Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
REMARKABLE CREATURES: Epic
Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species
by Sean B. Carroll, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2009
Reviewed by Michael Zimmerman
In this light but thoroughly engaging book,
Carroll provides vignettes of some of the people who have made the
most significant discoveries in the field of evolutionary biology.
Given the nature of his subjects, it is unclear whether the
remarkable creatures are the new species discovered by the
naturalists he discusses or those naturalists themselves.
He starts with some of the great explorers, Alexander von
Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Bates,
and discusses their amazing experiences as well as their remarkable
insights. With a theory of evolution taking shape in the latter
part of the 19th century, Carroll turns his attention to
paleontologists who devoted their careers searching for fossil
evidence to support that theory. He writes of Eugene Dubois's hunt
for what become known as Java Man, Charles Walcott's discovery of
the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian
explosion, and Neil Shubin's adventures in arctic Canada that led
to the discovery of Tiktaalik, the intermediary "between water- and
land-dwelling vertebrates," among others.
Carroll closes by telling stories associated with our growing
understanding of the evolutionary role our own species fills in
nature. He describes the life-long search for evidence of human
ancestors undertaken by Louis and Mary Leakey, and then looks to
the advances made by such laboratory scientists as Linus Pauling
and Allan Wilson which permitted us to conclude that Neanderthals
were cousins rather than direct ancestors. While there's really not
much new in any of the stories Carroll presents, they do come
together to make an arresting tapestry of evolutionary
- Michael Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University.