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Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

4.5 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061138409
ISBN-10: 0061138401
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While its opponents may sneer that "it's just a theory," evolution has transcended that label to take its place as one of the most important ideas in human history. Science journalist Carl Zimmer explores its history and future in Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, a companion piece to the epic PBS series of the same name. The book, lavishly illustrated with photos of our distant cousins, anatomical diagrams, and timelines, is as beautiful as it is enlightening. While those closely following the field will find little more here than a well-written summation of the state of the art in 2001, readers who have watched the evolutionary debates from a distance will quickly catch up with the details of the principal arguments.

Zimmer's text is fresh and expansive, explaining both the minutiae of comparative anatomy and the grand scale of geological time with verve and clarity. Following the trend of turn-of-the-century evolution writers, he treats the religious beliefs of creationists with respect, while firmly insisting that the scientific evidence against their position is too compelling to ignore. Touching on biology, philosophy, theology, politics, and nearly every other field of human thought, Evolution will inspire its readers with the elegance and importance of Darwin's simple theory. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This volume is the companion piece for an eight-hour PBS documentary of the same name, scheduled to be aired in September. Science writer Zimmer (At the Water's Edge) does a superb job of providing a sweeping overview of most of the topics critical to understanding evolution, presenting his material from both a historical and a topical perspective. He summarizes the changing scientific views of geology and genetics, for example, while discussing the implications modern evolutionary theory might have for agriculture and medicine. With chapters dealing with difficult and often controversial subjects including Charles Darwin's life and his struggle to bring his concept of evolution before the public; the evolution of sex; patterns of human evolution and the importance of language in the rise of humans; the role humans have played and continue to play in the extinction of species; and the fallacies of "creation science" it is not surprising that a great deal of information is either glossed over or omitted entirely. Yet the writing is clear and concise, the text is carefully presented (with b&w and color illustrations throughout) and a respectably substantial Stephen Jay Gould introduction starts things off nicely. (Oct.)Forecast: The series should certainly move units on its own, particularly via the PBS Web site. But a seven-city author tour, 25-city radio campaign, display easels and other promotional gambits will help the book and the series considerably. Though it may not be a breakout title, very respectable sales can be expected among PBS regulars.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061138401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061138409
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Evolution the Triumph of an Idea is a superbly written synthesis of the theory of evolution and its history. The author, Carl Zimmer, is a science journalist rather than a professional anthropologist, geologist or historian, which means that the book is eminently readable. It is also well researched with an extensive bibliography for each chapter. While it is clearly enough framed for the average reader without a background in the subject, it also presents enough new information to keep the serious student of the topic interested as well.
Although the volume was intended to accompany a PBS series on evolution, it would make an excellent source text for a high school or college survey course on the subject, as it covers the theory, the data supporting it, the newer thoughts on human evolution, the issues of ecology and conservation, and the character of science. It even touches upon the issue of God and science.
As an overview, Part 1 covers the autobiographical history of Darwin and the metamorphosis of his theory and the intellectual and emotional environment into which it was introduced. Part 2 introduces the actual theory and how the web of life has come to exist as it does. It also discusses the impact of human activity on the natural world and what the likely outcome will be if we persist in pursuing our present behavior with respect to the environment. Part 3 describes the coevolution of species and its impacts on relationships such as those in agriculture: natural plants, bioengineered plants, and insect and microbial pests. It also discusses the probable origin of some of the human diseases, the use and abuse of antibiotics, and the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs and AIDES.
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Format: Hardcover
I really liked this book. It is written from a perspective that anyone with reasonable intelligence can make sense of (which leaves out the fundamentalists that have reviewed this book). With the possible exception of the detail given about molecular evolution (DNA, RNA, etc), this book is an easy read.
I appreciated the historical perspective regarding Darwin in the first couple chapters. The description of Darwin's own mental evolution was fascinating. As the fact of evolution became evident in the myriad of evidence he was facing, he became conflicted because of the implications involved, but only mildly. He overcame his reservations about the storm of protest he knew was coming and published anyway. Burying the truth is the province of Christian fundamentalists, and as a first-rate scientist, Darwin wanted no part of that.
The book proceeds at a good pace and is generously sprinkled with photographs and diagrams. The book also proceeds in a very logical order that is easy to follow. I found the discussion of bacterial and viral evolution very interesting but also very disturbing. I am confident the human race will survive bacterial/viral evolution. Unfortunately, I suspect Zimmer is correct in being concerned that the effects of this microbial nightmare is going to have a devastating effect on humanity before it is resolved.
The narrative addresses many of the Christian fundamentalist objections to evolution and natural selection throughout the book (whale evolution, Cambrian explosion, radiometric dating, etc.). But Zimmer does not speak to fundamentalist dogma specifically until the very last chapter.
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By A Customer on October 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There are more technical books out there but this one makes the workings of evolution accessible to everyone. It presents the overwhelming evidence for evolution in simple well written language and is well illustrated. I especially enjoyed the cover photo showing the variety of eyes found in nature, from the simplest to the most complex. The recent discovery of even more transitional whale fossils, adds to those presented in this book and shows how little by little the evidence has amassed over the century. It's tragic that so many people have no idea how well supported evolution is. I hope this book finds its way into every school and helps everyone see the beauty of it and of science.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Last May I was wandering through Down House, after 15 years, this time on the internet. There I found news about The Evolution Project and Zimmer's book. It was difficult to wait four months, but clearly worth it. Zimmer has done a masterful and original telling of the history, growth, and present applications of that most central and triumphant theory of biology. The writing is lucid with a rich selection of illustrations. The book is companion to the WGBH/NOVA seven-part television series broadcast on consecutive evenings from September 24 to 27. The book and series compliment each other well.
The book and series are only the beginning. Extensive resources for the Evolution Project are at: pbs.org/evolution. You will find information about the Evolution Teacher's Guide (free), Online Course for Teachers, Teaching Evolution Case Studies Video, Online Lessons for Students, Videos for Students, multimedia Evolution Library, and more.
The folks at WGBH/NOVA-Boston (1-800-949-8670) are very helpful with more information. It is an understatement to say that they and Zimmer have outdone themselves in creating these superb tools of science education. Enjoy the book and take advantage of the many associated resources.
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