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The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution (FT Press Science) [Kindle Edition]

Eugene V. Koonin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Logic of Chance offers a reappraisal and a new synthesis of theories, concepts, and hypotheses on the key aspects of the evolution of life on earth in light of comparative genomics and systems biology. The author presents many specific examples from systems and comparative genomic analysis to begin to build a new, much more detailed, complex, and realistic picture of evolution. The book examines a broad range of topics in evolutionary biology including  the inadequacy of natural selection and adaptation as the only or even the main mode of evolution; the key role of horizontal gene transfer in evolution and the consequent overhaul of the Tree of Life concept;  the central, underappreciated evolutionary importance of viruses; the origin of eukaryotes as a result of endosymbiosis; the concomitant origin of cells and viruses on the primordial earth; universal dependences between genomic and molecular-phenomic variables; and the evolving landscape of constraints that shape the evolution of genomes and molecular phenomes.


"Koonin's account of viral and pre-eukaryotic evolution is undoubtedly up-to-date. His "mega views" of evolution (given what was said above) and his cosmological musings, on the other hand, are interesting reading." Summing Up: Recommended

Reprinted with permission from CHOICE, copyright by the American Library Association.


Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

An Outline of a Fundamentally New Evolutionary Synthesis Reflecting Key Advances in Genomics, Systems Biology, and Biological Physics


In this ambitious book, Eugene V. Koonin illuminates the gamut of randomness and regularity that is at the heart of life. Pointing the way beyond Modern Synthesis, Koonin brings together new data and concepts in an attempt to achieve a far deeper understanding of the interplay between chance and necessity that drives biological evolution. He explains evolution as a stochastic process based on historical contingency, constrained by requirements for maintaining cell organization and modulated by adaptation. To support his argument, he weaves together multiple conceptual threads: genomic comparisons that illuminate ancestral forms; new insights into pattern, process, and contingency in evolution; advances in the study of gene expression, protein abundance, and other phenotypic molecular characteristics; application of statistical physics to the study of the evolution of genes and genomes; and new perspectives on probability now emerging from modern cosmology.


The Logic of Chance shows why these insights make the twentieth-century scientific consensus about evolution appear outdated and incomplete and outlines a fundamentally new approach: one that is challenging, sometimes controversial, and always firmly rooted in hard science. Coverage includes

  • Understanding the forces and patterns of evolution
  • Surprising evolutionary reconstructions arising from the comparison of complete genomes
  • Is there a tree of life--or a forest?
  • How complex eukaryotes arose: tantalizing hints about one of evolutionary biology’s key enigmas
  • Biological complexity and entropy: evolutionary lessons from Kolmogorov, Shannon, and Boltzmann
  • Robustness, evolvability, and the creative role of noise in evolution
  • The Last Universal Common Ancestor, cell origins, and the primordial gene pool
  • The key role of viruses and the virus-cell arms race in evolution
  • Life’s origin: estimating the probability of “unique events” in the context of modern cosmology

About the Author

Eugene V. Koonin is a Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health), as well as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Biology Direct. Dr. Koonin’s group performs research in many areas of evolutionary genomics, with a special emphasis on whole-genome approaches to the study of major transitions in life’s evolution, such as the origin of eukaryotes, the evolution of eukaryotic gene structure, the origin and evolution of different classes of viruses, and evolutionary systems biology. Dr. Koonin is the author of more than 600 scientific articles and a previous book Sequence--Evolution--Function: Computational Approaches in Comparative Genomics (with Michael Galperin [2002] New York: Springer).

Product Details

  • File Size: 3987 KB
  • Print Length: 528 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 5 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (June 23, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0058I5U2C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,941 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavy but very thought provoking read September 19, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is targeted at the experts but can be understood well enough by knowledgeable amateurs with some background in genomics (even unofficial; mine comes from my hobby of reading research papers because I am fascinated with biology). Having already read a good number of Dr. Koonin's papers as well as several others referenced in the book helped.

Anyway, this was a fascinating, thought-provoking read, though it was also rather difficult. Koonin's writing style, which serves him quite well in academic papers, doesn't translate extremely well to a full length book. For the sake of comparison, because both books seem to be targeted at a similar level crowd, it is not as readable as "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins.

However, the ideas are fascinating, and this book seems to be an excellent overview of modern genomics research and what it tells us about what we understand and misunderstand about evolution. I certainly learned a lot about these topics as well as directions that future research will be taking. While I was less than impressed with some of the conclusions near the end (for example, the appeal to MWO and weak Anthropic Principal seemed to me to be a cop-out and at best should be a hypothesis of last resort).

However, I am not an expert, just an interested knowledgeable amateur, so I am not in the best position to judge Dr. Koonin's interpretations of the various data and research. But, whether his interpretations are spot on or not, they are certainly quite thought provoking, and will certainly serve science by creating discussion and lying groundwork for real testable hypotheses of all of the topics of genomics and evolution he discussed.

If you are very interested in biology, genetics, genomics, and evolution, you will want to read this book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and fascinating October 2, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the preface to this book, the author writes that he set out with the desire to write a popular book along the lines of A Brief History of Time but on the subject of evolution. He soon recognized that the book "refused to be written that way" and became much more scientific and specialized. This is quite true. I am not a biologist but a physician, so I have had a fair number of biology courses, but much of this book was at about the limit of my ability to absorb, or even beyond. You probably won't get very far without a basic understanding of molecular biology: chromosomes, genes, DNA, tRNA, mRNA, transcription, translation, replication, ribosomes, operons, introns, splicing, and so on. On the other hand, if you have that background and some basic understanding with the concepts of biological evolution, you'll probably do fine with the book; little else is required--no math or biochemistry, for example. So be sure to take advantage of the "Look Inside" feature before you buy.

It's important to note the subtitle, "The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution." This is not a chronicle of evolution, but a rather detailed (for a layperson) look at mechanisms of evolution, mostly at the genetic level, along with some reasoning and speculation about how the whole ball of wax got started.

You should also be aware that the "highest" organisms considered in any detail are the earliest, single-cell eukaryotes. Animals are, after all, only "a single, relatively small, tight group of eukaryotes" while bacteria and viruses are the most numerous and successful organisms on earth. Virtually the entire book is based on the evolution of bacteria, archaea, and viruses, though occasionally animals and plants are mentioned in passing.
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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Likely to be a Classic September 7, 2011
By Jim
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm not qualified to judge whether there are technical errors, so I will assume that a person who has hundreds of peer-reviewed publications will not have made many mistakes.

I can, however, judge the beauty of the writing and compare it to other classics, such as The Selfish Gene and A Brief History of Time. It compares well, even though it contains numerous diagrams and formulas. It's a bit more technical than those works, but only where it needs to be in order to make its points.

But it will be a classic because it deals handily with nearly every contested area of evolution, neatly demolishing every criticism leveled by creationists. It does this by making positive statements about what is known rather than by arguing against creationism. This is a refreshing change from most books written for a wide audience.

Perhaps its boldest claim is that there has been more progress made in the last ten years than in the previous 150 years.

I suspect it will be criticized for concluding that the origin of life might have been a one in a zillion long shot, and invoking multiple universes to beat the odds. This is presented as speculation, not fact, but it will be quote-mined by ID advocates. Correction, it already has been.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Evolution is obviously a popular topic today, and the science is moving so fast that a book older than 10 years likely contains outdated information. One topic of recent interest has been mathematical difficulties in the probabilities and direction of evolution as clasically understood. In my own mind, I often liken Darwin to Lord Kelvin. Lord Kelvin was correct that the world was far older than 6000 years, but his estimate of 20-400 million years based on estimates of the cooling of the Earth seems laughable by our standards today. Even during his own day geologists could marvel as the scientific rigor of his calculations, but still say that something seemed wrong with a world of a mere 400 millions years. Kelvin used good science, but not all of the science, missing the role radioactivity played in the cooling of the Earth.

Darwin is like Kelvin, in that he got the rough idea, but the details would take further scientific understanding. Kelvin was saved by the advances in astronomy and chemistry, but deeper insight into Darwin's ideas would take much more research.

In his comprehensive new book, "The Logic of Chance", Eugene Koonin starts with an excellent overview of the history of evolutionary theory. For instance, Darwin did not known about genetics and he did not know about viruses and bacteria or eukaryotes. When he thought of irreducible complexity, he thought of the eye, not the multi-protein clotting process or the bacterial flagella. Darwin could only observe gross physical features, and the subtleties of the engine of evolution were invisible to him. Koonin also notes that Darwin wasn't even the first to observe the change of species over time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but satisfying
"The Logic of Chance", subtitled "The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution", is a delightful introduction to the current understanding of the natural... Read more
Published 8 days ago by AlexP
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin improved (not abridged)
This is an in depth look at the modern theory of evolution. A warning: not for the uninitiated. I am a PhD in Biochemistry and a retired professor of Pharmacology and the book was... Read more
Published 6 months ago by medfair
5.0 out of 5 stars No chance for the logic
'The Logic of Chance' is one of the most intelligent books written on Biology and Evolution. It is an outstanding success and confidently lines up with classical treaties by J. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Saak V. Ovsepian
3.0 out of 5 stars Yet to be read
In honesty, I obtained this book because it was free (I think) on KIndle, and I have not yet even looked at it, so further commentary is a waste of everyone's time
Published 16 months ago by Richard S Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and Academic but Intriguing Read
I had read The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism and felt terribly disappointed because Behe seems to have simply supplied a poor explanation of evolution,... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Bryan Newman
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Really For the General Reader
This book assume a level of understanding of biology and science that most readers are not going to have, so this isn't a popular book on evolution like you might find from Dawkins... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Book Fanatic
4.0 out of 5 stars A "Meaty" Book on Evolutionary Biology
This work, written by a scientist from Russia, is not easy to read. However, it has many helpful diagrams, tables, definitions of terms, and cited works for further study. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Jan Peczkis
4.0 out of 5 stars A tough read for me, but I learned a lot
It took me a while to get through this book; some of the details assume a pretty strong background in biochemistry and microbiology. Read more
Published on August 12, 2012 by Nicholas Sterling
1.0 out of 5 stars creationism vs. evolution
The key difference between creationism and evolution comes down to our certainty about everything we think we know. Read more
Published on July 11, 2012 by R. Donahue
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Creationist nut" admires Koonin
Koonin acknowledges that evolutionary biology goes beyond science.
Koonin downplays natural selection as the predominant mechanism of evolution, poking into the core of... Read more
Published on April 26, 2012 by Sendthelight
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