Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 26, 2010 10:20 am

I recently caught a clip of two women on The View discussing how they do not “believe” in evolution. Discouraging, but then I shouldn’t really be surprised. After all, as Chris and I reported in Unscientific America, 46 percent of Americans agree with them–and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. So what can we do about this kind of anti-science sentiment?

Picture 1Brian Switek’s fascinating new book Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature is assuredly a part of the solution. I’ve long been a fan of Switek’s writing and follow his terrific blog Laelaps on the Wired Science network. This book is not only as good as I expected–it’s better.

For anyone interested in fossils, the history of science, and evolution, Written in Stone is a must read! Packed with the latest research and composed in an engaging style, it can be easily understood by scientists and laypeople alike. The book’s a unique mix of scientifically rigorous information and elegant accounts of life on our planet. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on fossil whales where Switek describes how researchers struggled to understand their ancestry. Parts of this book reads like a mystery while you also get historical tales from the field. There are many interesting characters as well and I really enjoyed the images included throughout.

Most of all, Written in Stone is important because it connects the dots on evolution. Switek provides a compelling narrative about the process of adaptation–including how we are part of the story. His prose is wonderful, and I especially love the ending–which I won’t give away here (but would like to!).

This excellent book is coming to a bookstore near you next week and should be of interest to everyone who possesses a natural curiosity about the world. So go buy it!


Comments (4)

  1. ChH

    Written in stone …
    I wonder how these ancient artisans knew what dinosaurs looked like if they’ve all been dead for 65 million years …

  2. Connecting the dots is fine but there is a very good case to be made for extension of these evolutionary processes beyond the biological realm.
    There is a growing realisation that the genetic aspect, as underlined in my own works, is merely one component of nature’s great evolutionary continuum.
    The recently published works of Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From), Kevin Kelly (What Technology Wants) and Timothy Taylor (The Artificial Ape) are among the new wave of thinkers who, within their own domains, are increasingly becoming aware of the evolutionary processes which extend beyond genetics.
    Henry Petroski at Duke University has, of course, been working on the technology aspect for many years and has inspired the recent article by Wasserman & Blumberg: “Designing Minds”
    It is good to see that ideas such as this are finally gaining better acceptance.
    They are discussed in a much wider context in “Unusual Perspectives” and also in my newly published work:
    “The Goldilocks Effect : What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?”.
    More info and futher reading to be found on the Unusual Perspectives website.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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