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Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life [Hardcover]

Martin A. Nowak
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 29, 2006 0674023382 978-0674023383 First Edition
At a time of unprecedented expansion in the life sciences, evolution is the one theory that transcends all of biology. Any observation of a living system must ultimately be interpreted in the context of its evolution. Evolutionary change is the consequence of mutation and natural selection, which are two concepts that can be described by mathematical equations. Evolutionary Dynamics is concerned with these equations of life. In this book, Martin A. Nowak draws on the languages of biology and mathematics to outline the mathematical principles according to which life evolves. His work introduces readers to the powerful yet simple laws that govern the evolution of living systems, no matter how complicated they might seem. Evolution has become a mathematical theory, Nowak suggests, and any idea of an evolutionary process or mechanism should be studied in the context of the mathematical equations of evolutionary dynamics. His book presents a range of analytical tools that can be used to this end: fitness landscapes, mutation matrices, genomic sequence space, random drift, quasispecies, replicators, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, games in finite and infinite populations, evolutionary graph theory, games on grids, evolutionary kaleidoscopes, fractals, and spatial chaos. Nowak then shows how evolutionary dynamics applies to critical real-world problems, including the progression of viral diseases such as AIDS, the virulence of infectious agents, the unpredictable mutations that lead to cancer, the evolution of altruism, and even the evolution of human language. His book makes a clear and compelling case for understanding every living system—and everything that arises as a consequence of living systems—in terms of evolutionary dynamics.

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Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life + SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed + Evolution, Games, and God: The Principle of Cooperation
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Editorial Reviews


I read this book with huge enjoyment. It is wonderfully well presented, and offers a wide range of new insights into interesting and important and emerging topics in mathematical biology. The book will have a wide and enthusiastic readership. (Robert M. May, Professor of Zoology, Oxford University)

This is a brilliant book by the master of his field. Simple, clear and profound on topics of major importance: cooperation, cancer, language, and HIV itself. You can only benefit by learning what Martin Nowak knows. (Robert Trivers, Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, and co-author of Genes in Conflict)

Martin Nowak has injected rigor and new ideas into the study of the evolution of language and cooperation. This book is brimming with insights and surprising findings and should be of interest to anyone who is curious about these topics. (Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language, and How the Mind Works)

Martin Nowak is undeniably a great artist, working in the medium of mathematical biology… Nowak has seemingly effortlessly produced a stream of remarkable theoretical explorations into areas as diverse as the evolution of language, cooperation, cancer and the progression from HIV infection to AIDS. Evolutionary Dynamics, based on a course he gives at Harvard, is a comprehensive summary of this work… This is a unique book. It should be on the shelf of anyone who has, or thinks they might have, an interest in theoretical biology. (Sean Nee Nature 2006-11-01)

The lucid presentation, drawing frequently on the author's own research, provides a uniquely compelling introduction to mathematical biology. Nowak aims to demonstrate the power of simple mathematics to illuminate diverse aspects of evolutionary analysis… Evolutionary Dynamics provides a new generation with an opportunity to draw from the masters. (Steven A. Frank Science 2006-12-22)

The book will be a valuable resource both for those familiar with evolutionary dynamics and for those who are interested in learning the subject. (Ross Cressman Mathematical Reviews 2007-01-01)

Two of the crucial processes that drive evolution, mutation and selection, can be described with mathematical equations. This book introduces the reader to the basic mathematical laws that govern the evolution of life… This is a fascinating treatment of evolutionary theory, with many fresh insights. (S.E. Southeastern Naturalist 2007-12-01)

About the Author

Martin A. Nowak is Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Professor of Mathematics and Biology at Harvard University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (October 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674023382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674023383
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful life October 13, 2006
This is a remarkable book, absolutely original, containing a lot of material which has never before appeared in book form. It is written in a very accessible style, and leads almost effortlessly from first principles to state-of-the-art research.

The book takes an eagle's view on evolution, covering an vast range of topics from molecules to man. It emphasises analytical methods and presents a large canvas of superbly elegant mathematical models.

The author has chosen a very personal, highly idiosyncratic sample of subjects of amazing diversity, basically because he feels excited about them: and this excitement shows through, and makes the book very engaging, a positively bracing experience. On all of the topics, the author has contributed substantially, and the feel to get it `straight from the horse's mouth' is one of the great assets of the book. I believe that it will be a splendid hit with students, and regret that I did not have anything like that when I was young.

The style of the book is lucid and vigorous, with short, clear sentences, occasionally in staccato style. The mathematics is reduced to the bare minimum. It is incredible how much mileage the author can get out of it. The illustrations play an important role, and are well devised.

The chapters are short, and they address an amazing array of topics, ranging from molecular evolution to evolutionary games, from HIV to cancer, and from cooperation to language.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling book November 22, 2006
This is, quite simply, a dazzling book. Nowak manages to take very deep mathematical ideas that are on the cutting edge of science and make them fun and pretty rigorous at the same time. The review in Nature said "It should be on the shelf of anyone who has, or thinks they might have, an interest in theoretical biology" and I completely agree. The section on HIV, explaining mathematically why there is a long delay between infection and the disease, and how this proposal in 1990 correctly predicted several biolgical facts which were subseqently discovered (but not mentioning execpt in the notes, that this was his work) is truly exceptional. We are moving beyond the "Just So stories" phase of evolution (such as wooly rhetoric about "Selfish Genes") to real, mathematically rigorous, science.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Marriage of Mathematics and Evolution January 9, 2007
Excellent book for the mathematically and evolutionarily minded. However, not for general reading unless you are doing graduate work in either mathematics or evolutionary biology. Just excellent survey.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory June 9, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are so many good things to say about this book I think I will begin with my misgivings!

Not a fault of the book, but before reading this you may want to brush up on your math, especially on systems of differential equations and matrix algebra. Martin Nowak is a fluent and elegant writer and this extends to his math, which (for me anyway) flows wonderfully. But I don't spend enough time on math so I had to slow myself down as I read, think carefully and test my understanding.

There is very little 'biology' in this book. It is mostly on the theoretical structures that underlie evolution. I prefer my evolution with rather more biology. I hope someone will write another book (preferably many books) that goes deeper into applying these ideas to living systems (yes, the chapter on HIV was compelling and the chapter on cancer interesting).

I was disappointed by the Further Reading section. It did not provide enough context about the books mentioned or thread them together into a story. In fact, it seemed a bit rushed - and I had set aside some time to read it carefully.

On to the books strengths.

This is one of the best examples of expository prose I have read in a long time. Martin Nowak can make complex ideas clear and not waste a lot of words doing so. Anyone writing about complex topics where it is important to link the math and ideas could benefit from studying this book. As an example, the description of the Chomsky hierarchies of formal languages is the best I have read.

The presentation of the key equations is exemplary. The components of the equation are all labeled and explained. All books that need to explain equations should take this approach.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anybody interested in evolution May 31, 2008
The author picks a variety of sunjects related to evolution (HIV, cancer, language....), and mathematically shows, why it has to be that way!
The mathematics involved is simple (I am an engineer, and I had absolutely no problems understanding the math), yet rigorous enough.

In my opinion, mathematics is not necessary to understand the principles of Darwin's Great Theory (unlike Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory, where without math, you are lost), it greatly helps to make it unassailable.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Theory of Evolution, who is not totally afraid of mathematics.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars very good introduction for students who only know calculus/ODEs
I got interested in mathematical theories of evolution after reading this book, though at times it does read as the collected works of Martin Nowak. Read more
Published 9 months ago by alpet
2.0 out of 5 stars Jacket totally ruined
The book seems to have been spilled on in several places, and the book jacket looks like it might have been chewed up or nibbled by an animal, to the point that it has holes all... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Leila Shayegan
5.0 out of 5 stars An Explanation For Some Dynamics Of Life
Along with his book Supercooperators, this book shows that there is a reason for the dynamics we see every day in life. In some sense, this is the Bible that is true. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Peter L. Swinford
2.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Modeling but Somewhat Sloppy Biology (like Economics Pretty...
In a way this book is one of the very best books in the history of the world, in a way that disappoints however.

I like the author. I like the topic. Read more
Published on January 7, 2011 by Richard Greene
3.0 out of 5 stars To speak ofl animal is one thing, to speak of the human animal is...
The one factor in human behavior that Martin Nowak overlooks is free will, which is not and cannot be explained by evolution. Read more
Published on September 23, 2010 by Clifford J. Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars another rave
I'm a computer programmer with an intererst in evolutionary programming, and I've written my share of implementations. Each turned out to sport unsightly warts with hair. Read more
Published on January 30, 2010 by phhht
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite in Every Respect, Two-Fifths Equations & Charts
I don't do math, so I must disclose right away that the math was lost on me, except in the context of this equisitely presented book, I am compelled to recognize that mathematics... Read more
Published on April 3, 2008 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
5.0 out of 5 stars A tremendously interesting book.
I am neither a biologist nor a mathematician but I found this book very approachable and tremendously interesting. Read more
Published on December 16, 2007 by J. Hartman
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing read - highly recommended
This is a wonderful book by a master of the field. Prof. Nowak, who teaches at Harvard, has managed a minor miracle: writing a book on mathematical biology that is mathematically... Read more
Published on September 4, 2007 by Soumyajit Mandal
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