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Customer Review

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and Clear, December 1, 2009
This review is from: Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (Mass Market Paperback)
I don't always agree with Monod. However, his exposition is clear and straightforward, which makes it easy for me, as a reader, to discern where my view diverges from Monod's. Moreover, he cuts deftly to some crucial issues, crystallizing intriguing new findings into specific conclusions.

Monod's crystallization, if I may call it that, of the issues raised by "modern biology" is why this book is so important. By "modern biology" Monod refers to genetics and biochemistry of the mid-20th century (this book was published in 1970).

At this point in time (2009), this book is not likely to be a worthwhile read for a layperson unless they have a serious hobby in biology or biological philosophy. That is because Monod's crystallization is based on now-out-of-date findings and is technically more laborious than laypersons will want to read. This may make the book one of those books everyone has on their shelves and act like they know what's inside, though they've never read them. Lay readers interested in this subject should look to more up-to-date works. If they are very good, newer treatments will be likely to incorporate Monod's ideas.

For those seriously concerned with genetics, biochemistry, the history of the disciplines, and/or biological philosophy, this is a crucial read. This work was originally a successful attempt to make broad sense of some very curious specific findings by Monod and his eminent peers. At present, the work is aging (maturing) into a milemarker of where we have been -- where we have traveled from. An interesting way to read this book is to try to divide each thing Monod says into still-valid and obsolete. Presumably much of what is still reasonable of Monod's writing has stood the test of time and should be considered foundational. What of the errors? Well, for one thing, because Monod is good at making his reasoning explicit, where he uses obsolete evidence for his conclusions, it is easy for readers to see where (if not always how) his conclusions stand to be revised. This is helpful.

Monod does one other very helpful thing: where he attempts to articulate a link he cannot clarify logically, he does not obscure this ambiguity with inappropriate technical language. Almost all professional scientists and philosophers make this mistake Monod avoids, that of hoping fallaciously logical-sounding words will generate actual logic where none seems there to be found. In my mind, the crucial word of the book's title is "and" -- a pretty ambiguous word, all in all. There is chance. There is necessity. How do these opposites interact? It is not like electrical charges interact, or antiphase waves interact, or matter and antimatter interact... Although the book does not answer the question of what the "and" is, it does not, through desperate verbiage, obscure that this question remains standing.

There is a chance readers would find the answer by (re)turning to Democritus, from whom Monod takes his title. To me though, it seems unlikely, and I suppose Monod as a scientist would agree with me that, in order to find our answer, there is a necessity to look further to see farther.
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