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The Grand History of Life

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

-- Charles Darwin, ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 6th ed., p. 429

Many of my books about fossils don't limit themselves to any particular period or any one group of life-forms. Instead, they deal with paleontology in general and the entire grand sweep of life on Earth.

Paleontology as a Science

Paleontology, the study of fossils, is one of the youngest of the life sciences. Two hundred years ago it basically didn't exist. It grew through the 1800s, and became a major field of research in the early 1900s.

  • ARCHETYPES AND ANCESTORS: PALEONTOLOGY IN VICTORIAN LONDON
    Author: Desmond, Adrian
    Copyright:1982
    Publisher: Univ of Chicago
    ISBN: 0-226-14343-0
    A personal look at the recent discoveries of Precambrian fossils, plus a lot of material on simple cell biology and some excellent photos of Precambrian fossils.
  • DIATOMS TO DINOSAURS: The Size and Scale of Living Things
    Author: McGowan, Chris
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Island Press
    ISBN: 1-55963-304-2

  • PRACTICAL PALEONTOLOGIST, THE
    Author: Parker, Steve
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: Fireside Books
    ISBN: 0-671-69307-7
    Basic introduction to the techniques of paleontology. One of a series.
  • SLEUTHING FOSSILS: THE ART OF INVESTIGATING PAST LIFE
    Author: Cvancara, Alan M.
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
    ISBN: 0-471-62077-7
    Basic intro guide to finding and investigating fossils.

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General Books about Life

These books examine the entire known history of life on Earth, from Precambrian microfossils to recent times.

  • FOSSIL BOOK, THE: A Record of Prehistoric Life
    Author: Rich, Rich, Fenton, & Fenton
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Dover Books
    ISBN: 0-486-29371-8

  • FOSSILS AND THE HISTORY OF LIFE
    Author: Simpson, George Gaylord
    Copyright:1983
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-1564-3

  • FOSSILS OF ALL AGES
    Author: Fischer and Valy
    Copyright:1976
    Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
    ISBN: 0-448-14718-1
    'Coffee-table book' of text and excellent photographs about fossils from all groups and time periods.
  • HISTORY OF LIFE
    Author: Cowen, Richard
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Blackwell Science
    ISBN: 0-86542-354-7

  • LEARNING FROM THE FOSSIL RECORD
    Author: Scotchmoor & McKinney (ed.)
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Paleo Society
    ISBN: 1089-3326

  • LIFE OF THE PAST
    Author: Lane, N. Gary
    Copyright:1978
    Publisher: Bell & Howell
    ISBN: 0-675-08411-3

  • MACMILLAN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DINOSAURS AND PREHISTORIC ANIMALS
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: MacMillan Publishing
    ISBN: 0-02-042981-9

  • MEANING OF FOSSILS, THE
    Author: Rudwick, Martin J.S.
    Copyright:1985
    Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press
    ISBN: 0-226-73103-0

  • PREHISTORIC JOURNEY
    Author: Johnson and Stuckey
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Roberts Rinehart
    ISBN: 1-57098-045-4
    Brief overview of the evolution of life, focusing on land life and especially on dinosaurs and mammals.
  • PREHISTORIC LIFE: The Rise of the Vertebrates
    Author: Norman, David
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: MacMillan Publishing
    ISBN: 0-671-79940-1
    'Coffee-table book' overview of the evolutionary history of life, focusing on the path that led to the vertebrates and on the evolutionary history of the vertebrate groups.
  • SCIENCE TIMES BOOK OF FOSSILS AND EVOLUTION, THE
    Author: Wade, Nicholas (ed.)
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Lyons Press
    ISBN: 1-55821-652-9

  • WANDERING LANDS AND ANIMALS
    Author: Colbert, Edwin
    Copyright:1973
    Publisher: E. P. Dutton
    ISBN: 0-525-22976-0
    Master palaeontologist Edwin Colbert lived through the revolution in geology that came in the 1950s and 1960s with the theory of plate tectonics. This book talks about some of the evidence he collected that helped prove plate tectonics was correct, particularly the set of fossils known as the Glossopteris fauna: fossil animals found through South America and Africa but nowhere else, always in association with a fossil plant named Glossopteris, in a pattern that was easy to explain by continental drift but almost impossible to explain any other way.

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On Extinction

More than 98% of the species that have ever lived on earth are now extinct. It's the eventual fate of all lifeforms, as far as we know. Yet we understand less than we think about why it happens, and less than that about the so-called "mass extinctions," those Great Dyings when large swathes of the natural world are cut down in a relatively short time. These books look at the mysteries of extinction, why and when it happens ... and perhaps, possibly, how we might be able to avoid it ourselves.

  • EXTINCTION
    Author: Stanley, Steven M.
    Copyright:1987
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-5014-7

  • EXTINCTION: BAD GENES OR BAD LUCK?
    Author: Raup, David M.
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-03008-3
    Raup examines the phenomenon of extinction as it's documented in the fossil record, and considers whether it's due to "bad genes" (being genetically unable to adapt) or "bad luck" (being unable to change rapidly enough to adapt to sudden and sharp changes in environment).
  • FOSSILS: THE EVOLUTION AND EXTINCTION OF SPECIES
    Author: Eldredge, Niles
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: Aurum Press
    ISBN: 1-85410-198-6
    Another coffee-table book, containing a large collection of photos and text illustrating many fossil animal species that are now extinct.
  • GREAT PALEOZOIC CRISIS, THE
    Author: Erwin, Douglas
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-231-07467-0
    A detailed look at the mass extinction that ended the Permian, and ecological patterns in the Late Permian. The Late Permian extinction was the largest in the entire fossil record, even worse than the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

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Paleontology Textbooks

Paleontology is an ever-moving science, and much of what paleontologists think they know today may be outdated tomorrow. Even textbooks (or perhaps especially textbooks) fall victim to the march of science. Still, if you want the best information available, textbooks are where to look. I've collected several textbooks on paleontology -- some old and now outdated, some more recent and still mostly accurate.

  • EARTH AND LIFE THROUGH TIME, 2nd Ed.
    Author: Stanley, Steven M.
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-1975-4
    Undergrad paleontology/geology textbook, focusing on changes in both life and geology/geography over time.
  • PALEOCOMMUNITY TEMPORAL DYNAMICS
    Author: Miller III, William (ed.)
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: Paleo Society
    ISBN: 0-931377-05-4

  • PALEONTOLOGY AND PALEOENVIRONMENTS
    Author: Skinner, Brian
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Kauffman
    ISBN: 0-913232-93-9

  • PALEOTECHNIQUES
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Paleontological Society
    ISBN: 0-931377-04-2
    Collection of articles on techniques of paleontology.
  • PATTERNS AND PROCESSES OF VERTEBRATE EVOLUTION
    Author: Carroll, Robert
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-521-47809-X

  • PREHISTORIC LIFE
    Author: Raymond, Percy E.
    Copyright:1939
    Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0674429974
    A college text showing the state of the art in paleontology and paleo-evolutionary theory as of 1939.
  • PRINCIPLES OF PALEONTOLOGY (2nd Ed.)
    Author: Raup, David & Stanley, Steven
    Copyright:1978
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-0022-0

  • PROCESSION OF LIFE, THE
    Author: Romer, Alfred S.
    Copyright:1968
    Publisher: World Publishing
    ISBN: 0876631162

  • VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY (3rd Edition)
    Author: Romer, Alfred
    Copyright:1966
    Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press
    ISBN: 0-226-72488-3
    For over half a century and three editions, this was the classic undergraduate textbook on vertebrate paleontology. First published in 1933 and revised in 1945 and 1966, it was only supplanted when Robert Carroll published his _Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution_ in 1988.
  • VERTEBRATE STORY, THE
    Author: Romer, Alfred Sherwood
    Copyright:1959
    Publisher: Univ of Chicago
    ISBN: 0-226-72490-5

  • MAJOR FEATURES OF VERTEBRATE EVOLUTION
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Paleontological Society
    ISBN:
    Collection of articles on vertebrate evolution, as presented at the Society's Short Courses in Paleontology seminar #7.

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