Since 1869, when its inaugural issue appeared, the international journal Nature
has been at the forefront of research in the life sciences, publishing sometimes controversial, even revolutionary work in such fields as genetics, molecular biology, and evolutionary theory. Its first issue included T. H. Huxley's report on Triassic dinosaurs, which brought public attention to the new discipline of paleontology; subsequent issues helped rehabilitate the reputation of Gregor Mendel and revise the human fossil record, among other achievements. Lately, through exponents such as senior editor Henry Gee, Nature
has advocated work in cladistics, a taxonomic system that considers ecological relationships as well as evolutionary lineages in classifying living things, which Gee has elsewhere called "a revolution in thought as profound as that of Darwinian evolution by natural selection."
In Shaking the Tree, useful as both reference and survey text, Gee offers 19 review articles from recent issues of Nature, addressing such topics as the theory of punctuated equilibrium, the origin of terrestrial plants, the evolution of birds from carnivorous dinosaurs, and the manifold causes of mass extinction in distant geological epochs. The contributors include Stephen Jay Gould, John Maynard Smith, Caro-Beth Stewart, and other leading scientists, all of whom fulfill Gee's promise to "provide added spice to nourishing-but-bland textbook fare." --Gregory McNamee
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Fossils and genes dominate this hefty and valuable collection of 19 life-sciences papers, all originally published in the prestigious science journal Nature. Senior editor Gee (In Search of Deep Time) outlines the collection's rationale in a lucid introduction: over the past 10 years or so, new lab technology has connected with new ideas to revitalize the study of evolution, growth and inheritance, from chromosomes to populations. "Evo-devo," or evolutionary developmental biology, explores the large-scale divergences, low down on evolution's branching trees, that separate roundworms from flatworms and lobsters from larks; cladistics improves our guesses about the shape of those trees by studying in mathematical terms the relatedness of present species' DNA. But the collection begins with neither method: in its first paper, Stephen Jay Gould (Rocks of Ages) and collaborator Niles Eldredge revisit and defend their famous theory of "punctuated equilibrium." In the next selections, renowned U.K. biologist John Maynard Smith and E?rs Szathm ry consider the chemical basis of major events in early and intracellular evolution, and Caro-Beth Stewart discusses the "powers and pitfalls" of a scheme of thought used in cladistics. The rest of the papers take on broad issues in evolution and earth history; the emergence of various phyla, orders and families from ferns to finches; and primate history and evolution. These are not popularizations, but scientific papers of potentially broad interest, and readers with a serious background in biology--Scientific American subscribers, say--will find in this collection sustained pleasure and interest. (May)
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