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The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
The Tangled Bank is the first textbook about evolution intended for the general reader. Zimmer, an award-winning science writer, takes readers on a fascinating journey into the latest discoveries about evolution. In the Canadian Arctic, paleontologists unearth fossils documenting the move of our ancestors from sea to land. In the outback of Australia, a zoologist tracks some of the world's deadliest snakes to decipher the 100-million-year evolution of venom molecules. In Africa, geneticists are gathering DNA to probe the origin of our species. In clear, non-technical language, Zimmer explains the central concepts essential for understanding new advances in evolution, including natural selection, genetic drift, and sexual selection. He demonstrates how vital evolution is to all branches of modern biology--from the fight against deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the analysis of the human genome. Richly illustrated with over 300 illustrations and photographs, The Tangled Bank is essential reading for anyone who wants understand the history of life on Earth.
||Roberts and Company Publishers|
||October 15, 2009|
|Average Customer Rating:
|| based on 9 reviews|
Average Customer Review:
( 9 customer reviews )
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70 of 70 found the following review helpful:
A treasure for any libraryDec 22, 2009
By Michael Heath
Tangled Bank distinguishes itself amongst a heady group of recent publications as a masterpiece of science writing, publishing, instruction, and as a reference book. It has immediately become one of the books in my library that I most treasure.
2009 was a great year for students and supporters of science, especially those that study evolution given it's the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's 1st edition of The Origin Of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition. The year was celebrated partly by several practicing scientists publishing excellent books about evolution directed towards the general reader, nearly all of which were complementary rather than redundant. Having read seven books covering evolution this year, and several that were published just prior to 2009, it's my position that Tangled Bank stands above the rest of the herd, in spite the others also being very worthy of consideration.
Not only is Tangled Bank a great book on evolution on your first read, but it is structured in a way that allows it be used as an extremely valuable reference source. At 9.75 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide, it's large enough to provide ample space on its pages which are filled with beautiful color illustrations, color photos, and other color graphics that greatly help reinforce the subject matter. The quality of the cover and the paper is also first rate so it should be able to sustain a long usable life.
While Tangled Bank is being described as a textbook, it's important to distinguish how Tangled Bank is different from the stereotypical textbook. Tangled Bank does not include quizzes, exercises, or tests; instead it can be identified as a textbook based on the structure of the subject material and framing, which is instructive rather than argumentative or a narrative like some of the other evolution books published recently. Each chapter of Tangled Bank ends with a "To Sum Up" page that presents a bullet point list to both help reinforce the objective of the chapter's instruction and help in future reference searches. While most textbooks of this quality can cost as much as $150, Amazon's current price of $40, or even the list price of $60 make this a true bargain given how many years I predict this book will be able to provide value, even as the rate of discoveries increases over time.
In addition Mr. Zimmer provides an excellent reference section categorized by both chapter and subject matter. Nearly all of Mr. Zimmer's references are either peer-reviewed articles generally accepted by the scientific community, or books popular with the scientific community that report on multiple peer-reviewed articles in a certain topical area germane to the chapter Zimmer covers. One reason Mr. Zimmer is an outstanding journalist is his intellectual honesty, where he is careful to report and distinguish between where science is confident in its explanations and where there is either controversy or a lack of confidence.
I would distinguish the closest competitor to what Mr. Zimmer does in Tangled Bank for the general reader to Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (aka TGSOE) as follows. TGSOE is like a semester of seminars with a brilliant retired biologist with a wide command of the subject matter but also susceptible to frequent soliloquies that are often tangential, personal to the point it veers from what science understands or peer-accepts (where in the latter case Dawkins' is careful to note) and often illuminating but also sacrifices scientific findings for Dawkins personal reflections. Many of Dr. Dawkins' personal ruminations do serve to reinforce either the subject matter, scientific methodology, or are illuminative on how some research scientists think. However some of his reflections actually supplant what practicing scientists doing research are discovering with Dawkins' own non-fact based speculations, e.g., probability of life on other planets and how it could differ from life on earth.
Tangled Bank on the other hand is a more comprehensive self-guided tutorial of evolution. It's far more ambitious in terms of covering more topics within the relevant scientific disciplines and the format of instructional text coupled to far more graphics guarantees the reader will have a much better understanding of the theory of evolution than they would from books primarily focused on text alone (though Dawkins book does provide some nice color photos). I would argue that given Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True provides a far more compelling and concise argument for the evidence of evolution than TGSOE; Tangled Bank makes TGSOE an unnecessary purchase.
While the Tangled Bank's subtitle states, "An Introduction to Evolution", it's my opinion that very few readers would not greatly benefit from owning and perusing this book even if their job is germane to some aspect of the life sciences and they've formally trained in the life sciences through the undergrad level or gone to med school. While it's true that Mr. Zimmer only introduces the topics he covers by chapter rather than drilling down into the 200-level or beyond on any of the topics, the theory of evolution covers a broad cross-section of scientific disciplines and Mr. Zimmer covers nearly all of them. So while someone whose studied developmental biology or cell biology might not learn much on those topics as they're covered here, I think they'd still benefit from Mr. Zimmer's excellent chapters covering radiations and extinctions, the evolution of behavior, or other topics tangential to their field of expertise or subjects studied years ago given Zimmer's ample reporting of recent findings. I've been studying evolution now for thirty-plus years and I either learned quite a bit about topics I'd previously covered, or was re-introduced to subjects with a plethora of additional findings since I last studied the topic.
This is truly a masterpiece of textbook publishing for the general reader.
42 of 43 found the following review helpful:
Evolution In Living ColorNov 05, 2009
Truly a beautiful book...the numerous illustrations are colorful and bright, and they make you want to look closer and really learn and appreciate the details of evolution and life's history.
I've decided that Zimmer and Dawkins (Richard) are certainly my favorite evolution writers. But Zimmer's books tend to be [just a] little more appealing to me the way the material visually comes alive as compared to Dawkins' books.
I have my own little library of science, biology, and evolution books, and I could not image my collection being complete without this book now. It's a must-have.
30 of 33 found the following review helpful:
Decent textbook, but geared toward beginnersNov 21, 2009
As far as textbooks go, The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution is a pretty good one. Visually, it has a lot of great charts, pictures, and cladograms. It is a fun textbook in that sense. The text is well written and accessible to a wide audience, which was Carl Zimmer's goal. If you know absolutely nothing about evolution, I would definitely recommend this as a start.
However, The Tangled Bank really is an introduction. This same accessibility also makes the text a bit too basic for more advanced readers. If you've read, say, Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution or Why Evolution Is True, you might find The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution boring or repetitive. If you haven't, you've got a lot to look forward to with The Tangled Bank.
10 of 10 found the following review helpful:
Perfect marriage of image and text.Jan 05, 2010
With Zimmer providing the text, I knew this book was going to engagingly written and up-to-date with cutting-edge evolutionary discoveries, and the words do not disappoint. In a series of extraordinary science books written for popular audiences, including "At the Water's Edge" and "Parasite Rex," it is difficult to pick a "magnum opus," but this is Zimmer's most comprehensive, extensive, nearly exhaustive work, and welcome addition to his corpus.
The thing that makes this book--which has all the strengths of a textbook in terms of organization, explanation, and examples, but few of the weaknesses such as stodginess, condescension, or reliance on jargon--among the most valuable on evolution is the perfect combination of verbal explanation and top-notch illustration. This is a richly, lavishly illustrated book, and when it comes to evolution, seeing really is believing. As brilliant as Darwin's output was, it contained only one illustration--a paltry little bush-looking thing representing the "tree of life," with the caption, "I think..." In "Tangled," virtually every page is a riot of graphics representing genes, photos of fossils, charts comparing homologies, and so forth. And all is stitched together by Zimmer's confident, conversational prose.
I hope that there are plans to release this book as a less expensive soft cover book in the future. As crucial as "Tangled" will be to libraries and high school biology classes, it should be accessible to more interested laypersons, and if the book has a single weakness, it is its cost. I'm not saying the expense isn't justified--it's still a pretty good value considering what you get. But anything more than, say, $20 or so for a book of this type probably puts it out of the reach of a good many young people who would truly love the exciting information it contains.
Final note: The cover is great. It's the famous "fishapod," Tiktaalik, brought to life in a highly compelling illustration. It would make a terrific poster.
21 of 25 found the following review helpful:
Good but not greatFeb 06, 2010
By J. Magee
I really wanted to love this book. We are fortunate to have an abundance of excellent writers about evolution, and Zimmer is one of the best. In this book, intended to be a college textbook, he forsakes his usual prose for a bland textbook-ese, which robs his writing of punch. However, as a classroom textbook, this book lacks the sort of clarity of organization and explicit learning objectives that would justify the sacrifice of Zimmer's usual prose style.
A strength of the book is its constant use of recent research examples. I would have loved to see some of them spelled out with more detail.
Finally, there are problems with a couple of illustrations. The diagram on p. 198 appears to confuse chromatids with homologous chromosomes, and there was another confusing diagram that I can't find right now (sorry, I hate to do that).
I'm hoping for an improved second edition.
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