A good egg in principle

Fossils and Evolution. First Edition

February 25, 2000

This book is aimed at undergraduate biologists and geologists studying courses on evolution and is intended to bridge the "epistemological gap". That is to say - the gulf in perspective between biologists and palaeontologists when addressing questions concerning the process of evolution.

Fossils and Evolution is divided into two parts titled "Principles" and "Practices". The former is a clearly written and understandable outline of the nature of the fossil record and its limitations, as well as the methods that are used to analyse fossil taxa and their relationships in combination with the geological record and feed this information into a wider understanding of evolution as a process. The latter then attempts to weave the principles coherently into the evidence that is currently available from the fossil record; this narrative is constantly checked and balanced by the modern biological perspective on many of these issues.

Though generally interesting in its content, my perception is that this is a curate's egg of a book. The principles section is well explained and useful as an introduction, though its tone is unmistakably patronising, but the further reading sections are a useful adjunct to the undergraduate. The practices section also has a variety of quite wide-ranging examples, but the degree to which the topics are covered varies considerably and is in some instances quite poor. The book is one that can be dipped into quite profitably and should be in departmental libraries but it should not, in my opinion, be read in isolation.

David Norman is director, Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge.


Fossils and Evolution. First Edition

Author - T. S. Kemp
ISBN - 0 19 850 345 8 and 424 1
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £47.50 and £14.99
Pages - 284

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