|Oxford University Press|
the guardian Sat 28 February 2009
The title may put you in mind of Darwin wandering amazed among dinosaurs, but in fact this is a story of serial fossil-hunting. Yet it's rather cinematic for all that, as the paleobiologist author recounts his travels around Scotland, China, India and Mongolia (where he munches yak with the locals), trying to figure out the truth of "the Cambrian explosion". The apparently sudden appearance of many new forms of life at the start of the Cambrian period, compared with the relative paucity of earlier fossils, is "almost the oddest thing that has ever happened in the history of our planet", Brasier says.
Following his own hypothesis about what occurred, we are introduced to a panpoly of fossils, each of which might be "charming" or "sexier" than the next, as well as a thing vividly called the "circus of worms". Brasier lays out biological arguments as a kind of poésie concrète so as to reveal their shape, adroitly summarises competing Ploys, Gambits and Hunches, and tells amusing tales of scientific rivalry according to "the Mofaotyof Principle", which stands for "My Oldest Fossils Are Older Than Your Oldest Fossils".