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Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (Modern Library Chronicles) First Edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679642886
ISBN-10: 0679642889
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Larson, a Pulitzer-winning historian (Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion), traces the history of the contentious concept of evolution from Darwin's predecessors, like Cuvier and Lyell, to his early advocates, like Asa Gray (who tried to keep God in the mix) and Thomas Huxley, and "postmodern" advocates such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Larson reminds readers that Darwin hasn't always been held in as high esteem as he is today, even among scientists: at the beginning of the 1900s, the concept of evolution was widely accepted, but natural selection was not. Larson demonstrates that only through advances by mid-century population geneticists like Haldane, Fisher and Wright and sociobiologists like the late William Hamilton have most scientists come to accept all of Darwin's theories. Larson devotes chapters to dark episodes in evolution's history like the early 20th-century eugenics movement and the Scopes trial, where, Larson proposes, Clarence Darrow's theatrics may have done the cause more harm than good. This latest entry in Modern Library's Chronicles series isn't "evolution for dummies"â€"it requires concentration and some effortâ€"but Larson's survey should make valuable reading for young people going into the sciences and other science buffs. Illus. not seen by PW.
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"Infectious good reading. The prose is limpid, the chapters are luminous."
—James Moore, co-author of Darwin

“The history of evolutionary science from the 18th-century to the present is a history of controversies and seemingly incompatible views. It takes an author like Ed Larson to provide an account of this crucial history. . . .The reader will be rewarded by an intellectual delight.”
—Ernst Mayr

"Larson masterfully takes us from the 18th century French enlightenment to the 21st century evolution wars. From Buffon and Cuvier, through Darwin and Wallace, to Dawkins, Gould, and Wilson, he provides a scholarly, readable history of the ups and downs of the theory of evolution. Larson shows us how firmly this theory is established, as firmly as Einstein's theory of relativity."
—Duncan M. Porter, Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project

"Larson has written a brilliant introduction to the history of evolution, equally sensitive to scientific, religious, and social factors. It is, hands down, the most readable and reliable account available."
—Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale and William Coleman Professor of the History of Science and Medicine. Department of Medical History and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin

"Ed Larson is both a historian and a writer who knows how to bring his subject alive. In Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory he combines the latest historical scholarship with an understanding of recent issues in science, religion and social debate. This powerful book will help everyone understand the foundations of modern evolutionary ideas and the origins of the latest controversies."
—Peter J. Bowler, Queens University Belfast

"An indispensable guide to the sometimes weird, but always wonderful, world of Evolution. Every species inhabiting this contested territory is here: Darwinian materialists, Lamarckian progressivists, hopeful-monster mutationists, theistic evolutionists, neo-vitalists, six-day creationists, mathematical geneticists, intelligent designers, molecular reductionists and on and on. Yet this is no monochrome chronicle of disengaged scientific ideas. It is a rich and compelling narrative portrayed in glorious technicolour, as grand and sweeping in scope as the theory of evolution itself. In the struggle for shelf-life among publications on evolution, Edward Larson?s book is superbly fitted for long-term survival."
—David N. Livingstone, author of Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought

“Larson’s acclaimed gifts as a writer who can make the history of science exciting to a wide audience are visible again. The story, which takes seriously the cultural meanings of new science, has many twists and turns and is told with humor and vivacity.”
—JOHN HEDLEY BROOKE, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; First Edition edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679642889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679642886
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on May 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Edward Larson has capped a fine string of publications on evolution with this history. A study of the idea of evolution and consideration of the mechanisms driving it, this book introduces you to the major thinkers and researchers involved. Each chapter focuses on an individual or a concept, explaining the rationales behind the idea and its supporters. Larson's evocative prose style keeps the account moving smoothly, even when disputants over an idea grow disruptive and acrimonious.
Larson opens with consideration of the problem of deep time. With biblical authority decreeing a young earth and the immutability of species, the idea of change over time was deemed impossible, if not heretical. Ironically, the first scholar to open the notion of deep time was one of evolution's "staunchest foes" - Georges Cuvier. This French scientist was an early expert on comparative anatomy, stressing form resulted from functional use of an organ. His studies led him to argue that fossils truly represented extinct species. However, new species didn't evolve from the older ones, he argued, but were the result of an act of subsequent creation. Extinctions were due to some catastrophic event. The idea of species succession, however, introduced the notion of deep time - an Earth older than then supposed.
From Cuvier, Larson logically moves to the ideas of another French scientist, Jean Baptiste Lamarck. Today, Lamarck's ideas are blithely dismissed, but Larson shows the significance of his contributions. Although the paleontological record provided spotty support, Lamarck rejected Cuvier's "fixed species" sequences for a form of continuous change.
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Format: Hardcover
Edward J. Larson manages to pack this little book. The author goes beyond the usual small format of the Modern Library Chronicles series only a little in terms of page number but seems to cram much more information in than the readers of this dazzling series usually encounter. And the joy is that he does it so effortlessly, with scientific jargonize only sneaking in near the very end. The concept of evolution is covered from Cuvier in the Napoleonic era through Darwin and onto the modern 21st culture wars in America. Everything important is touched on in a manner that makes it relevant, understandable, and interesting, and the story flows quickly and intelligently. It is one of the better volumes of the series making the best use of the space allowed in order to introduce important historical ideas and events to the general reader. A highly recommended read.
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Format: Hardcover
Larson is quite competent at describing the history of evolutionary thought up until recent decades. Then he becomes obsessed with Wilson's pop-sci "sociobiology" and completely misses the much more significant Zukerkandl & Pauling, Kimura, Jukes & Cantor, Walter Fitch, and the whole revolution in molecular evolution which brought evolution out of the swamps of mere "naturalism" and into serious molecular and genomic studies.
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Format: Hardcover
This book does a good job at placing evolution by natural selection into its historical context as an idea. I enjoyed seeing the comparison of Darwin's ideas with the competing ideas of scientists of his time. The historical approach makes it clear why Darwin's ideas have been so successful: they have plenty of predictive power. This book makes clear that the central problem with creationist theories is precisely their lack of predictive power. In Darwin's time creationists could still claim to be reputable scientists. Unfortunately, the creationist hypotheses, such as that species could not go extinct, turned out to be wrong. In our time, it's easy to say that God created something, but what does that explain about why plants or animals are the way they are? Not much.

This book is for the college-level reader; it can be technical and a little slow-paced in places.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have remarked elsewhere (somewhat controversially) that relatively few people, even biological scientists, really understand the Principle of Evolution. You will not become one of those few by reading this book. But what you will learn will be, to use the author's words, "remarkable." I have been a biologist for 30 years now and I learned something new from each page, not about biology but history, just as the subtitle says.

The author, Edward Larson is a professor in the School of Law at Pepperdine University. He has a Ph. D. in History from the University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from Harvard. He has several other works on the interaction between science and religion and works on various aspects of the legal history of the United States. His authority on this subject is well established.

The book starts in France, in the midst of the enlightenment, with the story of the man who managed to squash any real discussion of evolution throughout his lifetime and for 30 years after, Georges Couvier, the granddaddy of modern comparative anatomy. He argued against any form of gradual speciation on the grounds that the organ systems of each species were too essentially integrated to allow for any variation. Variation would lead to death, which happens to be right most of the time, and the essence of Couvier's argument remains at the heart of the objections of the advocates of Intelligent Design yet today. Couvier spent his career making sure that Lamarck's "ascending escalator" of species never got off the ground and the story of these two men and the changing ideas of the early 19th century is worth the price of the book.
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