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Creatures of Accident: The Rise of the Animal Kingdom First Edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0809043217
ISBN-10: 0809043211
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From Publishers Weekly

A core tenet of the intelligent design movement is that some organisms are simply too elaborate and complicated to have evolved by chance. Arthur, a professor of zoology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, aims to render this strain of creationism unnecessary by "explaining, in a way that is accessible to a general readership, how the rise of complex creatures can be explained in terms of natural processes." Creatures of Accident makes this case through a series of easily intelligible, chatty chapters, offering a way of understanding the emergence of animals (the most complex life form) without resorting to either the relativist idea that all life is essentially the same (with animals being, as Stephen Jay Gould once put it, "a mere epiphenomenon") or the teleological view that if animals are uniquely complex, then some intelligent designer must have made them so. Drawing ideas and examples from the large (zoology) to the small (cellular biology), Arthur popularizes recent breakthroughs in the field of evolutionary development—the trendily dubbed "evo-devo"—to make the paradoxical case that complexity can, in fact, happen quite simply. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

Discussing the evolution of life in this spry work, Wallace advances the argument that the process tends toward greater complexity over time. If the existence of complexity is seemingly self-evident, explaining it often leads to diverging theories, which Arthur, a zoology professor in Ireland, critiques in accessible fashion. He gives short shrift to creationism and so-called intelligent design but tackles at length the view, espoused in the oeuvre of biologist Richard Darwin, that evolution is simply an aimless series of micro- and macro-biological events without any bias toward complexity. Writing in a conversational manner, Arthur sketches out the main structural attributes of complexity in animals, from the cell to organs to embryology to body forms, and when they appeared. In considering these anatomical traits, Arthur inveighs repeatedly against the intrusion of philosophical casts of mind. Championing naturalistic clarity, Arthur's precision about the processes of evolution will benefit serious students of the topic. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809043211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809043217
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,591,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Edward F. Strasser on November 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of magazine and Internet articles about science and written in plain English for general readers. The science is usually vague and often inaccurate. Wallace Arthur manages to get across real science while avoiding jargon. For example, the old biology cliché "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" is rendered as "development repeats evolution". This is followed by a few paragraphs of explanation. And he covers a number of topics which are important for understanding evolution that aren't generally included id beginners' books.

The most important of these is gene duplication. The machinery that manages our DNA sometimes makes extra copies of one or more genes. The duplicate copies may then undergo mutation and take on new functions while the old ones remain unchanged. A LOT of evolution involves gene duplication. Arthur doesn't say how gene duplication happens - that requires biochemistry - but it is important to know that it happens.

Another topic is development, from egg to adult. This is critical for understanding the evolution of complexity. Some genes involved in development, such as the Hox genes that Arthur mentions, are important in evolution. Copying of Hox genes is a major factor in the increasing complexity of animals; some more advanced books have charts showing the parallel between Hox gene duplication and increasing complexity. The interaction of genes and proteins is another important topic. And there are other topics, too much for me to cover in a short review.

Arthur frequently pauses to relate a current topic to what came earlier in the book, or to suggest what is to come. People who read a lot of science books are used to doing this for themselves and might be annoyed by Arthur's doing it.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Yonatan Fishman on October 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Wallace's book is an informal account of how biological complexity has arisen in the evolutionary history of life. The book is written in a conversational style and the individual chapters are short, giving the reader the satisfying feeling that he is `getting somewhere'. It is clear that Wallace, a professor of zoology, knows his subject well. While I agree with the author's thesis that the evolution of complexity can be largely explained through Darwinian evolution by natural selection (that is, without invoking additional mechanisms or anything supernatural or mysterious like an `intelligent designer'), I found the book generally disappointing in its lack of detail concerning the evidence supporting the account he proposes (which I feel could have been encapsulated in a brief essay instead of a full-length book). Wallace notes that a basic strategy for creating novelty and for building biological complexity can be expressed in just a few words: Duplication, Diversification, and Co-option- old genetic tools and morphological elements doing new tricks. Co-option (or `exaptation') is the process by which a structure or system with an original function adds or changes to a new function, a process which is enabled by redundancy and duplication. These ideas are not new, having been discussed in greater depth by a number of other evolutionary biologists and geneticists. While it is good to see them summarized succinctly in this book, there is a frustrating paucity of detail concerning specific examples of this evolutionary process. Wallace stresses the important role of alterations in developmental pathways as engines of evolutionary novelty, an idea which is also not new and embodied in the field of "Evo-Devo" (the study of evolution from a developmental perspective).Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Creatures of Accident: The Rise of the Animal Kingdom comes from a renowned professor of zoology in Ireland who delves into the weighty-sounding science of 'evolutionary developmental biology' - and while it may seem like this book is for college-level holdings, it will appeal equally well to general public library collections with its easy introduction to evolutionary theory. From analyses of the structure of life forms and the complex methods of evolution which are neither predictable nor straightforward to conflicts between creationism and evolutionary theory, this book provides both general reader and science readers with an easily-understood set of explanations, making it a top pick for both public and school holdings.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on October 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
How often do we hear - or utter - the frequent complaint: "Why is life so complex?" However, as any evolutionary biologist would be pleased to remind you, this hasn't always been the case. Wallace Arthur takes up that fact forcefully in this book. Life began very simply and stayed that way for a very long time. Earth's population remained simple bacterial forms, some DNA stashed away in a protective enclosure, he reminds us, for over two billion years. Diversity, the foundation of the evolutionary process, seemed non-existent, yet this remains the core of biological teaching today. Arthur endeavours to set this record straight, doing so with an almost conversational delivery.

Keeping with the theme of simplicity, Arthur urges us to shed unnecessary philosophical thinking, opening with a chapter titled "Hand luggage only". The phrase recognises that most of us have preconceived notions of how life works. The core of that notion is that humans, just because they are complex creatures, sit somehow at the top of the evolutionary "ladder". The ability to think about life, which seems to be unique in our species, doesn't convey superiority. We are, after all, far outnumbered by the descendents of those simple organisms of long ago. Our species did emerge, and Arthur wants us to understand how. Instead of ladders, he uses the analogy of a lawn, level and with few disruptions.

Explaining life, to Arthur, is an exercise in pragmatism, not ideology. Using the cell as a starting point, his tour takes us to the embryo [he's a zoologist, hence the emphasis on animals instead of plants]. The embryo is a key feature in his theme, since it is here that cell duplication and diversification are best demonstrated.
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