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Adaptation and Natural Selection Paperback – May 13, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0691026152 ISBN-10: 0691026157 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (May 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691026157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691026152
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #488,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A beautifully written and excellently reasoned essay in defense of Darwinian selection as a sufficient theory to explain evolution without the necessity of group selection, population adaptation, or progress."--R. C. Lewontin, Science

"This is an exciting, significant, and important work.... On the whole it will have a very beneficial influence on biology with a rich supply of subjects and targets for some years to come.... This is a carefully constructed, carefully written scholarly work, in the best sense of these words."--L. B. Slobodkin, The Quarterly Review of Biology

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Customer Reviews

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One should have a rather good knowledge of basic algebra, statistics, botany and biology to fully understand this book.
That is significant because natural selection is blind but chooses adaptations in a non-random way and Williams gives more depth to that non-random part and meaning.
Group survival, therefore, is a chance consequence of the these adaptations, as well as related errors such as mutation and introgression.
Scott MacLeod

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on January 3, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Another reader has already given an excellent summary of this book. I would like to stress only some important points in my comment.
One should have a rather good knowledge of basic algebra, statistics, botany and biology to fully understand this book.
This is a key text about Darwinism. Its influence cannot be overestimated, as show a few excerpts hereafter: 'there is nothing in the basic structure of the theory of natural selection that would suggest the idea of any kind of cumulative progress' and 'Evolution was a by-product of the maintenance of adaptation'.
These sentences are cornerstones of today's theories on Darwinism (see the works of the late S.J. Gould or Richard Dawkins).
In a cool style, but with compelling arguments, the author wipes the floor with his opponents' theories about group adaptations, instead of adaptations on the individual level.
He also stresses the fundamentally different roles of male and female mammals for the production of offspring and the evolutionary impact of female choice.
But there is more: (adapted sentence)'If some organisms were not entirely self-seeking, they, and Nature in general, would be more ethically acceptable. In most theological systems it is necessary that the creator be benevolent and that this benevolence is shown in his creation. If Nature is found to be malicious or morally indifferent, the creator is presumably too. For many, peace in mind might be difficult with the acceptance of these conclusions, but this is hardly a basis for making decisions in biology'.
This sentence is still today too big a swallow for the moral elite, unable to comprehend their own Darwinian behaviour and unable to think about the fact that 'natural selection, albeit stupid, is a story of unending arms races, slaughter and suffering' (G.C. Williams in 'Plan and Purpose in Nature').
An essential book by a superb free mind.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Scott MacLeod on December 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
The significance of George C. Williams analysis in "Adaptation and Natural Selection" lies in his detailed argument of why natural selection functions on the level of the individual and not the group. His defense of Darwinism rewrites the generally held assumption that adaptation characterizes species and populations, and emphasizes the role that natural selection plays in shaping the individual genotype. He thus makes possible the explanation of evolution without the use of terms such as 'group selection,' 'population adaptation,' or 'progress.' While Williams acknowledges that group selection plays a significant role in some of earth's biota, such as the eukaryotes, individual selection characterizes most organisms which reproduce sexually (xii). In the process of showing why individual selection vis a vis group selection is significant, Williams also, significantly, argues that the term adaptation cannot yet be understood in terms of any principles or procedures.
The significance of Williams' starting point - a clarification of what an adaptation is and isn't - is definitional. An evolutionary 'adaptation' has specific meanings: 1) Adaptations should only be called 'functions' when shaped by design and not chance (8); 2) the level of organization of an adaptation shouldn't be higher than that admitted by the evidence (19); 3) only natural selection could have given rise to adaptations (8). Thus the scientific study of an adaptation awaits more developments in biology.
Williams argues that natural selection operates and is effective only at levels measured statistically (22), for example, in terms of rates of random change, quantitative relationships among sampling errors, and selection coefficients (37).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By OverTheMoon on January 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book conquers worlds. George C. Williams `Adaptation and Natural Selection' (ANS) is subtitled `A critique of some current evolutionary thought' but is much more than just a challenge to what Williams thinks is biology gone astray. It is a landmark treatise on adaptations and a masterful revision of the current status of natural science.

William's book, first published in 1966, uses a lot of scientific language and is not much of a layman's read even though the introduction suggests it may be and definitely isn't an initiation into evolution. Most readers will probably come here having read Richard Dawkins `The Selfish Gene' (TSG) a book which refers to this source too often to count. It is more difficult than TSG and even includes a little math. At the same time when dealing with animal behaviour and directly with examples of adaptations, Williams treats the reader to some profound insights into evolution. It becomes quickly obvious why this is an extremely influential book and therefore mandatory reading for all professional biologists and students of the subject.

It is a book of three parts but all are mixed together. There is the topic of adaptations and their function, gene versus group selection and correctly applying natural selection to a biological observation. In fact the first two lead to the last point which is the goal that this book envisions bringing about.

1. Introduction
George C. Williams lays out his motive for writing ANS. He talks about how on a walk home from a lecture (Emerson 1954-55) he decided that terminology used in relation to evolution has been bandied about by biologists in ways that it shouldn't be and in particular what function an adaptation serves.
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