In this review, we describe the history of amniote sex determination as a classic example of Darwinian evolution. We suggest that evolutionary changes in sex determination provide a foundation for understanding important aspects of chromosome and genome organization that otherwise appear haphazard in their origins and contents. Species with genotypic sex determination often possess heteromorphic sex chromosomes, whereas species with environmental sex determination lack them. Through a series of mutations followed by selection at key genes, sex-determining mechanisms have turned over many times throughout the amniote lineage. As a consequence, amniote genomes have undergone gains or losses of sex chromosomes. We review the genomic and ecological contexts in which either temperature-dependent or genotypic sex determination has evolved. Once genotypic sex determination emerges in a lineage, viviparity and heteromorphic sex chromosomes become more likely to evolve. For example, in extinct marine reptiles, genotypic sex determination apparently led to viviparity, which in turn facilitated their pelagic radiation. Sex chromosomes comprise genome regions that differ from autosomes in recombination rate, mutation rate, levels of polymorphism, and the presence of sex-determining and sexually antagonistic genes. In short, many aspects of amniote genome complexity, life history, and adaptive radiation appear contingent on evolutionary changes in sex-determining mechanisms.