Cover image for Beasts of Eden : walking whales, dawn horses, and other enigmas of mammal evolution
Beasts of Eden : walking whales, dawn horses, and other enigmas of mammal evolution
Wallace, David Rains, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 340 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1410 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL708.5 .W25 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Mammals first evolved at about the same time as dinosaurs, and their story is perhaps the more fascinating of the two--in part because it is also our own story. In this literate and entertaining book, eminent naturalist David Rains Wallace brings the saga of ancient mammals to a general audience for the first time. Using artist Rudolph Zallinger's majestic The Age of Mammals mural at the Peabody Museum as a frame for his narrative, Wallace deftly moves over varied terrain--drawing from history, science, evolutionary theory, and art history--to present a lively account of fossil discoveries and an overview of what those discoveries have revealed about early mammals and their evolution.

In these pages we encounter towering mammoths, tiny horses, giant-clawed ground sloths, whales with legs, uintatheres, zhelestids, and other exotic extinct creatures as well as the scientists who discovered and wondered about their remains. We meet such memorable figures as Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Edward D. Cope, George Gaylord Simpson, and Stephen Jay Gould and learn of their heated disputes, from Cuvier's and Owen's fights with early evolutionists to present controversies over the Late Cretaceous mass extinction. Wallace's own lifelong interest in evolution is reflected in the book's evocative and engaging style and in the personal experiences he expertly weaves into the tale, providing an altogether expansive perspective on what Darwin described as the "grandeur" of evolution.

Author Notes

David Rains Wallace is the author of fifteen books, including The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution, winner of the John Burroughs Medal

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Taking his cue from a mural at Yale University, The Age of Mammals by Rudolph Zallinger, Wallace tours some controversies of classification and interpretation in the history of paleontology, mammal division. Arranged chronologically and connected to the fossil field's landmark names, from Georges Cuvier to Edward Cope to O. C. Marsh to George Gaylord Simpson, these episodes arise from the creatures depicted in Zallinger's work. Relevant panels from the painting assist the reader in imagining which oversize, hirsute carnivore or herbivore Wallace is discussing, its place on the geologic time line, and who found and named it. Stepping back to view the totality of the painting, Wallace also comments on the advice about evolution Zallinger received, seeing in his positioning of the animals and depiction of landscape the influences of Marsh and Simpson regarding biogeography and the succession of species. Its hook being the ever-popular charismatic fauna, Wallace's art-and-science review, though containing an imposing level of detail, opens a wondrous window on paleontology's investigations of the origin of mammals. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. 18 b&w photos, 2 line illus. Agent, Sandy Taylor. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In popularity, mammal evolution has always run a distant second to that of dinosaurs. In fact, the bigger, the better seems to be what sparks people's interest even among paleontologists. Here, award-winning science writer Wallace (The Bonehunters' Revenge) uses two murals painted by Rudolph Zallinger for Yale University's Peabody Museum ("the Sistine Chapel of evolution") as the springboard and recurrent theme. Taking readers through a history of fossil discoveries that correlate with the mammals in Zallinger's mural, Wallace argues that it is mammals not the flashier dinosaurs that have led the way to a greater understanding of evolution in general. Wallace uses the prolific fossil evidence of horses to point out the vagaries, offset by successful adaptations, exhibited by this species' evolution. His book will not answer or solve all the questions related to the evolutionary process, but it offers a nice stroll through the amazing array of unusual species that have populated Earth and reminds us that natural selection runs a close race with chance. Recommended for academic libraries with paleontology collections. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The initial impression that the unwary browser gets from the dust jacket is that this book by Wallace (an independent scholar) is a natural history account of various fossil mammals. Instead it is a series of somewhat rambling essays on the populist historiography of some mammal studies by various personalities and researchers during the 19th and 20th centuries, mixed up with idiosyncratic attempts to connect with an incomplete art history of fossil reconstructions. The central thread of the book is a recurrent reference to the fine artist Rudolph F. Zallinger of Yale, whose stunning Mesozoic and Cenozoic murals, in their various details, deserve a dedicated coffee-table book in their own right. Beasts of Eden is well written and entertaining, but the eclectically culled case histories of "who said what" about a particular fossil may appear random and perhaps senseless to the uninitiated reader. Inevitably, Gould and punctuationism find their way into this book by an author who does not understand the ramifications and implications of that megatheory, and its tenuous position in modern evolutionary theory. ^BSumming Up: Optional. General readers and undergraduates. F. S. Szalay formerly, University of New Mexico

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Prologue: The Fresco and the Fossilp. xv
1 Pachyderms in the Catacombsp. 1
2 Dr. Jekyll and the Stonesfield Jawsp. 14
3 The Origin of Mammalsp. 25
4 The Noblest Conquestp. 41
5 Terrible Horns and Heavy Feetp. 54
6 Mr. Megatherium versus Professor Mylodonp. 70
7 Fire Beasts of the Antipodesp. 79
8 Titans on Paradep. 91
9 Five-Toed Horses and Missing Linksp. 104
10 The Invisible Dawn Manp. 115
11 A Bonaparte of Beastsp. 123
12 Love and Theoryp. 135
13 Simpson's Cyndont-to-Smilodon Synthesisp. 145
14 Shifting Groundp. 157
15 Dissolving Ancestriesp. 166
16 Exploding Faunasp. 176
17 The Revenge of the Shell Huntersp. 188
18 Simpson Redivivusp. 198
19 Winds Thieves of the Kyzylkump. 207
20 The Serpent's Offeringp. 216
21 Anthropoid Leapfrogp. 233
Epilogue: Cenozoic Parksp. 249
Notesp. 261
Select Bibliographyp. 297
Indexp. 315