on May 29, 2012
There have been some amazing books on evolution that have been published in the past decade. Two of the very best are by Daniel Fairbanks. "Relics of Eden" demonstrates the overwhelming evidence of our evolution that is found in our DNA. Before reading Relics of Eden I had already read many books on evolution, but I was still blown away by the overwhelming evidence presented in the book.
"Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters" also presents a great amount of evidence of human evolution from our DNA; a lot of the DNA evidence presented in "Evolving" can be found in "Relics of Eden" but there is also a lot of new DNA evidence in the book. "Evolving" also demonstrates the clear evidence of our evolution from fossils, embryology, anatomy, etc. I flew right through this book; not because it was dumbed down but because of the author's ability to explain complex ideas in a way that is very easy to understand.
The first two-thirds of the book seemed to be aimed at demonstrating just how overwhelming the evidence of our evolution is, while the last third of the book showed why evolutionary biology matters. Sure, its really awesome to be able to know a lot about our origins and the history of life, but the chapters on our health and our food show why it is vital that evolutionary biology is taught in every school.
Buy this book! Every single chapter is filled with fascinating information that I had never come across before. I think that Daniel Fairbanks is the most underrated author of popular books on evolution. Dawkins, Fairbanks, and Shubin are the three best alive today, in my opinion (sure Shubin's only written one book, but "Your Inner Fish" is amazing!!!).
This book contains two main parts. The first part is the evidence for human evolution and the second part is the importance of evolution to current issues like health, food, and environment.
The first part on the evidence for human evolution is about 2/3 of the book and in my opinion was the strongest. The presentation on the shared structures, changes in hominid skulls and pelvises was excellent as was the genetic evidence. This part of the book makes a really strong case for the grand unifying nature of evolutionary theory.
The second part on the importance of evolution in things like health and food was interesting but to me was neither as compelling nor as convincing. I understand what he is saying here but I don't think it is controversial. I don't even think young earth creationists dispute the kind of bacterial/viral evolution or plant and animal domestication and selection discussed in this part.
In any case this book overall, and especially the first part, is a very good case for human evolution and is therefore recommended. I remember thinking about ordering his previous book "Relics of Eden" at one point and never did. Now that I have read this one I'm going to take a look at that one as well.
on November 28, 2013
Right from the beginning the author clearly spells out that evolution is both a fact and a theory. It is a fact that the mechanisms (components) of evolution have been repeatedly observed and documented to such an extent that they can no longer be reasonably disputed. It is a theory according to the various hypotheses, laws, and facts that are now documented that define the overall processes of evolution in action. The author does an excellent job of taking one on a journey through the evidence supporting evolution, from the fossil record, to the genetic evidence, to the geographic record, to the science behind genetics. The author brings real world problems concerning genetics into perspective. Problems that can cascade down to humans such as GMO foods, cattle, growth hormones, and antibiotics. A very comprehensive and detailed book that should be included in everyone's personal library.
on March 21, 2013
As a physics major, I am often inclined to feel the need to explore other scientific endeavors, and although I have taken many biology courses, the matter of evolution is, well, "Evolving"! and we are always in pursuit of a deeper meaning to quench our thirst for knowledge. I am very impressed and engaged by Fairbanks work here. He is undoubtedly one of the majorly underrated scientists in the "evolution discussion". This book gives you the answers in depth. Between this and Dawkins "Greatest Show on Earth", I am befuddled as to how anyone can deny evolution.
on April 10, 2013
Given that nearly half the adult population of the United States rejects the notion of biological evolution, believing instead that the world was created only 6,000 to 10,000 years ago with its life forms pretty much as they are now, and given that certain political forces work steadily to try to insinuate the preposterous pseudo-scientific "creation science" and "intelligent design" sorts of nonsense into our public schools, the reading public needs books like this one by Daniel Fairbanks more than it has ever needed them before. This is a splendid answer to those ignoramuses who argue that evolution has no basis in science. I know how prevalent this sort of thing is; I live in a place where the letters to the editor constantly claim that the fossil record does not support evolution and that the idea that we have common ancestors with other life forms is foolish if not downright wicked. Fairbanks lays all that to rest as competently as any writer I've ever seen. This wonderful book brims over with irrefutable evidence for Darwinian evolution and natural selection, from his discussions of comparative anatomy to the (pre)history of bipedalism to the high similarity between human and chimpanzee genomes, to the overwhelming evidence offered by retro-elements in our DNA. Any sound scientific theory should of course be predictive-- capable of predicting, from what is already known, what might be found when one ventures into realms one has not yet explored-- and Fairbanks does a splendid job of showing how evolutionary theory does precisely this, predicting for example that certain genetic code sequences ought to be parallel in varying degrees in various primate genomes, predictions that have turned out to be accurate. The author also shows how if one denies evolution, one closes off one's mind to any chance of understanding many fundamental things, such as the fact that most of our common foods would not even exist if living matter did not constantly evolve by natural selection. This is one of those books that will make the world a saner, better place if people will only read it with open minds.
on September 12, 2014
The title of the book is "Evolving, The Human Effect and Why It Matters" and the author is Daniel J. Fairbanks. I believe this is the most informative book that I have read for this year and for maybe longer. The book is organized into arguments for the importance of evolution in our everyday lives from several different aspects. In order to show us physical proof of human evolution, Fairbanks reviews a parade of fossil men starting over four million years ago and progressing forward in time. However, he does it in a novel way; he omits any mention of the discovers of the fossils. Most authors include this human element to make the topic more interesting. I found that without the distraction, it was easier to concentrate on the four basic groupings: Early Hominins, Australopithecines, Robusts, and Homo.
Next Fairbanks schools us on the fundamentals of DNA. We will need to understand this part if we wish to follow him through major parts of the book. He is a researcher in DNA and some of what he reveals stems from his own research. Personally, I had been fuzzy about the relationship between the DNA molecules and chromosomes. I came away with a much clearer understanding of it. He also discusses common types of mutations in our DNA and how it affects our evolution. Alpha -Omega looping is one example of chromosomal error. Understanding these mutations to our chromosomes is important to following his discussion of how chimps and man have drifted away from their common ancestor who lived 5-7 million years ago. The discussion is technical but yields important information. For example, one consequence of the ancestral mutations is that we humans have 46 chromosomes, whereas apes have 48. You will learn how that came about.
Humans have over 20,000 genes in their DNA. A gene is sequence of DNA units (i.e., nucleotides), which allow a cell to manufacture a specific protein. How this is possible is a wonderful story in itself. However, another interesting fact is that our DNA contains mostly non-functional material such as pseudogenes. A pseudogene is a gene that no longer functions as a working gene due to mutations. Genes occasionally get duplicated and if one of them becomes nonfunctional, the other may still be working. The more mutations that we can see in the pseudogene, the older it is. Retroviruses are responsible for a great deal of the junk DNA that we carry in our DNA and Fairbanks explains those processes to us. Now here is the point: Scientists can learn a tremendous amount about our history and ancestry by examination of markers in our junk DNA. Fairbanks will amaze you with what we have learned. One example is the complete history of how humans left Africa 50,000 years ago and populated the rest of the world. The story is all there in the DNA of humans alive today.
Applying DNA principles has opened up a wealth of information about how our bodies function or cease to function due to diseases like cancer. For example consider apoptosis, or cell suicide. The P53 gene triggers it. The process of apoptosis protects us against cancer or runaway cell growth. Learn about fusion genes, where pieces of two functioning genes unite to form a renegade gene. Fusion genes are one of the ways we get cancer. Autoimmunity is another example of applying DNA principles. This is where our own immune system attacks our body. Rheumatoid arthritis is an example of autoimmunity. Probably the most important thing about health that we should all realize is that the medical gains we have made are only temporary. The wonder drugs that allowed us to defeat so many horrific diseases will be rendered obsolete by the bacteria and viruses as they evolve into drug-resistant new species. Already there are strains of tuberculosis and gonorrhea that are immune to current drugs.
Plants also have DNA and Fairbanks devotes a whole chapter to evolution and our food. I think most people are totally unaware of the ongoing battle between pests and crops and pesticides. Man has used technology to produce crops at marvelous productive rates. The world population was about two billion people when I was a boy. Today it is more than three times that number. That huge population would be impossible without modern agriculture. However, it could all be defeated by evolved pests faster than you can imagine.
Unfortunately, evolution is controversial. It shouldn't be, but it is. About 40% of Americans reject it completely and many of them are effective in intimidating biology teachers from teaching evolution in our schools. When you read this book, you will understand how self-destructive that is. We live in a technological age. Yet voters don't understand the issues and tend to vote against their own self-interest. We need more enlightened voters if we are going to survive. That is why I want you to read this book. Besides, it is a fascinating read.
Ralph D. Hermansen, September 12, 2014
on December 7, 2013
This book, along with Fairbank's other book, Relics of Eden, is unquestionably the best book I've ever read on the genetic evidence for common ancestry and evolution in general. It was literally a page-turner, and had me sleep-deprived for a week as stayed up late into the night reading, highlighting and contemplating. I especially enjoyed the extensive discussions on transposable elements, ERVs and pseudogenes, as well as the evidence relating to chromosomal fusions and inversions. I had some idea prior to reading the book as to how "messy" genomes are, but I didn't really appreciate just how messy. Genomes are just chock full of the "relics" of endlessly repeated sequences, duplications just tagging along, with coding sequences representing just a tiny fraction.
on June 26, 2015
Accessible, insightful, and captivating. This is the real human "creation" story and it is beautiful and fascinating. The more we learn about where we came from, the more we can know moving forward.
on April 13, 2015
Thoughtful, informative, and a must read for those interested in evolution; in fact an even more important read for those who think evolution didn't happen
there's alot of important information about our food supply, the environment, and essential medical care that depends almost entirely on genetics and the science of evolution
on March 21, 2013
Daniel Fairbanks relates the importance of how understanding evolution is relevant for our world today. Even someone without much of a background can understand because of the way the book is written and presented. I recommend that anyone who has an interest in evolution to read this book.