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The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution (FT Press Science) Hardcover – September 10, 2011

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0132542494 ISBN-10: 0132542498 Edition: 1st

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The Logic of Chance shows why these insights make the twentieth-century scientific consensus about evolution appear outdated and incomplete and outlines a fundamentally new approach: one that is challenging, sometimes controversial, and always firmly rooted in hard science.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


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Product Details

  • Series: FT Press Science
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (September 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0132542498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0132542494
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Alex Samaras on 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 By Mike Blyth on 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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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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