- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0809043211
- ISBN-13: 978-0809043217
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,589,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Creatures of Accident: The Rise of the Animal Kingdom First Edition Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
From Publishers Weekly
A core tenet of the intelligent design movement is that some organisms are simply too elaborate and complicated to have evolved by chance. Arthur, a professor of zoology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, aims to render this strain of creationism unnecessary by "explaining, in a way that is accessible to a general readership, how the rise of complex creatures can be explained in terms of natural processes." Creatures of Accident makes this case through a series of easily intelligible, chatty chapters, offering a way of understanding the emergence of animals (the most complex life form) without resorting to either the relativist idea that all life is essentially the same (with animals being, as Stephen Jay Gould once put it, "a mere epiphenomenon") or the teleological view that if animals are uniquely complex, then some intelligent designer must have made them so. Drawing ideas and examples from the large (zoology) to the small (cellular biology), Arthur popularizes recent breakthroughs in the field of evolutionary development—the trendily dubbed "evo-devo"—to make the paradoxical case that complexity can, in fact, happen quite simply. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Discussing the evolution of life in this spry work, Wallace advances the argument that the process tends toward greater complexity over time. If the existence of complexity is seemingly self-evident, explaining it often leads to diverging theories, which Arthur, a zoology professor in Ireland, critiques in accessible fashion. He gives short shrift to creationism and so-called intelligent design but tackles at length the view, espoused in the oeuvre of biologist Richard Darwin, that evolution is simply an aimless series of micro- and macro-biological events without any bias toward complexity. Writing in a conversational manner, Arthur sketches out the main structural attributes of complexity in animals, from the cell to organs to embryology to body forms, and when they appeared. In considering these anatomical traits, Arthur inveighs repeatedly against the intrusion of philosophical casts of mind. Championing naturalistic clarity, Arthur's precision about the processes of evolution will benefit serious students of the topic. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top customer reviews
The most important of these is gene duplication. The machinery that manages our DNA sometimes makes extra copies of one or more genes. The duplicate copies may then undergo mutation and take on new functions while the old ones remain unchanged. A LOT of evolution involves gene duplication. Arthur doesn't say how gene duplication happens - that requires biochemistry - but it is important to know that it happens.
Another topic is development, from egg to adult. This is critical for understanding the evolution of complexity. Some genes involved in development, such as the Hox genes that Arthur mentions, are important in evolution. Copying of Hox genes is a major factor in the increasing complexity of animals; some more advanced books have charts showing the parallel between Hox gene duplication and increasing complexity. The interaction of genes and proteins is another important topic. And there are other topics, too much for me to cover in a short review.
Arthur frequently pauses to relate a current topic to what came earlier in the book, or to suggest what is to come. People who read a lot of science books are used to doing this for themselves and might be annoyed by Arthur's doing it. But for true beginners, this will probably be helpful.
Creatures of Accident provides only a beginning look at the natural processes that give rise to complexity. A number of other books - all more advanced - go into the subject in more depth. I have reviewed several of these and I recommend them. Click above on "See all my reviews" for more. There is also a brief summary in my Listmania list "Natural Processes That Promote Evolution". To find it, click on my name, above, and scroll down my profile page to that title. I will mention here that Sean B. Carroll's The Making of the Fittest is an excellent next book for someone who has read Creatures of Accident; a reader who has had a decent HS biology course might want to start with that book. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful would be suitable for a college course, but is suitable for readers who are not bio students. Darwin in the Genome by Lynn Caporale looks at the evolution of those natural processes themselves. There are a number of very good books ranging from elementary to some suitable for graduate bio majors.
Creatures of Accident won't convince anybody that the ID claim is false; there's not enough detail for that. But it will give beginners a start to learning what evolution is really about. And that means the prospect of a lot of exciting reading ahead.
Keeping with the theme of simplicity, Arthur urges us to shed unnecessary philosophical thinking, opening with a chapter titled "Hand luggage only". The phrase recognises that most of us have preconceived notions of how life works. The core of that notion is that humans, just because they are complex creatures, sit somehow at the top of the evolutionary "ladder". The ability to think about life, which seems to be unique in our species, doesn't convey superiority. We are, after all, far outnumbered by the descendents of those simple organisms of long ago. Our species did emerge, and Arthur wants us to understand how. Instead of ladders, he uses the analogy of a lawn, level and with few disruptions.
Explaining life, to Arthur, is an exercise in pragmatism, not ideology. Using the cell as a starting point, his tour takes us to the embryo [he's a zoologist, hence the emphasis on animals instead of plants]. The embryo is a key feature in his theme, since it is here that cell duplication and diversification are best demonstrated. How does a fertilised egg know how to build a finished body from so elemental a beginning? The author explains how genes express proteins to guide the formation of organs and structure. Once it was thought that genes only expressed on one direction, but developmental studies now show that genes interact, even between distant cell hosts. Almost more importantly, he shows how, within limits, embryos bear evidence of their evolutionary roots. Complexity, arising from simple beginnings is a traceable process. Arthur shows how modern evidence allows tracking that path for such organs as nervous systems, hearts and circulation and other features.
In many ways, this is an admirable work. Arthur's chatty presentation makes one wish for a trip to Galway where he teaches to hear him discourse on this topic over a pint. He makes wonderful imagery in showing how our concept of "life" might need some re-thinking. What would a Martian arriving on a beach to discover a sand-castle think of such a regular structure? He returns to this idea in building his vision of complexity. Regrettably, he does this in a rather patchy manner, skipping about to address his topics. The novice reader will find this book something of a chore as a result. The book cries out for illustration - how many of his readers have seen graphics of the process of "gastrulation" which creates your insides? Why are trilobites important body forms? Although he provides a Glossary of terms, his "Further Reading List" is almost a joke.
Finally, almost lamentably, Arthur falls into the trap of trying to reconcile his studies with the notion of "creationism". Although he dislikes "creationists" as dishonest and abrasive, he concedes their numbers, particularly in the US. Instead, his final chapter is a declaration of his "agnosticism". He has already taken a swipe at Richard Dawkins over how "gradual" natural selection works. Here, he delivers what he clearly thinks is a telling blow, linking Dawkins' non-theism with a form of "faith". Declaring there's "no evidence either way", Arthur turns to John Maynard-Smith's observation that some fish with tails spotted like stellar constellations might be suggestive of a divine being. Since that sort of evidence hasn't appeared, the author thinks he can let the matter rest. It's a very insubstantial way to conclude what is otherwise a generally delightful read. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
As compared to a book that cannot be put down, I struggled to hold it up.
Diane C. Donovan