Paleontology: A Brief History of Life

Paleontology: A Brief History of Life

Ian Tattersall, Templeton Science and Religion Series

Paleontology is an unusual scientific book. It’s polite. The author soothes readers with religious sensibilities in the introduction: “Science is most emphatically not about ultimate causation, which is properly the province of philosophers and theologians.”

Although there are numerous examples of scientific jargon throughout the book it is possible to get the gist of what Tattersall is saying by the context of the sentences.

It’s also really, really interesting. I had no idea there were so many mass extinctions.

I loved the descriptions of plants (especially ferns) and amazing creatures. My only disappointment with the book was that there weren’t more sketches. Wouldn’t anyone like to see odd-toed ungulates (the group that later came to contain today’s horses), tapirs and rhinos, or the bizarre rhino-sized uintatheres with their knobbly skulls?

Perhaps the sketches are unnecessary. Perhaps just imagining these creatures bounding around is interesting enough.

My favourite topics in Paleontology included what can be learnt from fossils; that ideas about evolution were around long before Darwin (a ninth century Arab intellectual wrote about environmental factors influencing organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival) and why people think the way they do — we are a very interesting species too.

Katy Gerner

 

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