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Evolution - the whole story


When I received Evolution: the Whole Story, I was initially struck by its superb visual impact. The quality of the pictures and photographs is most impressive and encourages one to read further. The timelines and illustrations are excellent in enhancing the text, and effectively link one’s understanding of the geological timeline to the process of evolution. Similarly, the text in the book is gripping in its description of how the Earth came into being and how life commenced, has been challenged, has changed and continued. From the moment I started the Introduction, I found myself learning about geological history. It is hard to categorise this book as a textbook, as the writing is so approachable and user-friendly. One almost feels that one is learning by accident!

The book takes the reader from the very start of the Earth’s history and reveals life emerging from simple beginnings. Although the details of each species would not be sufficient to fully research them individually, as a narrative of the whole story, it brings evolution to life. Evolution: the Whole Story is most valuable in the way that it links the various stories of life together. It is a useful resource, for those who are familiar with evolution as a scientific theory, and wish to link this with geological history. An understanding of the process of evolution would be a must to get the best use out of the book, though the basics are explained clearly, and there is a clear and concise glossary at the end for those needing guidance with the evo-jargon.

If I have one complaint, it would be about tendentious use of language: sometimes it falls into the trap of discussing features as though they were 'designed', and that variations are 'chosen' by indivuals in order to make life easier for the species!  For example, the chapter 'Mosses and Ferns', the author states: “As a partial solution, bryophytes evolved the process of reproduction that takes place in two phases….” (p. 67). I feel that this makes the evolutionary process seem deliberate and conscious, which is clearly inappropriate.

My overall impression of Evolution: the Whole Story is highly favourable and I know that I will continue to derive much use and pleasure from it. In the words of Alice Roberts, who provided the forward: “We’re all tiny twigs on the great Tree of Life.”  This book certainly puts us in our place!

reviewed by Sarah Pipkin

EVOLUTION: THE WHOLE STORY edited by STEVE PARKER, 2015. Published by: Thames and Hudson 575pp (softback) ISBN: 978-0-500-29173-3 LIST PRICE: £19.95