The Tangled Bank: "The Best"–E.O. Wilson

By Carl Zimmer | July 2, 2009 3:29 pm

zimmercover220.jpgMy publisher has been sending out copies of The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution to some leading biologists for possible endorsements when it comes out in October. Here’s what we’re hearing back so far…

“The Tangled Bank is the best written and best illustrated introduction to evolution of the Darwin centennial decade, and also the most conversant with ongoing research. It is excellent for students, the general public, and even other biologists.” —Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, author of Consilience

“Carl Zimmer’s excursion through the evolutionary epic is without equal.  His gift for the scientific narrative is on full display through The Tangled Bank, and he leads his readers onward with an energy and delight that never disappoints. This marvelous text is an extraordinary introduction to the depth and richness of evolutionary science.” —Kenneth Miller, Brown University, author of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul and co-author of Miller & Levine’s Biology

“Zimmer has produced a wonderfully thorough introduction to evolutionary biology. With his prose and color diagrams by leading artists produced specially for this volume, The Tangled Bank will be a powerful tool to introduce students to the explanatory power of evolution and the way that it integrates different fields of knowledge. I have no doubt that this important volume will find its way into diverse courses in the curriculum.” —Neil Shubin, University of Chicago, author of Your Inner Fish

“One rarely says of a textbook, ‘I couldn’t put it down,’ but that was how I felt reading Carl Zimmer’s Tangled Bank. Zimmer has applied his award-winning communication skills to producing a readable yet up-to-date and thorough treatment of evolutionary biology. Were I teaching evolution, this is the book I would use.” — Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center For Science Education and winner of the 2009 Stephen Jay Gould Prize

“Carl Zimmer’s The Tangled Bank is a joy to read. He draws readers into the excitement of the rapidly expanding science of evolutionary biology, as he explains why life on earth is so diverse and how the web of life evolved to be so entangled.  He explains, through elegant prose and beautiful illustrations, the remarkable progress that has been made in recent years in understanding the evolutionary process.” —John Thompson, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of The Geographic Mosaic of Coevolution

“This engagingly written and well-organized book is a wonderful introduction to evolutionary biology.  It beautifully synthesizes the conceptual basis of evolutionary theory with the empirical evidence that evolution has occurred.  The book is remarkably up-to-date, seamlessly moving from discussion of fossils to genomes, and nicely illustrates that evolutionary biology is a vigorous field that increasingly takes an experimental approach.” — Jonathan Losos, Harvard University

[Update 7/6: Two new ones below]

“In clear, accessible prose, Carl Zimmer explains how 21st century science confirms the 19th century’s most radical idea. If you want to understand life’s remarkable past and uncertain future, read The Tangled Bank.” —Andrew Knoll, Harvard University, author of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth

“Zimmer weaves cutting-edge findings and essential concepts around the personalities and adventures of the biologists themselves. The result is superb: an up-to-date, articulate, and gorgeously illustrated introduction to modern evolutionary biology. We sorely needed a text aimed at the nonmajor undergraduate, and Zimmer was exactly the right person to write it.” —Douglas J. Emlen, Professor of Biology, University of Montana

To all of these biologists, many thanks from this old English major.

(And, by the way, that is the final cover. Thanks to the 1018 people who cast votes on their favorite mock-ups, as well as to the many who didn’t like any of them and asked, “Where’s the tangled bank?”  You spoke, I listened. In the end, I decided to go with Tiktaalik, but give it some extra company–both animal and vegetable–based on fossils that also date back to this sort of ecosystem 370 million years ago. Thanks to Carl Buell, as ever, for making that idea into a cover.)


Comments (32)

  1. Great job! Looking forward to it!

  2. congratulations, carl! can’t wait to get a copy… and beautiful final cover design… though in addition to the accolades from evolution’s glitterati, i hope you’ll also wear the imminent disdain from the creation camp as badges of honor as well…

  3. Elia (@smallpkg)

    These reviews are certainly worth crowing about! They probably makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile….

    I enjoyed your recent story on fireflies, btw. Female sexual selection is a way cool topic.

  4. Looks great! Can’t wait to get my hands on it…

  5. I must not have been paying enough attention, because I didn’t realize you were close to publishing another book.

    I see this is a textbook, but my question deals with its relation to “evolution”. At first glance this book seems like a re-tread.

    I assume the focus will be different? Is there a post I have missed that better explains the purpose and your goals for this book?

    I am mostly interested because the “evolution” book set me down a path that turned me atheist within a year after reading it, where before I was a hard-core Mormon.

    I’ll definately read anything you publish on evolution.

  6. QuinnO

    I don’t doubt it’s as good as it sounds. Can’t wait to read it!

  7. Carl Buell

    Thanks for letting me be part of the project Carl… but next time, I want to paint more elephants! 😉 <

  8. BarbOutsideBoston

    As someone who voted on the covers, but left a comment that I really wanted something else–you guys did a great job!
    And you should be deservedly proud of such glowing comments.
    Can’t wait to read it!
    (I became acquainted with your work when my 7th grade daughter decided to do her big research paper on whale evolution and we found your book by far the most readable technical info on the subject.)

  9. Such praise from E. O. Wilson….not bad, not bad :)
    I look forward to reading it!

  10. Todd Oakley

    As one who wanted to see diversity on the cover, I really like the final version, with the added “tangled bank” clearly above the water, and the focal point of Tiktaalik below.

  11. Love the cover, and you’ve got some amazing feedback! It sounds excellent, and I’ll keep an eye out for it (is it coming down to Australia?)

  12. NewEnglandBob

    The price of $59.95 will be an impediment to sales, unfortunately.

    Amazon is selling Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” with a list price of $30.00 for $19.80.

  13. Dave C

    NewEnglandBob – But Dawkins’ book is not a textbook, and Carl’s is. $60 for a textbook is actually quite reasonable. That said, the price tag is prohibitively high for me. Here’s hoping that my university’s library acquires it without delay!

  14. Mick

    Great job, Carl! I’m definitely going to buy it, and good idea using Tiktaalik on the front cover. If you get complements from E.O. Wilson, you know you’re doing something right.

  15. Kitty'sBitch

    Pre-ordered on Amazon! I fully intend to track you down and make you sign it though. If I’m going to pay this much, I need to be able to brag about it.
    Maybe something like
    “To Gary, who’s vast intellect and creativity is only surpassed by his rugged good looks. Carl”
    Yeah…yeah, that would work.

  16. NewEnglandBob

    Explain to me the difference between a non-fiction book of science and a textbook where one is 350 pages and the other is 400 pages?

    Does the word ‘textbook” make it premium?

    Don’t get me wrong. I love reading Carl’s books and articles. I will request my local town library acquire “The Tangled Bank” whether I buy it or not (surreptitiously help Carl’s sales). I am only trying to understand the price. I doubt Carl had anything to do with setting it.

  17. Kitty'sBitch

    I’m quite sure that there is a completely different approach to writing a textbook. You certainly can’t let things like personal opinion or bias creep in. I may be wrong but I assume that it’s quite a bit more difficult to put together than your standard non-fiction science text and I know that the potential market is significantly smaller. Those two points alone seem to justify the higher cost.
    Perhaps it will cross the line into the popular market and they can justify a lower cover price with larger print runs.
    Just a stab in the dark but it makes sense to me.

  18. Mel

    Text book paper stock tends to be much heavier, the binding is more solid, both things done to keep the book in good shape through the expected trauma that accrues to a book through being carried around to class and back and so on over a long period of time. There is also a lot of art that usually has to be paid for. I am sure that there are a lot of other factors that go into the high cost, but those just come to mind. Beyond that, #18 is very much right: textbooks are written very differently. They are intended as reference works, so they are not written in a narrative format, are much drier, more formal, and the topics covered are segregated into individual sections (usually) instead of being woven together at a fine scale. Even amidst this, though, there can be considerable variation. There is more than a bit of narrative in Ridley’s “Evolution” text, and his biases are displayed more than a bit.

  19. Arnold Mousetrouser (Australia)

    As one of the “complainers” about the earlier cover designs I now congratulate you on what has been developed. And it’s not a compromise: strikingly, it’s a whole new creative act and Carl Buell should be honoured for making the cover so alive and full of promise, reflecting what’s inside. Tiktaalik’s attitude (beady, determined, self-contained and confident) makes one proud to be one of his/her distant relations. I pre-ordered the book so long ago. But, with what’s already being written about the advance copies and the new cover, it’s obviously been worth the wait. AM (OZ)

  20. Brad

    Wow! Glowing reviews of an evolution textbook from truly impressive stars in the field of evolution! Almost like getting an honorary PhD – and IMHO, most PhD scientists don’t have the ambition, broad perspective, and writing skills required for a project of this scope. Congratulations!!

  21. Thanks for all the comments. In answer to various queries…

    [5] Measure: I think you’ll find a lot of differences between The Tangled Bank and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. For one thing, this is a textbook, in a good way: I have the room to dig deep into some concepts that might seem a little sketchy in a less in-depth treatment. I also have the luxury of lots of photographs and illustrations.

    Another difference is time. I wrote Evolution eight years ago. The discoveries that have been made since then are amazing. I try whenever possible to illustrate different parts of evolutionary biology with examples, and most of the examples I use come from the past couple years.

    [12, 17] New England Bob: For a textbook, The Tangled Bank is pretty affordable. A typical biology textbook may cost $150. One key difference between trade books and textbooks is the artwork. Typical tradebooks have a few line drawings and maybe a few black and white photographs. My textbook has lots of full-page artwork, including original paintings, some excellent photography, and original diagrams that will be able to communicate some of the concepts better than my prose alone can. This kind of book requires artists, illustrators, photo researchers, and high-quality paper stock and printing. But I am hoping that this will be the sort of textbook that people actually buy for their own enjoyment. That’s how I wrote it.

    I can’t comment too much about Dawkins’s book, not having yet seen it. But I would hope that people would not automatically look at this as an either/or situation.

    [16] Kitty’s B—- I’ll be ready to sign.

    [19] Mel–You’re right on the cost of textbooks, but I would never write something dry. The Tangled Bank has kinky sex, cannibalistic fathers, dangerous fossil hunting in the Arctic, and more.

    [20] Arnold–Very glad to hear you like the new incarnation. Carl Buell took a vague idea of mine, some dry paleontological literature, and created a lost world.

  22. Robin

    Textbook, Nextbook, Whatever.
    I tripped over Carl’s “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea” and have followed his work ever since. I have no idea what that book cost me, and care not what this will cost – it’s a “must have” from a great communicator.

  23. Kitty'sBitch

    Hear hear Robin!!
    I may even pick up a couple extra copies.
    Being raised southern baptist, there are a handful of creationists in my family, and Christmas comes around pretty quickly.
    They’re going to be even more irritated with me than usual this year.

  24. NewEnglandBob

    Thanks Carl. I didn’t know about the artwork. It certainly sounds expensive to produce. I have already ordered your book and requested the local library to do so also.

  25. David Despain

    Will be getting my copy for sure. Thanks for “Fireflies”.

  26. CoffeeCupContrails

    Feels great to have contributed, even in some small measure, to the cover of a book that has been receiving such great reviews. Glad to see the font and the theme have been modernized. On my Amazon wishlist.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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