I also adored his chapter headings which show evidence of a wide range of reading far beyond I would have expected from a fossil hunter. But I guess you need a decent stash of books for the long dark desert nights:
- Chapter 1 is called Nothing Besides Remains, quoting Ozymandias but adding a nice double meaning
- Chapter Two: Hunting Unicorns, refers to a essay by Jorge Luis Borges about Kafka
- Chapter 3: There are More Things, quotes Hamlet's remark to Horatio
- And Chapter 7: Are We Not Men? is from a work by H.G.Wells
Gee's main thrust is to consider palaeontology as a science. He points out that fossils represent a few brief glimpses of bones out of millions of years of evolution. He reminds us that evolution is not purposeful nor is it a progression and that if we try to understand evolution from the point of view of creating adaptations that we see in the modern world we are assuming that the environmental conditions millions of years ago that led to the creation of a species were the same as now. So, for example, feathered birds might have had an evolutionary advantage millions of years ago for reasons we cannot now guess and it might have been entirely an accident that they are also useful skin coverings for an animal that flies.
From Gee's point of view the brilliant thing about cladistics is that it doesn't assume any heritage or ancestral linkages. It simply groups fossils by their features into 'sister-groups' and uses the Principle of Parsimony to derive the best possible tree diagram summarising relationships between the individuals.
Gee makes his arguments thoroughly; sometimes I thought points were repeated more than they needed to be. He also explains cladistics on a very simple level and I would like to have known a little more about these techniques, especially since cladistics can be used to explore the relationships (and thus possibly infer the ancestry) of Chaucerian manuscripts and of languages.
But on the whole this was a thoroughly enjoyable Science book about an area of Science I had not previously believed could be so much fun.