Pictures From A Proud Book Papa

By Carl Zimmer | August 29, 2009 12:51 pm


The stork UPS man pitched a box through the front door this morning. Inside was an advance copy of my new book, The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution. The paternal photographer in me took over, and now I have to show off my snaps. Above is a picture that I like for two reasons. One is the way it shows off Carl Buell’s lovely (and crowd-critiqued) cover. The other is the way it illustrates the book’s far-less-than-a-doorstop mass, which is all too typical for textbooks these days. In fact, the book’s smaller than Tino, our far-less-than-a-doorstop cat.

I also took some pictures of the inside, because I’m always astonished by how different pictures and text look when they’re actually on a physical book page, rather than on a monitor or spat out from a printer. (Fortunately, in this case, they look better.)


Here’s a typical chapter opener–living microbes growing in mats (known as stromatolites) above 3.5 billion year old fossils of stromatolites (some of the oldest evidence of life on Earth). To the right is paleontologist Abigail Allwood, who studies these fossils.


Conveying the vast time scales of life’s history is a perennial challenge. We chose to run a timeline across the front and back endpapers (the back one, covering the last 600 million years is in this picture).


Another challenge in a book like this is to get readers to start thinking about evolution in trees, rather than as linear marches of progress. Kevin Padian, a UC Berkeley paleontologist (and Tangled Bank advisor), has called for new illustrations he calls “evograms.” These are pictures that combining the branches of the tree of life with details showing homologies and fossil evidence. (Here’s an open-access paper he wrote about evograms last year.) I have a number of evograms in my book, like this one for birds. I think The Tangled Bank is the first textbook to use evograms, and now that they’re in print, I am glad I followed Kevin’s advice.
Of course, while the tree of life is a powerful metaphor for evolution, it does not work in some cases. I particularly liked the way the biologists Ford Doolittle and Tal Dagan have visualized the complex, web-like patterns of evolution brought about by horizontal gene transfer. So I included them in the book, too.


And, of course, the book includes as many paintings as we could squeeze out of Carl Buell. Here’s one showing the convergent evolution of saber toothed marsupials and placentals.

The book’s not perfect, of course; I see things I should have done better, and even a couple errors to be fixed at the soonest opportunity. I’ll set up an errata page when the book comes out in October, and I’ll welcome notes from readers. But, for now, I’m just reveling in the real-ness.

(To see what E.O. Wilson and other biologists have to say about The Tangled Bank, check out this post.)


Comments (25)

  1. Parent and offspring doing well I see! Congrats.
    As for doing better: that way lies madness. It looks great. Sufficient unto the day the pleasures thereof; think errata tomorrow.

    best, T.

  2. Louise Gordon

    Congratulations! Tino’s smile has nearly convinced me to read the book. :-)

  3. NewEnglandBob

    You wrote a book? :)

  4. Heather Hazel

    I want one! No, I want TWENTY! Beautiful :)

  5. khan
  6. Way cool. Much prettier than mine, and more useful!

  7. John Monfries

    It looks magnificent. Congratulations.

    Yes, those sabretooth cats do look awe-inspiring, but I dont know if I’d call them cute….

  8. Oh my,

    This is brilliant.

    Totally well done with your book! ! (also my mums previous cat looked like thisd one)…

  9. Just wondered if the editor/webteam know,

    I have refreshed this page a coupl e of times but no change – the text to one one side of this page (left) is very much overlapping the right area with Carl’s pic on it, if you see what I mean. The text part that overlaps is now a word column, but next to each picture, which looks odd. Could be my browser, but it appears ok on the other pages. Just thought be best to mention.


  10. minusRusty

    Can’t wait to get my copy! w00t!

    Also, I’m having the same problem as Claire regarding the layout of this post.


  11. John Monfries

    My screen too looks the same as Claire’s.

  12. Mark

    Congrations! It looks beautiful. Will you be doing a tour?

  13. Laura Klappenbach

    Congratulations Carl, looks like a beautiful book! I’m looking forward to buying a copy.

  14. Sarah TX

    Beautiful! I love me some colorful, thoughtful, informational science drawings!

  15. Bob Shurtleff

    You might want to have a nerd check your website. The display of the book page overlaps on my screen at resolution 1280 by 1024. The images have way too many pixels, so it takes a long time to load. There is a line through some of your words, and a couple of paragraphs are displayed one word per line. (Sorry.)

  16. starbuck


    I hope you sell a lot of books.

    I also urge you to renounce darwinian evolution.

    The paradigm is shifting, the evidence is gathering,
    and darwinian evolution is withering on the vine.

    “Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium, teems with molecular contraptions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist. As they incessantly shake or spin or crawl around the cell, these machines cut, paste and copy genetic molecules, shuttle nutrients around or turn them into energy, build and repair cellular membranes, relay mechanical, chemical or electrical messages—the list goes on and on, and new discoveries add to it all the time.
    It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines, which are mostly protein-based catalysts called enzymes, could have formed spontaneously as life first arose from nonliving matter around 3.7 billion years ago.”

    Alonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak, “The Origin of Life on Earth” [preview], p 54-61 v 301, Scientific American, Sep 2009.

  17. outeast

    Oh dear, Carl;

    Your new book not even out and already it’s been shown to be a tissue of falsehoods that have withered on the vine. After all your effort, though, perhaps you should allow a few thousand copies of your book to sell before you go public with your long-overdue renunciation of darwinian evolution.

    In all honesty, I’m not sure how you could have made such an egregious error. You’ve written about Szostak (insightfully quoted by starbuck, above) and his colleagues several times: surely you must have noticed that their work is a paradigm-shifting challenge to the nonsensical idea of evolution?

    Oh well; I pity you for the immediate redundancy of your book. In fact, I pity you so much I shall charitably buy a copy or two – if nothing else my grandchildren, some day in the future, will take pleasure in perusing the foolish myths which we used to believe in.

    Sorrowfully yours,


    Carl: Outeast, save me your pity. I’ve written about Szostak’s work several times for places like Science and Discover. Szostak himself says that the origin of life is equivalent to the origin of evolution.

  18. starbuck

    Carl wrote:

    “Szostak himself says that the origin of life is equivalent to the origin of evolution.”

    What is so hard about accepting the possibility that life is much older than the earth and came to earth with all the information to allow the emergence of these “molecular contraptions” already in place?

    For evolution to proceed, new genes must be installed from the outside. The really interesting question is “where did these genes come from”?

    Carl: You cite Szostak as your authority, and yet Szostak explains research indicating how life may have begun on Earth.

  19. Outeast

    I know you’ve written about szostak (as i mentioned) and i am very familiar with what you’ve written on the subject of his research. Hence my comment, which was meant entirely ironically as a mockery of starbuck. sorry it was misunderstood…

    Carl: I think there needs to be an irony emoticon.

  20. Darren Garrison

    Here’s an irony emoticon for you:


  21. Hannibal Chew

    “You cite Szostak as your authority, and yet Szostak explains research indicating how life may have begun on Earth.”

    Maybe he’s changing his mind.

    Maybe you should too.

  22. Congrats Carl… I’ll certainly be using this book in a class I teach (for non-biology majors).

  23. Owlmirror

    Congratulations on a beautiful book. Carl Buell outdid himself, I think.

    I will bet an ounce of Spanish gold nailed to the mast of a whaling-ship that “starbuck” is Charlie Wagner, yet again: Panspermia is his Moby-Dick.

    For those unaware, Jack Szostak is a researcher into the chemical origins of life. He has not suddenly given up and said that it is actually a hopeless venture.


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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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