Top positive review
34 people found this helpful
Current but balanced; beautifully illustrated; technical detail with strong story lines
on November 10, 2012
This work is intended as a college textbook, and so perhaps not the best choice for a general audience. For readers primarily looking for a highly credible, accessible, and well-written overview of evolutionary theory, I'd recommend Zimmer's earlier Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea or his The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution. Likewise, if you're not sure why evolutionary theory is established and respected science, and so you want the case against the "controversy," I would bump Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True to the top of the list.
As a college textbook, however, Evolution: Making Sense of Life succeeds wonderfully in the following aspects.
The science it presents is both current and balanced. Recent work - and controversies - in the field are covered. But the text makes clear what has been widely accepted as valid science. What is new and promising, and seems well on its way to becoming valid, established science. And what is currently speculative or highly contentious. Both Douglas J. Emlen, the scientist, and Carl Zimmer, the science writer, do their best to avoid bias. And unlike too much of popular science writing, Evolution: Making Sense of Life is free of rant, polemic, and grandiose speculation.
The text is beautifully and extensively illustrated. The graphical representations of data and processes actually make sense. Colorful, accessible, coherent. The other images - including numerous photos - have been carefully chosen for content and context. And many of images are simply beautiful. For the visual display of information alone, this text is a winner.
The writing itself seems to me about as good as one gets for a college textbook. The authors use story-lines to introduce key concepts and developments. Their examples are well-chosen. Once the first two chapters are cleared, "The Virus and Whale: How Scientists Study Evolution" and "Biology: From Natural Philosophy to Darwin", the authors begin introducing more technical information and detail. This doesn't become a problem, however, because in each chapter the general concepts and context are established first. Likewise, the overall organization of the book is well thought-out and executed. All in all, a solid testimony to Zimmer's exemplary skill as a science writer - as well as no doubt Emlen's own considerable abilities to organize and present information. (I know Zimmer's work; Emlen is new to me).
Because I found Evolution: Making Sense of Life so well done in both the details and overall, I'm hoping it becomes a standard text for undergraduates - and perhaps even advanced high school students.
If you're someone who enjoys science writing, and perhaps have already read Zimmer's other work, Coyne's book, that of Dawkins, Shubin, Carroll, and others, you might want to consider adding Evolution: Making Sense of Life to your personal library anyway - the price being the primary objection. Unlike many popular science explanations of evolutionary theory, Zimmer and Emlen here provide a comprehensive general overview while avoiding taking sides in current debates, or making grandiose claims beyond what the current science supports. It's also always good to know some of basic quantitative thinking involved with evolutionary theory, including the basic models for population genetics. Here Zimmer and Emlen do a great job in translating the mathematical logic - daunting for many people - into more familiar concepts.
Bottom line: Evolution: Making Sense of Life is both a pleasure to read and look at, and may well set the new standard for a introductory college textbook in evolutionary biology.