Donald R. Prothero’s The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution has a bit of something for everyone. It’s a great introduction to the history of life on the planet Earth, it’s a solid primer on why evolution is true. It’s a fun read with lots of tales of paleontological adventure and derring do. One of my favourite parts is the list of “must visit” natural history museums both in the US and around the world (I’ve been to seven of them, but I hope to visit more of them!). Tips on where you can actually see the fossils under discussion for yourself among those great museums.
But mostly it has dinosaurs and scum and sea monsters and frogs and turtles and snakes and whales and horses and even humans too, at the end.
What Prothero has done is pick 25 different organisms from the dawn of life until to the first human skeleton and in each chapter given a fairly complete story for that fossil or class of organisms. For example, the opening chapter is on the first fossilized micro-organisms, not so much about one particular fossil. Other chapters are much more about specific fossils, for example the one on archaeopteryx focuses on a fairly small number of examples in the evolution of birds. Other chapters, for example on the evolution of horses, tell the story in more evolutionary terms and discuss a wider ranger of different species and fossils. Every chapter has graphs and illustrations, used to great effect, as well as a list of further reading both in the scholarly and popular literature.
We take tours of the Burgess Shale, global warming denialism, Shark Week, the Lock Ness Monster meet important yet largely unknown figures like the incredibly important English fossil collector Mary Anning.
Overall, Prothero gives us great narrative drive, all you would ever want to know about a bunch of different fossils as well as the historical and social context to bring it all together. I recommend this book without hesitation for any academic library that collects popular science books. Public libraries and high school or middle school libraries would also find this to be a wonderful addition to their science collections.
Prothero, Donald R. The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 408pp. ISBN-13: 978-0231171908
(Review copy provided by publisher.)