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Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species Paperback – March 10, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0471379126 ISBN-10: 0471379123 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471379123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471379126
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,308,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Despite the title, Darwin's Origin of Species doesn't really explain how new species are born. Scientists have been struggling with that thorny problem ever since its publication, and the recent revolution in molecular biology has turned up great piles of new evidence. Anthropologist Jeffrey H. Schwartz takes a close look at this evidence, as well as the more traditional paleontological material, in Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species. He claims that the tide is turning in favor of "punctuated equilibrium"--the theory that species typically remain static for great lengths of time and then experience brief spurts of accelerated change--thanks in no small part to the discovery of homeobox genes.

These remarkable structures are the genetic equivalent of the proverbial butterfly wings that cause hurricanes halfway around the world--small changes can produce enormous effects. Homeobox genes regulate development and are remarkable similar between species and even between phyla--you share some with fruit flies, for example. By turning our attention toward embryology and development, Schwartz shows us that fossils can't tell the whole story, since much of it lies within the womb. He covers a lot of ground and stretches the reader's intellectual muscles; the scope of Sudden Origins and the greater understanding of Darwin's problem make the challenge well worth it. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Anthropology professor (Univ. of Pittsburgh) Schwartz's latest tome (after The Red Ape) is best viewed as a combination of three books that are only loosely tied together. The first blends changing ideas about human ancestors, a brief summary of their fossil evidence and a look at some of the dominant figures in archeology to provide a historical overview of human evolution. The second reviews theories about the origins of species while providing a somewhat idiosyncratic history of evolutionary biology from Charles Darwin to the present. The third, and briefest, offers Schwartz's ideas on how new species arise. Like many scientists before him, Schwartz argues that regulatory genes called homeobox genes, which were discovered in the 1980s, control developmental processes in such a way that small alterations to their structure can lead to major shifts in organisms, possibly even creating new species. Stressing the importance of an integrated approach to the study of evolution, Schwartz contends that "there is a very real need to return the study of comparative morphology, and especially development, to the fore of evolutionary biology." Perhaps. But his dense book is neither sufficiently innovative to gain the attention of most experts nor sufficiently eloquent to hold the interest of the general science reader.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Unfortunately, that consumes nearly the entirety of the book.
Elihue Whitcomb
At a later stage the gene is deactivated and the adult tunicate does not possess a notochord.
Lloyd To
I'd love to use for teaching a class on the history of evolutionary thought.
Jeffrey Cole

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By DR P. Dash on September 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Schwartz spends most of his book on the history of evolutionary theory, which is fine from the perspective of a historian of science, but then there isn't much of the book left for development of newer ideas. Pages are spent on Linnaeus but next to nothing on cladisitics; much detailed attention is given to detailed reports of the first hominid fossils found, even to Piltdown, but more recent findings are hardly mentioned, surprising given that he is even now editing an authorative volume with Tattersall on hominid fossils. However, credit is due for developing the thesis that the discontinuous fossil record is due to the relatively sudden emergence of species from changes in regulatory molecules such as the homeobox genes. Rudolph Raff, in The Shape of Life (an excellent book which Schwartz quotes) previously developed the thesis that macroevolution of body plans was dependent on these genes, but did not emphasize the discontinuous fossil record. Although we don't get to a discussion of the new ideas until the last 10% of the book, nonetheless, this whole area of evolutionary developmental genetics is of such fundamental importance that the book is worth reading. In the relatively near future, with new fields such as comparative genomics (comparing entire DNA sequences of one organism to another), and computerized analysis of developmental expression of complete sets of cellular proteins analyzed on biochips, the promise of reconstructing, at a molecular level, the evolutionary history of life on earth has begun. I'd also like to take issue with the reviewer who thought Schwartz "savaged" Darwin. He does not, though as part of his detailed review of the early debates on evolution he quotes scientists who do attack Darwin's ideas.Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on December 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book that provides a reasonable introduction and much historical context to the concepts behind a class of theories of speciation that are gradually becoming less controversial.
The notion of cumulative gradual change in allele frequencies as the only source of variety has been a thorn in the side of serious biology for some time. Not least because it leaves the door open to claims that speciation itself is "improbable" in higher species. Richard Dawkins' brave attempts to rescue biology from "Mount Improbable" may very well turn out to be partly an exercise in futility.
Schwartz joins a number of recent authors and researchers to face head on the challenge of improving our understanding of evolutionary biology by recognizing that it makes perfect sense of much otherwise confusing data to allow for sudden "saltational" changes in species. As hard as it remains for many to swallow, S.J. Gould was probably right about much of this, and deserves credit for bucking the "received" view of Darwinism.
This book is disappointing however, in that it seems to revel in telling the history rather than describing the new concepts. There's just so much politics behind this issue that authors can't seem to avoid the temptation to add their own spin to the history in every book. But that part has been done already. Sterlny and Griffiths' "Sex and Death" does a great job of discussing all of the various chinks in the armor of the received view of how evolution works, without spending so much time interpreting intellectual history yet again.
The new part that is most exciting is the details of how regulatory genes work, their duplications and mutations, and the role they play in speciation.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on December 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very important source of information both as to the history of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis and the recent discoveries of regulatory hox genes and the light they throw on the riddles of speciation and large scale evolutionary change. The realization that major morphological changes do not in fact occur in the fashion of microevolution (as presented by traditional Darwinists), due to the effect of homeobox genes, is a revolutionary discovery and confirmation of the importance of the developmental tradition moving in parallel to standard Darwinism. This data creates a foundation for the various theories of macroevolution and punctuated equilibrium proposed almost a generation ago but still sidelined by the Darwinian mainline. The book contains an invaluable review of paleoanthropological theories, issues of neotonous evolution, and the various genetical theories of Mendelism, from de Vries and Bateson, to Haldane, Wright, and Fisher. The views of Goldschmidt, and his near miss of this new perspective, is also treated. This confusing history of Mendelism sorted out is invaluable, and shows how cogent (in part) where the intimations of Bateson and Morgan. The new perspective both confirms the concept of 'macroevolution' while suggesting this can be seen as a microevolution of regulatory genes, a point open to debate perhaps. The next mystery is the evolution of these complex sequences of development. But that does not distract from the great usefulness of this account. One can dispense with much of the erroneous literature on evolution, a great saving in brain space. The endless debate over the slow evolution of the eye, etc, that went on and on and drove all parties batty is hopefully over if we know the right combination of homeobox genes will control the development of this and other organs. Times are changing in Darwin land. Highly recommended.
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