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The Sciences

Pictures From A Proud Book Papa

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The 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.)

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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