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Evolution: The History of an Idea 25th Anniversary Edition, With a New Preface Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520261280
ISBN-10: 0520261283
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Clarity of purpose and powers of organization shine forth from every page."--Roy S. Porter, "Times Literary Supplement"

About the Author

Peter J. Bowler is Reader in the History of Science at Queen's University, Belfast, and is well known on both sides of the Atlantic for his books on the history of evolutionism.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 25th Anniversary Edition, With a New Preface edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520261283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520261280
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #558,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Peter Bowler is an Irish historian of science who is known for his studies of evolution as an "-ism". This is undoubtedly his magnum opus and is one of the best introductory texts on this subject available. But, a word of caution- reviews on this website are full of superlatives. Many books are advertised by reader-critics shouting "everyone should read this book!" Setting aside the obvious absurdity of that statement, I will state quite clearly that this book is not for everyone. With notes and index, it comes to 432 pages, and, as Bowler himself notes in the preface, it is intended for undergraduate students or as a survey text for the specialist. That having been said, his prose is approachable and one does not need to have a background in history or science to follow the argument.
Also, unlike many other texts on this subject, Bowler does not descend into triumphalist or other such ideologies that remove science from its own social context. In the words of the author, "Finally, we must look more closely at the problems the historian faces as he tries to chart the rise of scientific evolutionism. In particular, these problems arise from the normal view of science as an objective search for knowledge and the suspicions of many critics that scientific theories are themselves value-laden contributions to philosophical and ideological debates" (Bowler, pg.4). He does an excellent job of explaining not only the theories and their evidence but does so by relating them to their own social and historical context. His analysis is also distinguished from many of its predescessors (and descendents, unfortunately) by its breadth and scope.
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This history of evolutionary thought is good at showing how the idea developed in Darwin's particular society, influenced by thinkers before Darwin such as Malthus. The book, also shows how Darwin's thinking evolved, how the idea itself evolved from outside influences (particularly plate tectonics and cosmology), and how it influenced non-biological thinking (such at utilitarianism, capitalism, Marxism) sometimes in scary ways such as eugenics.
Throughout the book, it seems like philosophers (at least in the West) desired a purpose and direction of evolution, if not a Director. Lamarckianism (inheritance of acquired characteristics) also seemed to have continual appeal and in the later editions of the Origin of Species, Darwin himself was leaning more that way. The continual difficulty of direct evidence and incomplete fossil record, leads to ongoing speculations.
Although generally dry/scholarly there are a few fun side-diversions, such as Kammerer's midwife toad. Bowler also highlights other key figures such as paleontologist Georges Cuvier and "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley. I would have like more history of how the general public accepted the idea, perhaps by tracing the teaching in schools or textbooks. Readers of this might also enjoy Dawkins "The Blind Watchmaker".
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It is a classic textbook on the history of evolutionism and I would recommend it to my students. However, it has at least one disadvantage, namely, the author concentrated mainly on the evolutionsm history in XIX century. Most recent debates on evolution (since 1960s) have been omitted or rescribed rather briefly. So, I would like to get a little more balanced book. In all other respects, this book is excellent. My personal extimate of it is lying somewhere between four and five but nevertheless I am inclined to give five stars.
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If you are looking for a good survey-style introduction to Evolution, Bowler's book is the way to go. It is concise, but detailed and offers a great many references for the novice to continue to study subjects that catch their fancy. I read this for a graduate course and really enjoyed it, especially the treasure trove of secondary sources listed in the text.
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This is a pretty good book. It takes a scientific and unbiased approach, with lots of citations. It is well written and interesting.

I would recommend this book for any biologist or amateur biologist.
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