Written in Stone by Brian Switek

Written in Stone: The Hidden Secrets of Fossils and the Story of Life on Earth

Written in Stone is a history of palaeontology and how it has affected our view of evolution. The introduction describes the media hype of Ida, a fossil proto-primate heralded as a ‘missing link’. It draws attention to the perils of rushing to get a ‘story’ to the world and the necessity of subjecting any scientific findings to peer review.

In Written in Stone Brian Switek considers various different subjects influenced by the fossil record, from the origin of fingers to the evolution of the whale. He looks at the origin of flight. For a long time people disputed whether birds were descended from dinosaurs, and there are still debates over whether flight evolved ‘from the ground up’ or ‘from trees down’. There are chapters on the origin of mammals, marsupials and monotremes (platypuses and echidnas), and on the huge mammals that evolved after the demise of the dinosaurs.

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer and his enthusiasm for palaeontology is obvious in this book, which is well researched and well written. There are footnotes for source information, but also footnotes giving additional information on various points. I found Written in Stone easy to read and very informative.

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