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The Major Transitions in Evolution [Paperback]

John Maynard Smith , Eörs Szathmáry
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 12, 1998 019850294X 978-0198502944
This ambitious book provides the first unified discussion of the full range of evolutionary transitions. Engagingly written and filled with numerous illustrations, this book can be read with enjoyment by anyone with an undergraduate training in biology. It includes accessible discussions of a wide range of topics, from molecular biology and linguistics to insect societies.

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The Major Transitions in Evolution + The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) + The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language
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Editorial Reviews


"It spans the major transitions in evolution, starting with a prebiotic mix of free molecules and ending with the evolution of human language . . . . A splendid and rewarding tour de force."--Nature

About the Author

John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was Emeritus Professor of Biology in the University of Sussex. Eors Szathmary is at the Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019850294X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198502944
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Marvellous and Challenging Read December 6, 1999
This is arguably John-Maynard Smith's most challenging project in popular science writing. Written along with Eros Szathmary, a chemist, " The Major Transitions in Evolution" is written primarily for biology students, but can be understood by anybody with a solid background in evolutionary theory. How have the ways in which information is transmitted between generations changed through time and what were the crucial transitions that made these changes possible? One early example that illustrates the effect of these transitions is the origin of chromosomes. Nucleic acid strands (genes) capable of independent replication, at some point became linked and thereafter could replicate only as a set of lined genes (chromosomes). A new way of storing information,a new information system had evolved. How was this transition maintained through time? Would'nt unlinked genes which replicate faster be favoured by natural selection over linked genes? In effect, would'nt selection at a lower level disrupt higher level organizatins? This is a common feature of many of the major transitions and forms the fundamental theme of this marvellous book. In a series of chapters the authors discuss the evolutions of various level of complexity. The chapters are arrange in a logical sequence begining with the origin of life and moving on to successive transitions including the origin of the genetic code, the origin of the eucaryotes, the origin of sex, multicellularity, societies and language. The list here is not complete. I read the book from start to finish in a sequence, but readers with a good background in the subject could probably start anywhere depending on their interest. Read more ›
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
John Maynard Smith gets an automatic thumbs-up from me for anything he writes. He is clear, pleasant, creative, unpretentious, authoritative and thoughtful. For this book he has teamed up with what seems to be an up-and-coming molecular biologist cum evolutionist and the team is impressively powerful. The writing is all in Maynard-Smith's style as far as I can tell, so I don't know whether Szathmary is an exceptionally competent anglophone who shares the same style, or whether they split the writing duties to exploit their respective skills. All I can say is that if you want a really rewarding read and you have a sound, not necessarily advanced, understanding of the basics of biochemistry, evolution and cellular physiology, then you cannot do better than this book. It makes no pretence to being comprehensive and gives only the minimum of introductory material to support their views on evolutionary transitions. Even if you are familiar with the field, the book does not lend itself to skimming; it is the distillation of a lot of non-trivial thinking.
An excellent book. Recommended to any professional in the field, to any student of the subject and to laymen with a good background in the subject and who are not intimidated by a challenge and are willing to skip some of the biochemistry. The later chapters are more accessible in that they deal with more difficult subjects, such as speech and culture.
Instead of watering down the content for educated laymen, the authors have published a less technical sequel: "The Origins of Life". This is also available from Amazon and, although it is intended for a wider audience, it is thoroughly rewarding for the professional.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class June 3, 1998
By A Customer
Maynard Smith is one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists (for instance, he was largely responsible for the application of ideas from game theory to biological contests), and here he gives an excellent account of what he considers the most important transitions in evolutionary biology, including the origin of the genetic code, cellularisation, sociality and language. It's an astonishingly wide-ranging book, and highly recommended for anyone with any interest in any of these subjects in particular or in evolution as a whole. The writing is lucid and entertaining, and although some chapters probably require a familiarity with at least basic biology, Maynard Smith, like Richard Dawkins, can be understood by anyone who's prepared to make an effort.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic July 30, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
exquisite approach on the subject of evolution and its particulars, especially on ways to transition between the structures of the species. Recommended
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