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About the book:

An unusual scientific reference work by any measure, The Book of Life opens with an unusual protest from its editor, Stephen Jay Gould, who worries that it may have left out much of importance discovered between the present and the book's original publication in 1993. Gould's worry is well placed--in the last few years, many advances have been made in taxonomy and genetics, to name just two areas. Still, the book is a lucid, readily comprehensible, and largely up-to-date overview of the origins and evolution of life on earth, from the emergence of bacteria 4 billion years ago to that of Homo sapiens in recent geological time. Written by distinguished scientists, the text proceeds chronologically, giving an in-depth account of the fossil record. It is matched by hundreds of paintings, drawings, charts, and graphs that reinforce the authors' discussions.

More than all that, The Book of Life is a manifesto proclaiming the essential correctness of evolutionary theory, which has come under fire in places like Afghanistan and Kansas. "Life has changed through time," paleontologist Michael Benton observes. "No other explanation will account for the sequence and variety of the life forms preserved as fossils, or the history recorded since humankind began to draw, paint, and carve, about 30,000 years ago." The book's careful documentation of those changes makes it a highly useful reference for high school and university students, and it's a book that rewards casual browsing as well. --Gregory McNamee

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