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Evolution: The First Four Billion Years 1st Edition

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674031753
ISBN-10: 067403175X
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* If ever there were an education in a book, there’s one in this massive volume. It’s a two-part affair, the first consisting of 16 topical overviews and the second constituting a dictionary-encyclopedia of key concepts, persons, and landmark publications in the history of evolutionary science. Each piece in both parts is by an authority or authorities in its particular field, each includes its own bibliography, and there are illustrations throughout, invariably reproduced legibly large. The editors kick things off with “The History of Evolutionary Thought,” in which they delineate three stages. Before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, evolution was a pseudoscience that “rode the back of the doctrine of progress.” Though a progressive, Darwin broke the connection of evolution to progress with the concept of “blind” natural selection. But the science of his time could not support natural selection, so it remained a speculative “popular science,” adopted by some as a substitute for religion. Eventually, technological improvements and such twentieth-century developments as genetics and radioactivity led to the acceptance of evolution as a field of fully professional scientific endeavor. Surveys of scientific evolutionary topics, such as origin of life, adaptation, speciation, evolutionary medicine, molecular evolution, and sociobiology, succeed the historical essay, and four reviews of evolution’s impact on philosophy, religion, society, and American culture wrap up the first part of what is most probably the commemorative par excellence of the Origin of Species sesquicentennial. --Ray Olson


If ever there were an education in a book, there's one in this massive volume...What is most probably the commemorative par excellence of the Origin of Species sesquicentennial. (Ray Olson Booklist (starred review) 2008-12-01)

Half essay collection, half encyclopedia, it's packed with everything you'll ever want or need to know about the science of evolution. (Zelda Roland Wired 2008-12-22)

Broad, engaging, and useful. (Gregg Sapp Library Journal 2008-12-15)

Evolution, which is slightly less than 1,000 pages long, covers almost every angle of its huge subject, from the perspective of science, religion, philosophy, and history. (Evan R. Goldstein Chronicle of Higher Education 2009-03-06)

Harvard's blockbuster contribution to the Darwin anniversary is a substantial work at almost a thousand pages. (London Review of Books 2009-02-26)

Evolution: The First Four Billion Years is as equally inviting and particularly timely in this bicentennial year of the birth of Charles Darwin and the ever-bubbling controversy with advocates of a creationist explanation for the mysteries of biology...The 16 explaining essays, followed by the second encyclopedic section offer the reader an easily and enjoyable access to what the fuss is all about and why it is important to get one's own opinions based on reality. Life, after all, is too important. (James Srodes Washington Times 2009-03-22)

More than 100 authors contribute to the rich variety of excellent articles in this highly commendable and scholarly volume. The authors explore in detail evidence supporting the role of natural selection and other forces driving evolutionary change, and consider myriad controversies and unresolved issues in evolutionary science. Illustrative examples are drawn from all levels of life on Earth. The book critically examines distinctions between microevolution--which even religious Fundamentalists generally do not dispute--and the far more contentious macroevolution. Contributors also address the influence of evolution on philosophy, sociology, and religion and provide an excellent discussion of American antievolutionism and the ongoing controversy of teaching evolution versus intelligent design/creationism in schools. (D. A. Brass Choice 2009-07-01)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (February 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067403175X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674031753
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7.1 x 2.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 88 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on February 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There's a lot here in this book's almost 1000 pages. The first 400 pages are 16 chapters (about 25 pages each) by a variety of authors. You'll see chapters on "The History of Evolutionary Thought", "Molecular Evolution", "American Antievolutionism: Retrospect and Prospect", for example. The quality and style varies somewhat: some chapters are more technical than others. You will get some overlap. It's not quite as effective as if it were all written by the same person or pair of people, but it does cover, as it needs to, a broad ground, and does so very well.

Following these 16 chapters you get a 500+ page Alphabetical Guide. This covers ideas, people, nature, etc. So you get about a page and a half on Richard Dawkins, 3 1/2 pages on Stephen Jay Gould, a page on Thomas Malthus, two pages on Bishop Wilberforce, etc. Nothing, curiously, on Lysenko, although he is mentioned at a number of points in the book. There are entries on Crustacea, Insects, Homology, Natural Theology, Piltdown Man, etc. This is a fine book both for detailed reading and also for browsing as well: a good and worthy book for you library shelves!
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on February 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I came across this book recently by accident in the bookstore and was both surprised and very impressed at its coverage. Not only is this book a wonderful encyclopedia of both historical and current thinking in evolutionary biology, but it accomplishes this great depth and breadth in a single large but inexpensive volume. If you can only afford a small handful of books on life science, I suggest this should be one of them. Intended for the science educated but not neccessarily biological specialist reader. There are essays on concepts, controversies, applications, implications, links to other fields of science, links with the humanities and culture, just about everything that makes evolution such a dynamic and interesting field of study.
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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful By WH Griesar on February 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A compendium of fascinating essays on evolution followed by an alphabetical guide through the subject. An education in science, second only, in my view, to Christian de Duve's wonderful explanation of the subject in his book entitled "Life Evolving", published by Oxford a few years ago--not many years ago--it's worth reading today.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Redgecko on May 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book begins with a collection of essays, some of which are quite interesting, though they don't "hang together" too well. The Alphabetical Guide, which comprises about 60% of the book, is where the real disappointment begins. The Guide isn't indexed and so you must literally look at every page to see what topics are discussed. I'm not sure who wrote the essays in the Alphabetical Guide, most aren't credited to anyone, and are too general to be of much use. The book's dust jacket is misleading because it shows pictures of dinosaurs when the book contains very little information about dinosaurs and the scant four page discussion in the Alphabetical Guide portion of the book is worthless. And, of course, there is little discussion of individual dinosaur species. Similarly, the three pages about Charles Darwin is also shallow. One could mine more interesting information about Darwin after five minutes of Googling than is provided here; there are no insights--nothing special. Since the early 1990's, it has been all but unanimously accepted that the K-T extinction was caused by a boloid. This was due to the rigorous research done worldwide by many scientists verifying the hypothesis proposed by the geologist Walter Alvarez and his father Luis, the Nobel prize winning physicist. Yet, this important discovery and the fascinating story behind it gets little more than a page. An understanding of geology and global warming and cooling periods is crucial to an understanding of evolution, yet there is no focused discussion of these topics. With the bold title "The First Four Billion Years", I would expect an expansive treatment of all of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic periods and the current understanding of the life forms that evolved during them.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Why they gave as much space to Creationist thinking or Intelligent Design thought is beyond comprehension. These people--Creationists and Intelligent Design people--are lunatics, crackpots, and quite possibly psychotic. There is more of substance in Judeo-Christian Scripture than the question of whether God created the Earth in 6 days.(The "Binding of Isaac", JOB, the Passion Narrative".) In fact, at this point--many Bibles discuss Hebrew cosmogony within a context of Akkadian, Greek, Hittite, Aztec, Norse cosmogony. But the review is helpful to those who wonder about the orginis of the Creatioist or Intelligent Design debate. And while they are downright psychotic, they remind us that there is a concerted effort from them to take evolution out of the High School curriculum because such discussion dismisses/diminishes the relationship between a Deity and Humanity.

This book consists of a seriies of sixteen essays by different authors. And then follow almost 500 pages of encylopaedic entries about various topics on evolution and pivotal people in the development of evolutionary thought.

The topic of human evolution is far more complex than man is related to chimpanzees--however true that might be. There is sense that evolution occurs as response to environmental changes. And that these evolutionary adaptations can occur in a relativley short period of time--months in the instance of finches needing to adapt beak size to help in the search for food in dry spells...

There is a discussion of "Molecular Evolution" by Francisco J. Ayala, and the reader has to suspect that this is the core of the debate. This essay is followed by "Evolution of the Genome" by Brian Charlseworth and Deborah Charlseworth.
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