The best books about fossils and the history of life

The Books I Picked & Why

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

By Neil Shubin

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Why this book?

There are lots of good books about fossils, but this is my favorite. Shubin interweaves his discovery of Tiktaalik, a remarkable fossil that documents the transition from fish to amphibians, with a deftly drawn portrait of how our own bodies reflect evolutionary history. Original, deeply informed, and beautifully written, Your Inner Fish helps us all to understand how fossils illuminate the biological diversity we see around us.


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Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution

By Richard Fortey

Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution

Why this book?

Richard Fortey, a renowned paleontologist and acclaimed science writer, uses trilobites – those marvelous multi-limbed denizens of Paleozoic seas – to explain how fossils illuminate the past.  Fortey has studied trilobites for decades, and his expertise shines through on every page.  At the same time, his skills as a storyteller bring these ancient arthropods and the worlds they inhabited to vivid life. An enjoyable way to learn how paleontologists think. 


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The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology

By Martin J.S. Rudwick

The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology

Why this book?

It’s one thing to appreciate that fossils record the history of life, but something else altogether to understand how we came to know that. Rudwick’s classic book recounts the discoveries, large and small, that over centuries revealed fossils to be remnants of lost worlds. An exceptional exercise in the history of science. The Meaning of Fossils is required reading for students of paleontology.


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The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World

By Steve Brusatte

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World

Why this book?

There’s no shortage of books about dinosaurs, but this is one of the best.  Brusatte’s engaging account blends an enthusiasm for dinosaur fossils that any eight-year-old will recognize with a masterly understanding of the thunder lizards and their times.  Enlightening and fun to read, The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs will delight all who love those greatest of all land creatures. 


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The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

By Daniel E. Lieberman

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

Why this book?

Of the many good books about human evolution, Dan Lieberman’s is my favorite. A biologist and paleoanthropologist, Lieberman describes in clear, accessible prose the fossils that document our own origins, stressing function as inferred from fossils. Having recounted the story of our evolutionary origins, he goes on to explain its consequences – some good, some bad – for human health in the 21st century.


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