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Darwin's Island Hardcover – 2009
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
** 'Steve Jones who in ALMOST LIKE A WHALE successfully rewrote Darwin in the 21st century, reminds us in DARWIN'S ISLAND that Darwin did actually write 19 other books which are full of insight into the human condition and into the flora and fauna of Britain - hence his title. If you were to read one new book on Darwin this year, this should be it Christopher Hudson, DAILY MAIL ** 'Darwin's theory of evolution is often imagined to be the result of his voyage to the Galapagos Islands aboard HMS Beagle. But as Steve Jones points out at the start of his enthralling book, he spent only five weeks in the Galapagos, whereas for 40 yea John Carey SUNDAY TIMES ** 'Wow, Goodness me! Fancy that! Well I never! This is what you will be saying at every other page of Steve Jones's brilliant, remarkable, profound and deeply unsettling book. Your reactions otherwise will be shock and awe: shock at how far down the road to hell humankind has pushed its handcart, and awe at the light way Jones wears his formidable learning. If there is one book to be read at this bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his The Origin of Species, then this must be it Andy Barclay IRISH TIMES Darwin's Island fills in the details of four decades that followed his five years on HMS Beagle. A professor of genetics and a gifted writer who has already successfully updated Darwin for the 21st century in an earlier book, Steve Jones is ideally place Roger Highfield DAILY TELEGRAPH --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London and the president of the Galton Institute. He delivered the BBC Reith Lectures in 1991, appears frequently on radio and television and is a regular columnist for the Daily Telegraph. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Darwin wrote a four-volume work on barnacles (over a thousand pages); he wrote on "Orchids and Insects," on the "Expressions of Emotions," on the "Formation of Vegetable Mould by Earthworms," and of course on "The Descent of Man" and other works, comprising in total more than six million words. Jones' intent is to introduce the reader to the wider range of Darwin's work and by doing so demonstrate why Darwin is widely considered the greatest biologist who ever lived.
Jones' technique is to devote chapters to Darwin's many interests while bringing us up to date on the current understanding. Thus we read about what Darwin learned about worms, barnacles, insects, insectivore plants, sexual selection, our facial expressions, etc., and how that agrees with or differs from what modern science has discovered. What we find out is that Darwin was amazingly prescient in many areas mainly because he worked so diligently for so many years with the kind of enthusiasm few of us can muster. And it didn't hurt that he was a brilliant man.
Darwin could have been a man of leisure because of inherited wealth, but he was driven to discover as much as he could about the natural world. He immersed himself into scientific research, performing experiments as well as reading, and corresponding with other scientists and amateurs from around the world. He dug up the ground around Down House where he lived; he dissected specimens, he worried about the adaptive vigor of his children since he had married his cousin (hence his volume on "Cross and Self-Fertilisation"), he measured things, he explored the woods and streams and seashores of his English "archipelago"; he examined fossils, and all the while he pondered deeply on the nature of life and on how evolution works.
The effect of Jones' technique in showing both what Darwin knew in the 19th century and what we know today is to emphasize how the world has changed since Darwin's time. We learn how some species have circumnavigated the globe and caused other species to go extinct, especially how the "weediest" of all species, human beings, have altered and destroyed environments and brought about changes in our use of the natural world that would have probably appalled Darwin.
Being a geneticist, Jones knows very well what Darwin could only guess at, that is, how the traits of species are handed down, how "descent with modification" works. And that is another strength of this remarkable and very readable book, demonstrating as Jones does how much Darwin was able to understand and get right without any knowledge of the basic mechanism of inheritance as expressed in genetics. How he would have marveled at what we know today.
Jones closes by seeing a "triumphant of the average" as we and other weedy species scurry about the globe mating widely instead of closely as in Darwin's time when people and other creatures seldom encountered opportunities much distant from the place of their birth. He sees what I once called "the browning of society" as natural selection irons out the differences between equatorial humankind and those from northern climes, as Asians marry the English, as Russian tumble weeds spread across the American west. When once it was the rich who had the most children, today it is the poor. Jones notes that "The gulf has closed through restraint by the affluent rather than excess by the poor." He does not speculate on what this change will have on society, but posits that the opportunity for natural selection "is in steep decline," meaning I suppose that evolutionary change in humans will become increasingly static. Musing on how that will play out in the long run, Jones writes darkly: "For Homo sapiens, some nasty surprises no doubt lurk around the corner. Some day, evolution will take its revenge and we may fail in the struggle for existence against ourselves, the biggest ecological challenge of all." (p. 286)
(Note: thirteen of my books are now available at Amazon including "Understanding Evolution and Ourselves.")