I was able to polish off a good amount of reading this weekend. On Friday I finished The Lying Stones of Dr. Beringer, and it provided for an interesting insight into a man so enamored with the perceived significance of his own finds that he could not be dissuaded. After that I picked up Volume III of Cuvier’s The animal kingdom arranged in conformity with its organization (focusing on arthropods), but the book is really more of a reference than something read from cover-to-cover. Instead I reached for H.F. Osborn’s The origin and evolution of life, Osborn’s attempt to merge physics and chemistry with biology. It’s a noble cause, but it never really comes off especially well, although Osborn does show that there’s no “vital force” or entelechy behind evolution. Much like Colbert’s works, organisms are typically considered in the context of the time they’re found, how they came to be as they are usually not discussed (except here and there in the section on mammals). Osborn did not have as much data at his disposal then as we do now though, and although Osborn’s view of the prehistoric world was vastly different (the earth being less than 500 million years old, continents that did not shift, dinosaurs dying out only a few million years before the present) it was an interest read overall.
After Osborn’s book I picked up the collection of AAAS papers A Cold Look at Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs and read the first paper by Ostrom. A few months ago I had read Bakker’s The Dinosaur Heresies, and while I did enjoy that book, I didn’t agree with all of Bakker’s assertions about dinosaur physiology and behavior. The AAAS symposium papers, on the other hand, seem to (so far) give a more balanced view of the topic, and I think it would be useful to anyone concerned with physiology, predator-prey interactions, etc.
My wife read the book Survival of the Sickest in its entirety, and when she told me that the last chapter focuses on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, I decided to pick it up. It’s a short book, only about 200 pages (relatively wide spacing and large font, too) so I’m sure I’ll rip right through it, but I hope the last chapter is not indicative of the rest of the book. The authors seem to have merely contacted Elaine Morgan and asked her what to say about the AAH, presenting a false dichotomy of the chauvinistic “savanna hypothesis” and the more female-friendly aquatic ape hypothesis. This controversial topic is only given a few pages overall, the authors mistaken possible correlation with causation in favor of the AAH, engaging in hyperbole and rhetoric to try and convince the reader that Morgan is right about human origins. My wife said that the book seems to go from more conclusive to less-conclusive evidence as it moves along (with a dash of Neo-Lamarckism thrown in somewhere), but I’m fairly sure this one is going to give me a headache.