In Rereading the Fossil Record: The Growth of Paleobiology as an Evolutionary Discipline
(University of Chicago Press, 1012), David Sepkoski
tells a story that explains the many ways that paleontologists have interpreted the meaning and importance of fossils in the light of evolutionary theory. Starting with Darwin and his dilemma concerning the fossil record, Sepkoski tracks the relationships between paleontology and evolutionary theory over the course of the twentieth century. As it was formulated at mid-century the evolutionary synthesis did not really allow paleontology to contribute to evolutionary theory and it fell to a self-consciously revolutionary generation of paleontologists in the 1970s to argue that reading the fossil record could change the theory of evolution. Drawing on increasingly sophisticated ways of modeling and simulating evolutionary processes, as well as on increasingly available computational power, paleobiologists built institutions and articulated ideas, such as punctuated equilibrium, mass extinction, and macroevolution, that demonstrated how the history of life revealed by reading the fossil record can amend evolutionary theory.