At the Water’s Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life. Carl Zimmer. Free Press.

At the Water's Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life Book Cover At the Water's Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life
Carl Zimmer
Free Press
April 13, 1998

At the Water’s Edge will change the way you think about your place in the world. The awesome journey of life’s transformation from the first microbes 4 billion years ago to Homo sapiens today is an epic that we are only now beginning to grasp. Magnificent and bizarre, it is the story of how we got here, what we left behind, and what we brought with us.

We all know about evolution, but it still seems absurd that our ancestors were fish. How did we ever get ashore? How did we make legs, arms, and our extremely complex intelligence? Darwin’s idea of natural selection was the key to solving generation-to-generation of evolution – microevolution – but it could only point us toward a complete explanation, still to come, of the engines of macroevolution, the transformation of body shapes across millions of years. Now, drawing on the latest fossil discoveries and breakthrough scientific analysis, Carl Zimmer reveals how macroevolution works. In so doing, he provides a comprehensive, lucid, and authoritative answer to the mystery of how nature actually made itself.

At the Water’s Edge takes you to the icy peaks of Greenland, ancient shores of the Tethys Sea, and the warm waters of the Bahamas to visit with dolphins as it surveys how we have come to understand two special cases of macroevolution. In the first, around 360 million years ago, the descendents of one lineage of fish came ashore and rushed over the continents, eventually evolving into everything from turtles and dinosaurs to elephants and people. Then around 50 million years ago, and just as remarkably, one branch of these descendents crept back into the water and evolved into whales, dolphins, and other highly intelligent underwater life. The resulting portrait of the origin of whales is as marvellous as it is compelling. The story begins before Darwin’s revolution when the first mysterious fossils from these transitions were unearthed – often by colorful entrepreneurs more familiar with the techniques of the circus than those of the laboratory. Escorting us along the trail of discovery up to the current dramatic research in paleontology, ecology, genetics, and embryology, Zimmer shows how scientists today are unveiling the secrets of life that biologists struggled with two centuries ago.

In this book, you will find a dazzling, brash literary talent and a rigourous scientific sensibility gracefully brought together. Extensive interviews with scientists who stumble onto whale graveyards in the deserts of Egypt or rummage through forgotten specimen drawers at Oxford University present us a group of individuals it is a great pleasure to meet. Carl Buell’s expert drawings of a menagerie of strange creatures from deep time enrich the text and place At the Water’s Edge alongside the most exquisite science books published. In this bold first book Carl Zimmer emerges, like Acanthostega of 360 million years ago, ready to run.

Carl Zimmer is a senior editor at Discover. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Everett Clark Award for science journalism in 1994 and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award in 1997. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.