B. Carroll Remarkable Creatures Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Video from the 2009 National
Book Awards Finalist Reading
Photo Credit: Steve Paddock
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
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
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
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
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.