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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent summary of current knowledge
It is a sign of the times that the authors on occasion take a defensive attitude to their subject. Creationism, for whatever reason, has proved remarkably adaptive and, strange as it may seem, evolutionary biologists still feel obliged to painstakingly lay out the evidence for evolution per se, rather than just discuss its mechanisms or trace its history.

The...
Published on November 6, 2005 by Peter Reeve

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provides basics but does not go beyond that...
The good thing about this book is that it provides the bare essentials, for a layman, needed to describe evolution. For example, it covers important concepts such as genetic drift, mutation, adoption and selection over very long periods of time. Hence if one's goal is to obtain the basics of the theory the book succeeds. Unforutnatley, it barely succeeds. Why? Reasons are...
Published on March 20, 2010 by Yoda


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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent summary of current knowledge, November 6, 2005
By 
Peter Reeve (Thousand Oaks, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
It is a sign of the times that the authors on occasion take a defensive attitude to their subject. Creationism, for whatever reason, has proved remarkably adaptive and, strange as it may seem, evolutionary biologists still feel obliged to painstakingly lay out the evidence for evolution per se, rather than just discuss its mechanisms or trace its history.

The Charlesworths do a good job of this, albeit in a rather dry, academic style that may not suit readers that just want a light, readable introduction to the basic principles of evolution.

The book contains a fairly heavy dose of microbiology, as the authors go to some lengths to detail the biological functions underlying heredity and evolution. This is useful revision for readers with high school science, but tough going for the complete beginner. Similarly, the style is plain and succinct but never light or breezy. This is not a dummy's guide.

Evolution theory took a spectacular wrong turn in the latter part of the 20th century with the emergence of the idea that selection acts only at the gene level, a view popularized by Dawkins's The Selfish Gene. This bizarre notion gained a considerable following and was the subject of a heated dispute between Dawkins and Gould that ended only with the latter's death. Thankfully, sanity has been restored and it is now once again recognized that selection can take place at any level, and it is refreshing to see the Charlesworths, in this book, stating unequivocally (p 74) that there can be selection at species level and at other levels (p 73). Interestingly, there is an extract from a very favorable review by Dawkins of this book, on the back cover. Did he skip pages 73 and 74 or has he at last seen the light?

This series is prone to typos and the mutant printing gene has not been bred out of this particular book. Figure 19 is a monumental example. It is printed in landscape rather than portrait mode, effectively sideways (you'd have to see it to understand) thus leaving half the page blank and half the figure missing. The birds and mammals are therefore cruelly pruned from the tree of life. OUP really should get a grip.

Look elsewhere if you want a true introductory text, but select this if you want an excellent summary of the current state of knowledge of evolution and its underlying biological processes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution in the Very Short Introduction Series, February 22, 2014
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This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
"Evolution: A Very Short Introduction" (2003) by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth offers a concise, detailed introduction to evolutionary biology. The Charlesworths are both Professors at the University of Edinburgh. Brian Charlesworth is former President of the Society for the Study of Evolution while Deborah Charlesworth has served as President of the European Society of Evolutionary Biology.

The Charlesworths offer the following introduction to this overview of evolution.

"The relentless application of the scientific method of inference from experiment and observation, without reference to religious or government authority, has completely transformed our view of our origins and relation to the universe in less than 500 years. In addition to the intrinsic fascination of the view of the world opened up by science, this has had an enormous impact on philosophy and religion. The findings of science imply that humans are the product of impersonal forces, and that the habitable world forms a minute part of a universe of immense size and duration. Whatever the religious or philosophical beliefs of individual scientists, the whole programme of scientific research is founded on an assumption that the universe can be understood on such a basis."

Evolutionary theory still provokes controversy. The Charlesworths do not hide their view that evolutionary theory is inconsistent with the position of supernatural, intentional creation of separate species. At several points in this introduction, they criticize supernatural creationism directly. Throughout the book, they gather the support for evolution from various strands of science and argue that it is overwhelming.

The Charlesworths begins with a chapter explaining the nature of evolutionary biology drawn from Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. Then, in two chapters, they offer corroboration for the theory from two separate strands. In the first, the Charlesworths consider similarities and differences between organisms as showing evolution. The most interesting discussion in this chapter considers findings in cell biology and biochemistry. The study of heredity and of the nature of DNA across all forms of life corroborates and expands evolutionary biology in ways not available to Darwin and Wallace.

In their second chapter setting out evidence for evolution, the Charlesworths examine "patterns in time and space", a form of evidence on which both Darwin and Wallace relied. This source of evolutionary theory is based upon the enormous scope of geological time together with the fossil record. Further studies since Darwin and Wallace, including advances in cell biology and dating techniques have served to corroborate and strengthen the early findings.

In the following portions of their study, the Charlesworths discuss how evolution and natural selection explain the adaptation of species to their environment. They describe how evolution accounts for the astonishing diversity and change in living species, and they conclude with a short chapter on difficult problems in evolution, such as accounting for complex organs including, for example, the human eye.

The Charlesworth's study is short but dense. It requires close, careful reading, particularly in the sections involving cell biology. The book offers as a reward for the required effort a renewed understanding for the lay reader of evolution, its basis and importance. In my own case, I studied evolution in school many years ago but found it useful to focus upon it through this book. The Charlesworths' study will also be useful to students coming to evolutionary biology early in their lives. The book includes a brief bibliography for further reading.

I have found the Very Short Introduction Series of Oxford University Press highly useful in exploring a broad range of subjects. I have especially benefitted from books in the series about the sciences in that I have tended to take the sciences for granted though adult life. This study of evolution fits well with other works in the series I have read, including various books about geology, chemistry, and the relationship between science and religion. Readers wanting an informed brief account of evolutionary biology will benefit from the Charlesworth's Very Short Introduction.

Robin Friedman
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The biology of evolution, August 13, 2012
This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Two eminent professors of biology, both F.R.S., from the University of Edinburgh have collaborated to write this short monograph in the Oxford series of Short Introductions. It certainly maintains the standard of academic excellence characteristic of this series. The book is full of fascinating facts, illustrated with twenty-one figures. The degree of detail is such that the book might be more suitable as an introduction to evolution for biology students rather than for a lay readership, who might find the book on the same subject by John Maynard Smith slightly less intimidating.

Maynard Smith, the dedicatee of the book, was Brian Charlesworth's mentor at the University of Sussex. Though his book was published in 1958, it has been brought up to date in a new edition for Cambridge (1993) by Richard Dawkins. The book by the Charlesworths has the advantage of being a decade more recent again and in a fast-moving field, currency is important. The short section on mutations of bacteria is particularly good and the illustration (Fig.8) of how DNA codons relate to specific amino acids in proteins is very clear; but I think taking nearly a page to illustrate evolutionary changes in the fossil foraminiferan Globorotalia and another for the phylogenic tree of Darwin's finches is too much information for all but specialist students. Figure 19, criticised by one reviewer, is quite correct in my book.

This book is pure biology: there is nothing here about Intelligent Design (`human beings are the products of impersonal forces') or any other religious issues. In ths, the book follows the materialist approach of the excellent little monographs by Richard Dawkins. The book is clearly written, well illustrated and there is a very good index and therefore unhesitatingly recommended for the serious student of biology.

Howard Jones is the author of The Tao of Holism

The Theory of Evolution (Canto)
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provides basics but does not go beyond that..., March 20, 2010
By 
Yoda (Hadera, Israel) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
The good thing about this book is that it provides the bare essentials, for a layman, needed to describe evolution. For example, it covers important concepts such as genetic drift, mutation, adoption and selection over very long periods of time. Hence if one's goal is to obtain the basics of the theory the book succeeds. Unforutnatley, it barely succeeds. Why? Reasons are a lack of elaboration on these basic concepts and illustrations that, in general, do not do a good job of illustrating the concepts discussed (and many of the illustrations are very important to for the points being made in the book [i.e., mutation over time]). Competing theories that are relatively easy to intellectually debase, such as "intelligent design", are not even elaborated on. The book is also "dry" but this is the least of its problems. Coming from an academic press and a Professor this is not a surprise.

In short, if one is a layman and only wants to obtain a very basic understanding of the rudimentary concepts behind the theory of evolution, this book fulfills its purpose. However, if one is looking for anything beyond this the book does not succeed. Considering how many books that have been written as introductions to the layman, one can do better. Examples include Evans and Selina's "Introducing Evolution" and Dawkin's "Blind Watchmaker" and "Greatest Show on Earth" though, to be fair, the latter two are much longer (at least twice the length).
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, September 14, 2009
By 
Gustaf Liljegren (Stockholm, Sweden) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
I approached this book with the best intentions, but was disappointed. It's too hard and dry for an interested layman, and probably too short for anyone actually studying the subject. The ideal reader may be a professional in a science related to the subject matter (such as medicine) who needs to get up to speed with it. Despite its size, it's not a quick and easy read for a layman, and it's definitely not the kind of science book you put in the hands of a creationist.

I understand that writing about evolution is not easy, because it rests on so many other things in biology (molecular biology, embryology, morphology, and so on), plus many things from other sciences. But my idea of an introductory text is that you bring the reader up to speed with what the reader needs to know to understand the material. You shouldn't need to have knowledge equivalent to a biology student to understand a book with this title.

I have no doubt that the authors are good scientists, but there are better pop-science authors in this field.
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10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is a book about genetics, June 2, 2010
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This review is from: Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
For someone who was expecting a discussion of evolution from a "macro", "peleontological" or even "arquelogical" perspective this "introductory" book came as a surprise. My critique is not about the quality of the book, but about focus: the authors completely miss the point by focusing the discussion on genes, proteins, DNA, biochemistry etc. The fact that it was Dawkins, and not O Wilson or Gould, who gave a praise to the book should serve as a warning. Note that there is nothing wrong to use genetic explanations to supplement an argument regarding evolution, but the book appears to do the opposite: a discussion of the biochemical mechanics of inheritance with supplementary comments regarding other evolutionary pressures. Again, if you wish to understand evolution from a micro-, biochemical, genetic perspective, then this is the book for you! Otherwise, you will be waisting your money. Finally, for something along a real discussion of evolution check out Wood's "Human Evolution" from the same series (it also uses genetics, but only to support the argument!).
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to evolution or review for the reader familiar with the topic, January 23, 2010
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An excellent review for the reader familiar with Evolution. Also a very good introduction for the novice.
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Evolution: A Very Short Introduction
Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian Charlesworth (Paperback - August 21, 2003)
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