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2009 National Book Award Finalist,
Nonfiction

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Sean B. Carroll
Remarkable Creatures
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

 


Photo Credit: Steve Paddock

CITATION

All scientific knowledge—including the discovery that biological evolution has produced the fantastic diversity of living things—originated in the minds of individuals who dared to think what others had not thought before. In his deeply informed account of the pioneers of evolutionary science, Sean Carroll tells, with humor, grace, and compassion, the stories of the adventurers and visionaries who forever changed our perceptions of ourselves and our relationship with the living world.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Just 150 years ago, most of our world was an unexplored wilderness. Our sense of its age was vastly off the mark, and what we believed to be the history of our own species consisted of fantastic myths and fairy tales. How did we learn so much so quickly? Remarkable Creatures celebrates the pioneers who replaced our fancies with the even more incredible true story of how our world evolved. Sean B. Carroll and his cast of naturalists take readers on a rousing voyage through the most dramatic adventures and important discoveries in two centuries of natural history.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean B. Carroll is professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo, and a best science book of the year in Discover magazine and USA Today.

Sean is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received numerous awards and recognitions. Sean was named one of America's most promising leaders under 40 by TIME Magazine in 1994.

SUGGESTED LINKS

Sean B. Carroll's Official Website
http://seanbcarroll.com/

The Carroll Laboratory
http://www.molbio.wisc.edu/carroll/

Sean B. Carroll's Wikipedia Entry
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_B._Carroll

UPCOMING EVENTS

Wednesday October 21st, 2009
Perimeter Institute
Waterloo Ontario

Monday October 26th, 2009
Georgia State
Atlanta

Tuesday October 27th, 2009
Otterbein College
Columbus OH

Wednesday October 28th, 2009
Transylvania University
Lexington KY

Friday November 13th, 2009
NABT Convention
Denver CO

Tuesday November 17th, 2009
University of Puerto Rico

November 30th - December 1st, 2009
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario

Wednesday February 10th, 2010
Iowa State University
Ames IA

April 29th-30th, 2010
University of Texas-Austin
Austin TX

EXCERPT

Excerpted from REMARKABLE CREATURES: Epic Adventures In the Search for the Origin of Species by Sean B. Carroll. Copyright © 2009 by Sean B. Carroll. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Not so long ago, most of the world was an unexplored wilderness. The animals, plants, and people that inhabited the lands beyond Europe were unknown, at least as far as the Western world was concerned. The rivers and jungles of the Amazon, the Badlands of Patagonia and of the American West, the tropical forests of Indonesia, the savannah and center of Africa, the vast interior of Central Asia, the polar regions, and the many chains of islands that dot the oceans were complete mysteries.

And, while our knowledge of the world’s living inhabitants was slim, our grasp of our planet’s past was nonexistent. Fossils had been known for millennia, but they were seen in the light of local mythologies about dragons and other imagined creatures, not in the light of natural science.

Our sense of the time scale of life on earth? Vague and vastly off the mark.

And our picture of our own species’ history? A set of fantastic myths and fairy tales.

The explorations of the previously unseen parts of the world and the unearthing of the history of life and our origins are some of the greatest achievements in human history. This book tells the stories of some of the most dramatic adventures and important discoveries in two centuries of natural history— from the epic journeys of pioneering naturalists to the expeditions making headlines today — and how they inspired and have expanded one of the greatest ideas of modern science: evolution.

We will encounter many amazing creatures of the past and present, but the most remarkable creatures in these stories are the men and women. They are, without exception, remarkable people who have experienced and accomplished extraordinary things. They have lived the kinds of lives that Twain extolled— they walked where no others had walked, saw what no one else had seen, and thought what no one else had thought.

The people in these stories followed their dreams— to travel to faraway lands, to see wild and exotic places, to collect beautiful, rare, or strange animals, or to find the remains of extinct beasts or human ancestors. Very few started out with any notion of great achievement or fame. Several lacked formal education or training. Rather, they were driven by a passion to explore nature, and they were willing, sometimes eager, to take great risks to pursue their dreams. Many faced the perils of traveling long distances by sea. Some confronted the extreme climates of deserts, jungles, or the Arctic. Many left behind skeptical and anxious loved ones, and a few endured years of unimaginable loneliness.

Their triumphs were much more than survival and the collecting of specimens from around the world. A few pioneers, provoked by a riot of diversity beyond their wildest imaginations, were transformed from collectors into scientists. They posed and pondered the most fundamental questions about Nature. Their answers sparked a revolution that changed, profoundly and forever, our perception of the living world and our place within it.

Unlike their privileged countrymen back in the universities, churches, and drawing rooms of Europe, most of whom believed that the origins of living things was a matter outside the realm of natural science, these explorers asked not just what existed, but wondered how and why these creatures came to be. Unlike their teachers, who pursued a natural theology that interpreted everything in Nature as part of the design of a Creator — peaceful, harmonious, stable, and unchanging — this new cadre of naturalists discovered that Nature was, in fact, a dynamic and perpetual battleground in which creatures competed and struggled to survive, a war in which they either adapted and changed or were exterminated. Unlike their predecessors, who explained the distribution of living species in the world much as one would the instant and premeditated placement of pieces on a chessboard, these naturalists discovered that the world and the life it contained had a very long history that shaped where various plants and animals were found across the globe. And, unlike their contemporaries who viewed everything in Nature as being purposely created for man’s benefit and domination, they rejected that conceit and placed humans within the animal kingdom, with our own earthly origins.

The torch of this revolution has been passing from generation to generation of scientists who have been walking, literally and figuratively, in the footsteps of these pioneers.


 

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