Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index


to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK


the Complete Review
the complete review - science

The Garden of Ediacara

Mark A.S. McMenamin

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Garden of Ediacara

Title: The Garden of Ediacara
Author: Mark A.S. McMenamin
Genre: Science
Written: 1998
Length: 284 pages
Availability: The Garden of Ediacara - US
The Garden of Ediacara - UK
The Garden of Ediacara - Canada
  • Discovering the First Complex Life
  • Foreword by Dorion Sagan

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : unusual mix of science, discovery and research, somewhat specialized but interesting.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist C+ 1-2/1999 Tim Tokaryk
Bioscience C+ 9/1999 Kenneth J. McNamara
Times Higher Ed. . 30/10/1998 Lynn Margulis

  Review Consensus:

  Disconcerted by variety in book (scientific versus popular account), and think McMenamin is considerably too full of himself.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The origin-of-life mystery is a wonderful story (.....) But translating this series of complex information requires patience, clarity and humility, all of which are somewhat lacking in The Garden of Ediacara." - Tim Tokaryk, American Scientist

  • "Where McMenamin passionately argues his own ideas, the book is a good read. However, I found other parts of the book to be extremely irritating, principally because of his attempt to write it as a narrative of his intellectual journey of discovery. Laudable as this approach may be, to me it just doesn't work. (.....) Hopefully, future books on this topic will be more balanced and focused in their approach than The Garden of Ediacara." - Kenneth J. McNamara, Bioscience

  • "Idiosyncratically erudite and replete with self-congratulatory dicta, The Garden of Ediacara amuses, intrigues, cajoles and invites the reader to share the joys of palaeontology -- in the field, the laboratory and the library. When it does not infuriate by hyperbolic overstatement and wild speculation, it amuses by provocation." - Lynn Margulis, Times Higher Education

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Named after the Ediacara Hills in South Australia, where the first major (and recognized) find of these unusual fossils took place in the 1940s, Ediacaran fossils have, in the mean time, been identified globally. Unusual in appearance, they do not neatly fit in among the other animal fossils. This and their great age poses numerous difficult questions -- some as basic as whether these lifeforms can even be considered "animals", and in what relation they stand to modern animals on the evolutionary ladder. McMenamin bravely and (possibly over-) confidently advances his theories on the matter, proposing a "garden of Ediacara" in this interesting book.
       This is an unusual science book. McMenamin provides the historical background to the field, as well as the various current theories. He also places himself very much at the center of the book, and recounts his own process of discovery, of how and what led him to his conclusions. In addition, he also relates the story of two expeditions he undertook (to Namibia and to Mexico) in search of the Ediacarans.
       The mix is very unusual, as he quotes extensively from his travel diaries (which include a number of decidedly non-scientific observations), shares some of his notes, goes step by step through the process of how he finally came to his conclusions, as well as also providing a painstaking scientific overview of Ediacarans and the strengths and weaknesses of his and other theories regarding them. He also considers the consequences of the theories.
       A highlight for him is his trip to Mexico in 1995, where he discovered a 600 million year old Ediacaran fossil (the oldest known fossil at that time). Every aspect of this discovery is covered, from the planning of the trip to how the discovery was publicized after the fact. It is this, in particular, that is refreshing, as McMenamin explains how and why he welcomed the popular media coverage of the discovery (derided by some fellow scientists as inappropriate, the usual course being to publish in a peer-reviewed journal before the story goes to the mass media). McMenamin is obviously not a man with a small ego, but his forthrightness, and especially his interest in utilizing a discovery like this to raise public interest are welcome in the too-often secretive and elitist scientific world. (Here as elsewhere McMenamin is also prone to excess, as he lists a vast number of popular accounts of his discovery in one footnote.)
       Much of the book is speculative, but McMenamin presents a broad overview of a large theory and though much of it may not stand the test of time it is certainly a very useful starting point in a fascinating field of study. The mysterious Ediacarans, some of which were perhaps jellyfish-like in appearance, should be of interest to many readers. McMenamin manages to write fairly straightforwardly, and much of the book should be comprehensible to the layman. The only true difficulty is the terminology -- from geologic ages (where McMenamin offers additional new possibilities) to flora, fauna, and fossils. Nevertheless, the story of scientific discovery can be followed fairly easily
       An unusual mix, it makes for an interesting and varied read. The Ediacarans are worth knowing and thinking about, and this book is certainly a good place to start. Recommended.

- Return to top of the page -


The Garden of Ediacara: Reviews: Mark A.S. McMenamin: Other books under review that might be of interest:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Mark A.S. McMenamin is a Professor of Geology at Mount Holyoke College.

- Return to top of the page -

© 1999-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links