Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars
Pianka and Vitt's "Lizards" a remarkable contribution, February 26, 2004
By A Customer
This book is truly amazing! As a scientist, I have read hundreds of works, but never have I encountered a better combination of scientific rigor coupled with what one might call, popular appeal. The authors have basically provided the contribution of record on lizard biology, while simulataneously producing one of the most interesting coffee table "thumb-throughs" that one could imagine. First the biological rigor. Pianka and Vitt break the book into three sections, very appropriately I believe, beginning with lizard behavior--evolution, life history, context. These seven chapters lead naturally to a second section, six chapters devoted to lizard diversity. Not anatomical or taxonomical hell at all, but brilliantly protrayed, ecologically situated depiction of form and function, from iguanas to dragons. The third section ties together the ethology, the diversity of genera, as a well articulated synthesis. In so doing in this concluding synthesis, the authors have managed to write a tutorial that is extremely valuable as a stand alone study plan for teaching evolution and biology to students of just about any level of sophistication. Yes, the book provides comprehensive documentation, references, and taxonomic details--it is a remarkable scientific work. But it is one that can't be put down--the authors even share their personal histories of interest, and they embed numerous "so what? boxes". I found the professional quality photo's to merit review themselves as a contribution to photography. In fact, after walking through the habitat- borne illustrations, I felt that I had spent an eye-opening day with these creatures. "Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity" is a must for biologists, and a gotta have for anyone interested in creatures. Harry Greene's foreward claim that the book is "a survey of unprecedented depth and breadth" is classic understatement.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
4.0 out of 5 stars
A wonderfully comprehensive overview of an amazing group, February 15, 2005
By Jurrasosaurus (New York/New Mexico)
Without a doubt, this book is the most comprehensive overview of lizard evolution and ecology, available on the market today. Pianka & Vitt take readers on a tour through the many aspects of the lacertilian suborder. In the process, they show one how incredibly useful lizards have been for science.
The book is broken up into three sections. The first section gives an overview of lizards in general. It goes over the basic anatomy, and the distinct differences between the three main lizard groups (Iguania, Gekkota & Autarchoglossa). The second section goes more in depth about each major group. It gives a breakdown of all the major families, and even goes so far as to explain the different genera in each. The final section takes the reader through a brief history of the squamata. It explains their evolution throughout the Mesozoic, and ending with a chapter on relationship of lizards with people.
The appendix, at the end, gives a taxonomic summary of all the lizard genera known for each family; along with a total species count. While this is already a bit out of date (sad fate for all published material dealing with taxonomy), it is a nice addition.
The chapter on lizards and humans, has a nice section talking about lizards as pets. In the past, herpetologists have often frowned on the keeping of lizards as pets. Pianka & Vitt considered doing the same. Yet, as they mention: "We would be hypocrites if we did." They realize that most up and coming (and many professional) herpetologists/paleontologists, keep/kept lizards as pets. Herpetoculture is here to stay. As such, it makes more sense to learn the most one can about the animal they intend to keep. Reading words of acceptance from those in the field, is always an encouraging thing to see.
Of course, not everything about the book is perfect. I did have some minor gripes with it.
For starters, I took minor issue with the treatment of the three main lizard groups. In particular, the treatment of Iguanians compared to the scleroglossans. The scleroglossan lizards are often exalted above the iguanians, at the latter's expense. I can understand Pianka & Vitt's reasoning behind this. Scleroglossa make up the majority of living lacertilians, yet remain the least studied group of lizards out there. In that sense, I can't blame the authors for wanting to put more emphasis on this group. I just wish that it didn't appear to be at the expense of the iguanians. It's not done all that often, and it's never intentional, but every once in a while, a comment is made on the archaic nature of iguanians that tends to make them out as sounding inferior.
A neat thing about the second part of the book, is that Pianka & Vitt do explain the meaning behind many of the genus names. Unfortunately, they don't do it for all of them. This wouldn't be so troublesome if it didn't happen so randomly. For instance, in the beginning of the agamid descriptions, a definition for each genus name is given. Yet at, roughly, the last third of the section, the definitions just stop. It remains this way until well into Iguanidae (a quick blurb at Leiocephalinae) before disappearing again. Gekkotans get a brief, but acute, set of definitions (done as an example of how many are named after their toes), with some other definitions sprinkled in throughout the rest of the chapter. It continues like this throughout the rest of this section. As such, it leaves readers such as myself (who enjoy the meanings behind the names) left wanting more.
Finally, the last real gripe I have about the book is in respect to the trend, in recent years, to apply cladistic methods to classification. Throughout the book, mentions are made on the monophyly of one group vs. the paraphyly of another. That in itself, is not bad, but when it interferes with classification, it becomes an annoyance. One area in particular, is the way in which snakes are handled. The group, itself, is descended from a lizard ancestor. Yet, snakes are still classified as a separate collection of squamates; which is fine (the same happens with mammals and therapsids, among other examples). My problem with the book, is that the authors feel this need to mention how "snakes are lizards too." It's pounded into one's head at the beginning, and towards the end of the book. Yet, the snakes themselves, are hardly ever mentioned. There is no section of the various families of snakes out there. Nor any real mention of their various life histories. So, I'm left wondering: Why bother mentioning the "snakes are lizards too" bit? If one is going to insist of abiding by the cladistic paradigm in classification, then one should follow through with it.
With that said, please keep in mind that I do consider all of these to be minor gripes. The book is still a must read for anyone with more than just a passing interest in this amazing group of animals, and the author's chilling take on the status of our planet (last section of the final chapter) is another must read for any young biologist, preparing to enter the field.
Last updated 9 April 2009