He died very recently and he was, you could say, Mr Trilobite. There was nobody who knew so much or had published so much on trilobites as Harry Whittington. He supervised my PhD so naturally he should have a place in my five books. No, no, no, no. And we humans were among the last of them to appear. There was a tropical area and a cold area. But although the seas were similar, many of the characters that lived in the seas were very different. Some of the animals from Burgess Shale included great monsters — very, very strange-looking predators with grasping claws.
Later on, there would be lots of relatives of the nautilus, of which we have one living representative today, the pearly nautilus.
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In the past there were hundreds of different kinds. They were probably quite important predators. Trilobites were around before the first fish, but when they appeared they eventually included many strange armoured forms with great big plates over their bodies — really quite formidable — and the trilobites, as if in response, became extremely spiny about that time.
Some of them are like hedgehogs, they are so spiny. They have a great monetary value. Well prepared, dug out of the rock, you can pay two or three thousand dollars for a good trilobite, but you have to go to the right place. This is a book about the beginning of things. So we are now going right back in time, not just before the dinosaurs, not just before the trilobites, but to the very, very early days on the planet.
When Charles Darwin was around, no fossils were around from this period. Because of new techniques mostly, but also because people have taken the trouble to look properly. Knoll tells very well the story of the development of the early years of our planet and how life actually shaped it, because not a lot of people know that it was life itself that made the planet habitable for animals. In the early days there was little oxygen, which of course all animals, including us, need to breathe.
In fact, early life evolved and appeared in the absence of oxygen. It was only when organisms appeared that were able to carry out photosynthesis — mostly bacteria to start with, followed by algae — that oxygen was released. So, in other words, we would have died of suffocation in the early days of the planet.
It took two billion years of work by these organisms to oxygenate the planet sufficiently for our kind of life, including the trilobites, dinosaurs and ourselves to evolve. Two billion. Two thousand million years, yes.
Most people have heard about the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago — but the biggest dying of them was at the end of the Permian, million years ago. This was when life really did nearly die out. More than 90 per cent of species became extinct, seas became poisoned, and life was put through a kind of squeezer from which it only just emerged, and everything that appeared afterwards had to have passed through that squeezer.
It was the most important extinction event in the history of the planet, no question. You will know about continental drift, and at that time all the continents came together in one great massive supercontinent called Pangaea, which eventually had a terrible effect on climate.
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Deserts grew and there were very few places where rich, diverse life could carry on. Vertebrates were reduced to very few species which could walk from one end of the earth to the other. Trilobites were one of the victims, but some things survived, of course, and those things gave rise to all subsequent life.
It reset the whole calendar. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books or even just what you say about them please email us at editor fivebooks. Major Features of Evolution , G. Simpson, , Columbia University Press. Major Features expanded and solidified the fundamental role of paleontology in evolutionary theory. It is probably worth reading both books to understand the early development of paleobiology.
Two gems in these books are the idea of adaptive zones and the quantitative approach to taxonomic and morphologic rates of evolution.
Ontogeny and Phylogeny , S. Gould, , Belknap Press.
In the first half of the book, Gould traced the idea of a relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny from Aristotle through Agassiz, von Baer, and Haeckel. In the last half of the book Gould articulated his vision of heterochrony and macroevolution. Ontogeny and Phylogeny inspired me early in my career. It is a well written, scholarly treatment of heterochrony that must be read by those interested in macroevolution. Macroevolution: Pattern and Process , S. Stanley, , W. Freeman and Company. He called this process species selection and suggested that it was analogous to natural selection, but with species as the unit of selection, rather than the individual.
He argued further that macroevolution was therefore decoupled from microevolution. Evolutionary Paleoecology of the Marine Biosphere, , J. Valentine, Prentice Hall, Inc. Valentine raised all the major questions still facing the field today, such as niche evolution, diversity regulation over a range of scales, and long-term ecological trends in the marine biosphere. Every student of paleoecology should read this book. Vermeij, , Princeton University Press.
The escalation hypothesis, as Vermeij calls it, states that the evolutionary history of plants and animals and their enemies should be marked by changes in morphology and behavior that reflect predator-prey interactions. Vermeij draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of modern and fossil life emphasis on mollusks to make his case. This book inspired a large body of work testing the implications of escalation for the fossil record in a wide range of taxonomic groups. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? Raup, , W. Norton and Co. New York. He presents two fundamental ideas worth considering.
The Darwins had ten children; two died in infancy, and Annie's death at the age of ten had a devastating effect on her parents. Charles was a devoted father and uncommonly attentive to his children. He examined this topic in his writings, contrasting it with the advantages of crossing amongst many organisms.
Of his surviving children, three became Fellows of the Royal Society - these were George , Francis and Horace , distinguished as astronomer ,  botanist and civil engineer , respectively.
Though Charles Darwin's family background was Nonconformist , and his father, grandfather and brother were Freethinkers ,  at first he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible. When investigating transmutation of species he knew that his naturalist friends thought this a bestial heresy undermining miraculous justifications for the social order, the kind of radical argument then being used by Dissenters and atheists to attack the Church of England's privileged position as the established church.
He continued to help the local church with parish work, but on Sundays would go for a walk while his family attended church. The " Lady Hope Story ", published in , claimed that Darwin had converted to Christianity on his sickbed.
The claims were refuted by Darwin's children and have been dismissed as false by historians. Darwin's theories and writings, combined with Gregor Mendel 's genetics , the " modern synthesis " form the basis of all modern biology. Following Darwin's publication of the Origin , his cousin, Francis Galton , applied the concepts to human society, starting in with ideas to promote "hereditary improvement" which he elaborated at length in The ideas of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer which applied ideas of evolution and " survival of the fittest " to societies, nations and businesses became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, and were used to defend various, sometimes contradictory, ideological perspectives including laissez-faire economics ,  colonialism ,  racism and imperialism.
During Darwin's lifetime many species and geographical features were given his name. An expanse of water adjoining the Beagle Channel was named Darwin Sound by Robert FitzRoy after Darwin's prompt action saved them from being marooned on a nearby shore when a collapsing glacier caused a large wave that would have swept away their boats,  and the nearby Mount Darwin in the Andes was named in celebration of Darwin's 25th birthday.
Hart 's list of the most influential figures in history. His impressive, luxuriant beard which was reportedly difficult to forge was said to be a contributory factor to the bank's choice. As a humorous celebration of evolution, the annual Darwin Award is bestowed on individuals who "improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it. Darwin has been the subject of many exhibitions, including the "Darwin" exhibition organised by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in and shown in various cities in the US.
FitzRoy's diary during the ascent of the River Santa Cruz in Patagonia recorded his opinion that the plains were raised beaches , but on return, newly married to a very religious lady, he recanted these ideas. De Simone: "Gilman shared many basic educational ideas with the generation of thinkers who matured during the period of "intellectual chaos" caused by Darwin's Origin of the Species. Marked by the belief that individuals can direct human and social evolution, many progressives came to view education as the panacea for advancing social progress and for solving such problems as urbanization, poverty, or immigration.