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The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection Paperback – August 21, 1988

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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From the Back Cover

John Tyler Bonner argues that we can understand progression in terms of natural selection, but that in order to do so we must consider the role of development--or more precisely the role if life cycles--in evolutionary change.

About the Author

John Tyler Bonner is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. His books include "The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds" and "Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales" (both Princeton).

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (August 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691084947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691084947
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,403,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Bonner is a master developmental/evolutionary biologist who is best known for his work on the development and morphogenesis of a little known group of organisms called slime molds. A wonderful group of organisms, by the way. In this book, however, Bonner takes on the task of explaining how natural selection can produce increasingly complex systems of living things. A formidable challenge.
The book contains 8 chapters, as follows:
1. A brief summary of Darwinian evolution, along with an indication of the purpose of the book.
In this section Bonner addresses issues such as time, what natural selection is, and the roles that factors such as development, ecology, behavior, and genetics play in the processes of evolution. This chapter is a great primer on ideas regarding natural selection.
2. Evidence for the evolution of size increase (and decrease) from the fossil record.
In this chapter Bonner presents data from the fossil record (which is unavoidably biased) that indicates how the size of things have changed over time. He makes a case that, generally speaking, things have tended to get larger over time.
3. The size of organisms in ecological communities.
Here is a good thought to consider while reading this chapter...organisms of increased size are necessarily more structurally complex than smaller organisms, but, complexity that allowed increases in size to occur existed BEFORE those size increases took place (e.g., mammals). In this chapter Bonner considers topics such as relations between the size and abundance of organisms, size and life histories, size changes wtihin a species, and size in sexual selection. A great chapter full of thought provoking ideas!
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First some caveats about this review: I'm just an avid amateur, at the level of those who read Scientific American obsessively. My professional field is computer science. I've noticed that my mind gets slower and poorer as I get up in years. And I didn't read the whole book (I read about a third, lightly skimmed another third, and skipped entire chapters that didn't seem of interest). So it's very possible I either don't have adequate background to really understand, or just plain don't "get it". Keeping those caveats in mind, read on:

The book is especially good at the mechanics of organism growth, a sort of modern detailed follow-on to D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's "On Growth and Form". It provides (maybe unintentionally) a whole lot of suggestions for research directions. The organization is excellent, one of the best I've ever seen. And the writing is very good: relatively informal without being "breezy", clear without being pedantic, and accurate without being obscurantist. There are no equations at all, and very few numeric research results. In fact, the only quantitative reasoning is the slope of a line in a few very generic graphs. Mathophobes need not have any fear. (In fact, the lack of quantitative reasoning when focusing on evolution is a bit worrying.)

However, I found the core theme suggested by the title was not adequately addressed.

For starters, the book isn't what I was looking for and expecting. From the title, I expected from a development point of view the addressing of the same general subject area as "Energy Flow in Biology" by Harold J. Morowitz or "Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life" by Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan. But that's not what the book is really about.
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