Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution
by David Wallace
Edition: 1st., 2004
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this excellent work proves that a mural is worth 300 pages. Wallace (The Bonehunter's Revenge, etc.) uses the often overlooked Age of Mammals mural at Yale's Peabody Museum as the theme around which he builds the story of the evolution of scientific thought on mammalian evolution. Rather than structure his narrative around the theories themselves, Wallace focuses on the savants and scientists who developed them. Vivid descriptions of the "bare-knuckled rivalries of Gilded Age paleontology"-which saw respected scientists sending saboteurs to each other's digs and lambasting one another in the popular press, and museum founders who grafted human teeth onto the heads of roosters-bring these men to life as well as the best of them were able to do for the specimens they found. Each character's particular expeditions, macabre youthful pastimes and the fossils that led to their fame or downfall are illuminated by abundant quotations from a wide variety of sources. Judicious use of personal anecdotes lends an air of conviviality to the author's prose, and frequent returns to the Peabody mural add still more depth and perspective. Paleontology buffs will not be the only ones entranced; this charming story, skillfully told, will appeal to history and biography fans as well.