Logo IMG
HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > July-August 2010 > Bookshelf Detail


What on Earth Evolved?

Christopher Brodie

WHAT ON EARTH EVOLVED?: 100 Species that Changed the World. Christopher Lloyd. Bloomsbury, $45.

Journalist Christopher Lloyd’s What on Earth Evolved?: 100 Species that Changed the World is an informative, fun-filled tour through natural and human history. The first 50 species Lloyd covers (they’re life-forms, really—he’s using the term loosely) evolved before the spread of human agriculture about 12,000 years ago. Representative viruses and bacteria make the list, along with trilobites, Archaeopteryx, stony corals, dragonflies and rats. The second 50 are species that, thanks to people, have thrived during the past dozen millennia—wheat, dogs, coffee and ticks, for instance. A brief final chapter ranks all 100 species according to their impact on evolution, each other and the environment (earthworms take first prize; humans place sixth).

Lloyd’s essays meander pleasantly through evolutionary biology, human history and trivia. For example, in chapter 7, “On Biodiversity”—which covers the mosquito, flea, tsetse fly, oak, acacia, durian, bamboo, honeybee and ant—we learn about Miriam Rothschild, the aristocratic naturalist known as “Queen of the Fleas”; the centuries-old barrier to development in Sub-Saharan Africa that is tsetse-borne sleeping sickness; the reproductive strategies and rich ecosystems of oaks; the occasional mass suicide of bamboo forests; and the taste of durian fruit, which has been compared to that of “pig-shit,” “turpentine,” “onions garnished with a gym sock” and “sweet raspberry blancmange [eaten] in the lavatory.” Later in the book, reading about the coca plant (number 96 on the list), we don’t just learn the story of cocaine, we get to see the ad in which Pope Leo XIII endorses the stuff.

Although in a few instances Lloyd garbles something (his explanation of so-called junk DNA, for example), this hard-to-put-down volume is well worth picking up.

» Post Comment


Connect With Us:

    Pinterest Icon Google+ Icon Twitter Icon Facebook Icon Sm

Pizza Lunch Podcasts

African Penguins"Penguins are 10 times older than humans and have been here for a very, very long time," said Daniel Ksepka, Ph.D., a North Carolina State University research assistant professor. Dr. Ksepka researches the evolution of penguins and how they came to inhabit the African continent.

Because penguins have been around for over 60 million years, their fossil record is extensive. Fossils that Dr. Ksepka and his colleagues have discovered provide clues about migration patterns and the diversity of penguin species.

Click the Title to view all of our Pizza Lunch Podcasts!

Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • Sigma Xi SmartBrief:

    A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, Science Observers and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.


Of Possible Interest

Book Review: The Silver Lining

Book Review: What Makes a Good Scientist?

Book Review: The Greatest Show on Earth

Subscribe to American Scientist