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Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life Hardcover – November 17, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The bicentennial of Darwin's birth in 2009 and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species will be commemorated by a touring exhibition curated by author Eldredge (Life on Earth), of the American Museum of Natural History, that will give audiences a rare opportunity to see Darwin's personal effects, notebooks and materials that contributed to Origin. This book primarily follows Darwin's progress on his theory in the 20 years between his return from the famous voyage on the Beagle and publication of his paradigm-shattering book. Darwin dismembered some of his notebooks, but scholars have reconstructed most of them so that readers can follow his thought processes. Eldredge shows how Darwin laid aside some ideas, like the importance of stasis (which Eldredge and the late Stephen Jay Gould developed into their concept of "punctuated equilibria"), that are now accepted in evolutionary theory. He makes the interesting observation that Darwin was one of the first scientists to abandon Baconian induction in forming hypotheses, consciously turning to the hypothetico-deductive method. Eldredge addresses advances in evolutionary theory since Darwin and takes on intelligent design. The author conveys his great admiration for his subject in a straightforward manner that will enlighten dedicated science readers. 100 illus.
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From Booklist

In anticipation of the bicentennial observance of Charles Darwin's birth in 1809, paleontologist and author Eldredge has organized an exhibition that coincides with the publication of this abundantly illustrated primer on Darwin's life, thought, and legacy. In effect a contemporary "Darwin's Bulldog" (the moniker of Thomas Huxley, who in the 1860s defended Darwin against creationist argument), Eldredge takes aim at so-called intelligent design in his final chapter. His approach, however, is, in the main, a positive one, demonstrating how evolution is a more convincing explanation for the exuberant variation and complexity of life than attributing the whole to a supernatural force. He is drawn particularly to two manuscripts Darwin wrote in the 1840s after his voyage on the Beagle. Quoting them extensively, Eldredge sets forth the principles underlying evolutionary theory, discussing why it is a testable and prediction-making science, whereas creationism is not. Weaving Darwin's biography through the science, Eldredge expresses unabashed admiration for Darwin's intellect and successfully encapsulates his revolutionary ideas for the widest audience. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059663
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,079,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life" is the elegant companion volume to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Darwin exhibition which opened recently here in New York City and will remain on view at this museum through May 29, 2006. Afterwards "Darwin" will tour several museums in North America - most notably Chicago's Field Museum - before completing its tour - appropriately enough - at London's British Museum of Natural History in time for the bicentennial of Darwin's birth in 2009. Niles Eldredge, Curator, Division of Paleontology, AMNH and the exhibition's curator, is truly one of the world's foremost evolutionary biologists, perhaps best known for developing back in 1972, the evolutionary theory known as "Punctuated Equilibrium" along with his friend and colleague, the late Stephen Jay Gould. Eldredge combines his splendid gifts as a scientist and writer, along with his keen interest in the history of science, in writing this book, celebrating Darwin's genius as a field and theoretical biologist and geologist. Drawing upon Darwin's own writings, Eldredge traces Darwin's scientific development during the celebrated HMS Beagle voyage and at his suburban London estate at Down. Furthermore, he demonstrates with ample eloquence why Darwin's Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection is a genuine scientific theory, saving until the final chapter, a superb rebuke of "Intelligent Design" as a credible scientific alternative (Those who believe that "Intelligent Design" is a credible scientific theory - it's merely an untestable, unscientific idea - should read Robert Pennock's "Tower of Babel", Kenneth R. Miller's "Finding Darwin's God", or Eugenie Scott's "Evolution Vs. Creationism".). Anyone interested in reading a fascinating book on scientific discovery shouldn't hesitate purchasing this elegant tome.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Reader on December 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Niles Eldredge's new book on Darwin and evolutionary theory, intended as a text for lay readers, is quite good in (at least) two respects. (1) It is the first text for general readers that investigates closely the development of Darwin's ideas between 1836 (when he returned from the Beagle voyage) and 1859 (when he published "On the Origin of Species." This material is succinct and perceptive in the way that it sets out the sequence of emergence of Darwin's key insights. (Sometimes this sequence reveals doubts that Darwin had to overcome.) In addition to this explicative work, Eldridge also (and perhaps more importantly) analyzes the conceptual frameworks that Darwin constructs during this period. (Most especially the moment when Darwin turns his thinking fully around and attempts to derive expected phenomena from his theory). (2) The chapter that outlines the relationship between Darwin's own work and the subsequent history of evolutionary science is also succinct, perceptive, and very informative. Eldredge is successful in simultaneously establishing the remarkable continuity between Darwin and all of evolutionary theory while also highlighting some key issues that Darwin got wrong.

However, despite these strengths, this book will be best read by those who already have a clear grasp of the basic features of evolutionary theory. As many others have said, there is no better source for such an introduction than "On the Origin of Species" itself.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is embarrassing that surveys show that most Americans do not believe in evolution, and do believe in scientifically unsupportable concepts that they have seen in the movies, like dinosaurs and humans living together. The great American Museum of Natural History in New York has always done what it could to combat this sort of ignorance, with a magnificent standing display of dinosaurs. It is now putting on a big exhibition entirely devoted to Charles Darwin, the man who revealed that natural selection and descent with modification were the ways that life on Earth worked. (This is not to neglect Alfred Russel Wallace, who deserves to be better known as the co-discoverer of evolution. It was his discovery of the same principles that made Darwin finally reveal his own decades of thought on the matter, and the papers of the two discoverers were simultaneously published. Darwin, however, published more on the subject, dug into it more deeply, and did his own researches that have made his contributions preeminent.) The curator of the exhibition, Niles Eldredge, is famous on his own for advocating (along with the late Stephen Jay Gould) a modern modification of Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium. For those who cannot get to the exhibition, or who wish to spend more than an afternoon absorbing its ideas, Eldredge has written _Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life_ (Norton). There are, deservedly, much bigger books that serve as biographies of this great thinker who was in many ways a completely admirable scientist and human being. The book has a basic short account of Darwin's life, but was written to give a history of the internal thought underlying Darwin's big ideas.Read more ›
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Badger on January 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the companion book to the excellent Darwin exhibit now at the American Museum of Natural History which is scheduled to tour several other natural history museums in the years leading up to the Darwin bicentennial in 2009. The most exciting new finding featured in this book and the exhibit is the study of the "transmutation notebooks" in which Darwin scribbled his thoughts during the late 1830's. These show that Darwin had the basic ideas of natural selection long before he was previously thought to have developed them.

The problem with the book is that Eldredge intrudes on numerous occasions in order to bring up the theory of "punctuated equilibria" whch he, together with the late Stephen Jay Gould, developed. While certainly Eldredge has the perfect right to describe his theory in a book describing his own thoughts, it isn't on topic in a book about Darwin's thoughts. It is also somewhat misleading to the general public (the primary audience for this book) because while Darwin's idea of natural selection is almost universally accepted by biologists, the acceptance of "puncuated equilibria" is decidely a minority position.
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