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on March 23, 2017
The title is well suited. One of the most beautiful books I have ever read. The way I see life Form/s has changed and my appreciation and love of our (all life) incredible journey makes me feel like my FOXP2 was damaged- I am mostly speechless.
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on December 3, 2015
I'm looking forward to reading it again. This book is a must read if you are at all interested in how animal forms develop
and how they evolve. The role played by the small number of master genes in the embryology of different life forms is
just fascinating. The book is very easy to read, in fact, hard to put down!
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on April 23, 2006
This book is a model of popular scientific writing: it's scientifically rigorous, clearly written, and takes us into exciting new realms.

The young science of evolutionary developmental biology (evo devo) seeks to explain how single cells develop into hugely complex life forms, and to explain why millions of life forms exist on our planet. Biologists are discovering that nature isn't profligate in her creations; new organisms aren't built from scratch, but by reusing and modifying existing genetic material. A small number of tool kit genes, which include HOX genes, turn out to be the basic building blocks for millions of organisms, from birds and bees to thee and me. These tool kit genes are modular, redundant and multi-functional, and nature appears very reluctant to mess with them - several basic tool kit and HOX genes have survived for over 500 million years.

The key to life's diversity appears to be the ways in which these building block genes are regulated and activated. This is the role of genetic switches, which can combine to influence gene functionality in innumerable ways. To take one example, the same tool kit genes, activated differently, can create a human arm, a bird wing or a centipede leg. Understanding these genetic mechanisms allows molecular biologists and embryologists to see similarities that were previously masked by the wild diversity of life forms. For instance, despite the fact that rodent and primate lines separated some 75 million years ago, mice and humans share a 99% correlation of genes, with 96% of those being arranged in an equivalent chromosomal order. This similarity is a powerful argument that nature's game plan is to preserve basic genetic structures and to make changes only at the margin by tinkering with the switching mechanisms of tool kit genes rather than their underlying functionality.

Evo devo gives a powerful boost to our understanding of how evolution actually works. The evidence seems to indicate that changes in species don't occur in the genes themselves but by mutations in genetic switches caused by environmental pressures. (Chapter 8, How the Butterfly Got Its Spots, is an excellent illustration of this process.) Gene switch mutations that help an organism flourish in its ecological niche will persist; other mutations will die out. And the same basic building block genes can be adapted by different species for different purposes. Biologists hypothesize that gills in our common aquatic ancestor were modified on land into lungs, tracheae, spinnerets and wings. Evo Devo fills in blanks in evolutionary theory by showing exactly how small changes in the switches of tool kit and regulatory genes can lead to large scale changes in life forms over long periods of time.

Carroll's prose approaches the E.O. Wilson level of elegant simplicty, which is high praise for scientific writing. While he's clearly enthusiastic about his subject, he doesn't oversell it. He's careful to delineate fact from theory, and stays humble about how much more there is to know. Several illustrations and color plates help to bring alive the genetic concepts Carroll discusses and they forge a visceral correlation between evo devo theory and the realm of our senses. This book will literally help you to see with new eyes both your self and the millions of non-human relatives with whom you share this grand adventure called life.
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on November 8, 2015
Sean B. Carroll is a great writer as well as an outstanding biologist. I had the good fortune of hearing him speak and of meeting him at Northern Virginia Community College - his public presentation is engaging and comprehend-able by very mixed audiences. Very nice guy, as well!
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on October 19, 2005
I just finished this book, and was delighted. I cannot evaluate prior reviewer's claims about the difficulty level, as I have a prior formal education in biology, but I didn't find it too taxing, and I'm definitely not a molecular person. In fact, part of why I bought this book and why I'm glad I did is that it explained several concepts and terms I had encountered from time to time (HOX, switches, etc) but hadn't had enough genetics or molecular biology to be fully informed about. I thought he did a masterful job of conveying both the necessary background and the application of it.

That said, I did have one main issue, which was the way several problems of evolution (such as insect wings) were presented as definitively solved by Evo Devo, yet with even a cursory knowledge of both the problem at hand and Evo Devo, I could see how a different POV could still be argued for, specifically that insect wings arose from thermoregulatory structures on the thorax, and that toolkit genes were simply expressed in new locations for this purpose, rather than co-opting existing gills. However, this is popular writing, rather than scientific journals, so such a definitive position could be excused as necessary for clarity.

Overall, an excellent introdution to the evolution of morpholigical features via developmental mechanisms.
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on July 4, 2013
I learned about the author and Evo Devo in an undergraduate class on developmental genetics. This book is very well written, easy to follow and very interesting and fun. The first half of the book lays out concepts and foundations that make the second half easy to grasp. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject.
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on October 13, 2015
As a scientist from a different field, I find the ideas presented in this book very exciting. There are explained well and with enough detail for the skeptical and the curious. However, in terms of writing style I prefer the writing of Dawkins and Gould.
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on October 8, 2016
A quite understandable explanation to a revolution in biology, comparable to the advance in geology thinking created by plate tectonics.
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on October 6, 2016
Impressive account of evolution and the paper of embrio development in the making of variation between generations. Five stats at least.
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on April 13, 2015
Sean Carroll is a major figure in Evo-Devo and provides a lucid account of the field. Very well written. Wish he provided an updated version. It is about 10 years old, and there has been enormous progress in the field. I would enjoy his explanation of the recent state of the field.
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