanding though it is, to suggest evolution of species. Adaptation? Yes. Natural selection? Sure. I’ll take Bonner’s word for it over Prothero any time. And I’m a Biologist.

    1. Bonner is a ecologist and not a paleontologist. He does not have the qualifications to talk about fossils. When it comes to fossils, I will take the word of a paleontologist over an ecologist any time.

      1. Even though Bronner is correct, his comment is highly misleading. Reconstructing the phylogeny for individual fossil species is very difficult and remains a product of your collection/fossil assemblage (basically what you have recovered from your field area). So only with more time spent looking at the collection and more fossils from that genus do studies on species become more accurate. Put lightly, there are likely billions of species throughout time represented as fossils. Paleontologists focus on genus, family and order level analysis to reconstruct evolution over millions of years. Either way, paleontologists are real nerds for fossils (and spend most of there time in museums doing labor-intensive research), but Prothero goes through all of info that paleo scientists know and why fossils are so important for evolutionary studies. Haha I am also a paleontolgist..I study ancient mammals

    2. Sure. That’s why Bonner signed his name to a petition entitled: “Is Biological Evolution a Principle of Nature that has been well established by Science?” in support of evolution. The only biology you were ever taught was in Sunday School.

  5. I read this book a few weeks ago and it is superb! Highly recommended for anyone interested in a very comprehensive overview of fossils (and more)!

  6. “Need evidence for Darwinian evolution? Just make it up.
    That’s the lesson of Donald Prothero’s book.”
    Pretty much says it all.

    1. Need to take a cheap shot because you’re a moron unable to defend his position? Add it two months after a thread is dead.

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