New books on evolution and vertebrates

November 27, 2010 • 10:29 pm

by Greg Mayer

Three new (or newish) books have come my way that may be of interest to WEIT readers.

First, my friend and colleague Jonathan Losos has edited a collection of essays entitled In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field. I’d mentioned his book about the world’s best animals, anoles, in a post last year. The new book features mostly chapters by scientists about the actual experience of carrying out research, and why they think it’s cool (NB: it doesn’t involve rock stars). Ted Daeschler and Neil Shubin, for example, relate their motivation and experiences in traveling to the Canadian Arctic in search of transitional tetrapods.  It’s aimed at a general reader or student audience, and thus might be of interest to a number of our non-specialist readers. I haven’t finished reading it yet, and hope to give a more complete report during Jerry’s next peregrination.

I’ve also just received a copy of How Vertebrates Left the Water by Michel Laurin, a famed Canadian paleontologist at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The book is largely a translation (by Laurin himself) of his earlier Systématique, Paléontologie et Biologie Évolutive Moderne: l’exemple de la sortie des eaux chez les vertébrés (Ellipses éditions, Paris, 2008), with the text and bibliography updated. The book covers a lot of the same (muddy) ground that Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish does, although at a somewhat more technical and narrower level (sorry– couldn’t resist the allusion to coming ashore!).

And finally, not so new, is Bob Carroll‘s The Rise of the Amphibians, published in 2009, and which I got a copy of last year. Carroll is the dean of North American paleontology, and Laurin studied with him at McGill. Carroll’s book covers all of amphibian history, from their origins (the focus of Laurin’s book) to today. Although it has a predictably strong emphasis on the fossil record, he even includes a chapter on the  amphibian conservation crisis of today. Because reptiles (amniotes) descend from amphibians, this transition is covered as well. This book is the least likely of the three for casual bedtime reading, but it is well written, profusely illustrated, and has 16 attractive color plates.