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Found 1 result

  1. a book review of: Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution by David Rains Wallace. University of California Press. 2004. It is always great to see a new paleontology book at my local bookstore. It is especially intriguing when it concerns a group of organisms other than dinosaurs, the subject of the vast majority of them. "Beasts of Eden" is about the evolution of mammals but with a twist. The author, David Rains Wallace, chose to approach the science through art. He uses two famous murals by Rudolph Zallinger, "The Age of Reptiles" and "The Age of Mammals" (both on display in Yale University's Peabody Museum) as launching points for his discussions of the animals now immortalized in paint and rock. I expected to see full-color reproductions of the murals as a two-page spread in the first chapter or perhaps as a deluxe fold-out in the middle of the book or even just a web address to view them online. However, all the reader gets are sections of "The Age of Mammals" and all but one, the book jacket cover image, are black-and-white images scattered across the chapters. Even if you scanned each section and tried to Photoshop them together in the correct sequence, there would still be transitional slices missing (was he mimicking the fossil record?). Wallace describes the range of color from one end of the mural to another, the spring greens of the Eocene to the autumn golds and reds of the Pleistocene, but the reader sees only the shades of most of the latter. The Zallinger murals are well-known, especially if you grew up in the 60's or 70's as they were reproduced at least in part in many popular science books, but it is asking a lot of the average natural history buff or budding paleontologist have them memorized ahead of time. I would guess that this is not the fault of the author - seems more like a bad editing decision. How do you publish a book that describes a painting without a photo of the painting included? I happened to see the Japanese edition of this book and it did contain a full-color fold-out reproduction of the mural, which of course only compounds the mystery of why the English one was left relatively artless. . Besides the black-and-white mural images, there are relatively few other illustrations. Some chapters contain no photos nor drawings to support the text. This might be tolerated in a technical journal article (hey, professional paleontologists like pictures too) but "Beasts of Eden" is geared to a mainstream readership. When tackling a scientific subject, the text should be broken up with at least occasional, if not frequent, visuals. Still, I must recommend this book because it is well-researched and well-written. Wallace provides a good short course version of mammal evolution, summarizing the contributions of researchers across the past two hundred years (Cuvier, Darwin, Cope, Marsh, Andrews, etc.). He knows how to juggle scientific names and technical terms, blending them into everyday language so that the text never gets too heavy to digest. This is a good book for the amateur mammal fossil collector or general fossil collector with an interest in mammals. Jess
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