Book Progress #13

Given that I have 23 single-spaced pages written for my human evolution chapter (which is about as long as the essay I wrote that was included in The Open Laboratory) I suppose I should be fairly pleased with myself. The truth of the matter is that I am not; I still have to get to major discoveries of fossil hominids post-1920, integrate evidence from primatology, and explain the genetic similarity between our species and living apes. It would be all-too-easy to let the chapter become a book by itself, and the sheer volume of information that needs to fit within a chapter will definitely test my ability to be concise.

Yesterday I primarily focused on discoveries of stone tools in caves and gravel pits between 1858 and 1863, 1859 marking the wide acceptance among geologists that humans had lived alongside extinct mammals (hyenas, rhinoceros, elephants, etc.) during Post-Pliocene time. There are plenty of interesting details that could fill many pages, but eventually I'm going to have to consolidate and rephrase what I have already written to keep it from running on for too long. I would love to spend more time on the subject, carefully teasing apart the minor details of discovery (as well as the public reaction), but I can't see any way to do so without derailing the chapter. (For those of you who are interested in such details, pick up Men Among the Mammoths.)

I still have plenty of work to do on my other chapters, too. Although I've put a lot of effort into the chapters about birds and humans I haven't done much with the whale chapter for a few months and I have found it somewhat challenging to keep up with all the taxonomic changes fossil horses have undergone. I am sure that I will complete both (I have strong ideas as to where they are going to go) but I definitely have more to learn before I can do so. Likewise, I've been trying to think of other evolutionary examples to form the basis of a few more chapters (i.e. ammonites), but then again I may have already bit off more than I can chew. I know I have a tendency to run on long, so how much space I might have for other examples is an open question. I'm fairly certain that I'll have room for at least one more (in addition to a conclusion), but I'm going to keep working on the sections I already have for now.

I also don't want to get distracted by ideas for other books I would someday like to write. I can't recall exactly how it came to mind, but I have become quite enamored with the idea of writing a popular book about hyenas. I am intrigued by mammalian carnivores in general but hyenas are so unique that I think they certainly deserve a book that celebrates how wonderfully bizarre they are (rather than focusing on their competition with lions over carcasses, which is all many people ever see of them in the popular media). Whether I ever get to write such a book, however, is largely going to be contingent upon finishing my current project so I should not distract myself with dreams of visiting Africa.

(New sections are in bold)


Huxley's rejoinder to Wilberforce at Oxford - Darrow puts Bryan in the hot seat - Behe's astrological mishap - One long argument - Flickering candles in the dark - Monstrous myths - Evolutionary archetypes -


Darwin's problems with paleontology - Evolution, sure, but natural selection? - Gaudry and Hipparion - Kowalevsky and Anchitherium - "A gift from the Old world to the New" - Marsh's "toy horse" - Huxley buried under bones - Ladder of horse evolution - Putting the litoptern before the horse


Koch's Missourium - The king of the seas flees to Europe - Maybe Basilosaurus, maybe not - Huxley's overlooked insight - Fast & furious fossil finds -

Avian Dinosaurs

Noah's ravens vacation in New England - Hitchcock's Jurassic birds - A little fossil birdie told me about evolution - A misplaced feather - From London to Berlin - The source of Huxley's inspiration - Megalosaurus = an ossified, fossilized, underdeveloped chick - The unimportance of Archaeopteryx - Hypsilophodon as a good transition - Problems with the Pachypoda - How did we get such beautiful fossils? - Ornithosuchus or theropods? - The case of the missing clavicles - 75 years of pseudoscuhian narrative - Barnum Brown's forgotten Daptosaurus - Ostrom's "terrible claw" - "Tetrapteryx" and Microraptor

Human Evolution

Tyson's dissection of a "pigmie" - A chimp's place in the Chain - Where are the "missing links?" - White's 1799 attempt to save the Chain - The intellectual Rubicon - Without language there is no thought - Glorified apes and lowly humans - Buckland's "Red Lady" - She's no lady - Where were the ante-diluvian humans? - Cave contamination - Brixham cave - An unequal partnership - Falconer's enthusiasm, Prestwich's skepticism - Evidence from abroad - Somme Valley turning point - 1859 - Complaints and queries - Pre-Adamites - The Neanderthal that was mistaken for an Irishman - The Neanderthal fossils get named - Dubois goes to Indonesia - Skull of an ape, leg of a human - "Java Man" - The transitional gibbon-man - The discovery of "Peking Man" - Dart's Australopithecus - An irrelevant ape - Le Gros Clark to the rescue - Osborn vs Bryan - Harold Cook's Mystery Tooth - Hesperopithecus = Prosthenops - What makes us human? - Ask a stupid question... - Ape-like humans, not human-like apes - Caught in the Chain

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Brian, what are you thinking? You don't even have an undergraduate degree as of yet and you want to write a book about evolution?! Do you really think anyone would give any credibility to such a book? I know you are interested in the subject, but please, hold your horses, get a degree (at least), go to graduate school and wait off for a bit.

Things would be much better that way, instead of some undergrad reading a bunch of other books to get ideas and material for his own book.

...instead of some undergrad reading a bunch of other books to get ideas and material for his own...

Funny. I don't know where you went to school, James, but that's exactly what we were supposed to do to get an undergraduate degree at my university. (Well, in the history department, anyways.)

Why so critical? If it's a good book, either it gets considered on its own merit, or it doesn't and the author waits til he gets a few more letters after his name to publish. If it isn't a good book, and never gets published, who loses? Not you. I'm sure Brian knows the risks. So why condemn the pursuit of knowledge and the desire to share it in another?

We didn't have to pull together a whole book — maybe that's a difference between history and physics — but we did have to do a literature review junior year, in third-term quantum. It was a valuable project, not only because it gave us scientists a little practice writing, and not only because we were able to explore areas off the beaten curriculum path, but most importantly because years later, I got five blog posts out of it.

James, I was under the impression that Brian already completely his undergraduate degree. In any case, I don't see how it matters; he is a good writer, and if he is able to convey the subject matter effectively and accurately, the letters he adds after his name won't matter much.

Likewise, I've been trying to think of other evolutionary examples to form the basis of a few more chapters (i.e. ammonites), but then again I may have already bit off more than I can chew.

The evolution of Proboscideans and Sirenians might be interesting, ammonites would provide some variety since you've focused on vertebrates.