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Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195322828
ISBN-10: 0195322827
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Mark Blumberg's beautifully written book introduces some major problems in both developmental and evolutionary biology. Individuals can sometimes develop in astonishingly aberrant ways. These freaks of nature challenge the way we think about development and, over the years, have caused some biologists to wonder whether the formation of new species is always as continuous as orthodox theories of evolution purpose."--Sir Patrick Bateson, Professor Emeritus of Ethology, University of Cambridge

"Mark Blumberg is a freak of literature--one of the very few scientist-writers (think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks) who can sweep us along as they try to figure out how the exceptions in the species can prove the rule of who we all are. In Freaks of Nature, the specimens are certainly riveting, but it's also Blumberg's lucid, lyrical, profound insights into what it means to be human that will stay with the reader."--Richard Panek, author of Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens and The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes

"Freaks of Nature examines various kinds of disfigurement that occur in both human beings and animals, includes diagrams and photographs, and questions our assumptions about the abnormally developed...Blumberg urges us to consider how our ideas of what is natural can and should expand to include the anomalies among us."--The Chronicle Review

"When people come to the Mutter Museum 'to see the freaks,' I cringe inwardly, smile outwardly and generally say nothing at all. I have found over the years that the inhabitants of this remarkable place say far more than I ever could. Whatever the reason for visiting the museum--fascination, repulsion, even derision--people tend to leave more informed and perhaps even more aware than when they arrive. And that is exactly how I felt after reading this book."--Anna N. Dhody, Curator of the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, in The Scientist

"Timely and wide-ranging, Freaks of Nature shows that although we've passed some exciting landmarks on our journey, we're still some distance from that circled destination and the route is still unclear."--New Scientist

"If you're interested in the science behind the macabre, this book will thrill you. It's also a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about a cutting-edge area of evolutionary theory."--io9.com

"One of the Best Books of 2008"--Neurotopia

"With well-picked examples, Blumberg constructs his at first peculiar, but ultimately profound, argument...Startlingly convincing." --Elizabeth Quill, Science News

"Blumberg is a developmental psychobiologist, and thus advocates for a more supple understanding of the interplay between development, behavior, and evolution than has usually been accepted. He eloquently defends the view that 'development is the story of adaptation within one lifetime,' and that thinking seriously about anomalies helps us see 'how much adaptability there is in the developing organism.' --Jason B. Jones, Boldtype

"By presenting a parade of animal freaks, mutants, developmental anomalies, and weird species, Blumberg imparts lessons that, although familiar to biologists, will be valuable to non-specialists. He emphasizes that the complex process of development can be unraveled by understanding how such anomalies are produced...Blumberg illustrates his points with clear and intriguing examples...Blumberg's ambitions transcend storytelling: he aims to show that developmental biology has made real contributions to evolutionary theory." --Jerry A. Coyne, Nature

"Blumberg takes us on a tour of real-life teratology, and how understanding abnormalities is casting new light on the relationship between the genetic and non-genetic forces that shape us all." --Stephen Cass, Discover

"A stimulating read." --Financial Times

"Blumberg's explanations of the factors that go into [these] deformations are gripping." --Robert Colvile, Telegraph.co.uk

"Engrossing and interesting." --John Wilkins, Evolving Thoughts

About the Author

Mark Blumberg is Professor and Starch Faculty Fellow at the University of Iowa. The author of two books and more than eighty journal articles and chapters on a wide variety of subjects, he currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Behavioral Neuroscience and as President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195322827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195322828
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.2 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,351,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Harshaw on January 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As in his previous book, Basic Instinct (also highly recommended), Blumberg does a remarkable job of translating a number of complex ideas into readily understandable prose. The relationship between development and evolution was a subject largely neglected in mainstream biology for much of the 20th century. The tide has begun to turn significantly only over the course of the last two decades--not enough time for the burgeoning science of epigenetics (molecular and molar) to have filtered into the general scientific and popular consciousness. Books like Blumberg's are thus badly needed.

In Freaks of Nature Blumberg presents a novel way of understanding the development and significance of "freaks"--those organisms who differ from the species-typical (or order-, family-, or genus-typical) norm in significant if not radical ways. Whether the freak be a cyclopean human fetus, a bipedal goat or rodent, an experimentally produced "unicorn," or a female hyena with freakishly enlarged sexual anatomy, Blumberg shows that there is a developmental logic to such anomalies. As numerous findings from modern epigenetics and developmental biology show, subtle differences in the timing of events during development (e.g., the separation of the tissues that eventually become the two fully formed eyes) can result in a cascade of downstream effects, producing sometimes radically novel forms.

Many such novelties are simply not viable and thus never make it to the stage (birth) where scientists can study and others wonder at them.
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This book should be a companion book for all those books people interested in evolution and neuroscience have read, or have yet to read! Mark Blumberg answered questions I never knew I had; explained science I never knew I needed explained. He drove home to me the still evolving science of evolution, and the wonder and power of nature! My only wish is Great Courses (The Teaching Company) would develope a lecture series with him. Thank you Amazon for putting this book on my recommendations list!
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Format: Hardcover
What a delight! Finally, a beautifully written science book exploring a subject area often ignored or deliberately shunned. Mark Blumberg sensitively explores the world of exceptions, those individuals among us who are limbless, ambiguously gendered, conjoined--those creatures that we see as abnormal. He helps us understand
the wondrous diversity of our world, and calls us to embrace the exceptions, for we are all "monsters."
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I read this book for a developmental psychology class. This book is so informative and interesting! I really think the world would be a more hospitable place if more people understood this area of science. We shun those who are different when we should be celebrating the fact that there is so much exciting variability!
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Format: Hardcover
A two-legged goat. A man who walked on his hands. A kitten with two faces. A naked mole rat. A star-nosed mole. A fun read.

Freaks is a provocative look at anomalies in nature and the developmental processes that produce them. Blumberg details the self-organizing mechanisms that create an integrated phenotype in all creatures, not just the archetypes, and persuasively argues how these systems should influence the way we think and talk about evolution.

Poignantly blending fields such as embryology, ethology, psychology and neuroscience, along with a bit of history and anecdote, Blumberg delivers a treat for readers of all interests that should change how we look at what it means to be "normal".
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This is a very entertaining book. Except for the chapter on sexuality, it seemed almost to read itself. Full of examples and illustrations of anomalies, it takes us through a veritable cabinet of curiosities. Contrary to the usual perspective, Mark S. Blumberg treats these "freaks of nature" not as malformations and deviations; well, they are - but so are we. According to Blumberg we are all monsters. Nature tries something out and if it works it's "normal" and if it doesn't it's deemed "unnatural". But why should the fact that we humans have five fingers and not nine be seen as the normal state of affairs?
Now, I cannot judge if Blumberg has got his epigenetics right, but he seems quite adamant and polemic about it. Without mentioning Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley or E.O. Wilson, he strongly condemns what he sees as "genetic determinism". It's old-fashioned as well as incorrect, he says, to apply a gene-centered view on evolution. It also works the other way around: the environment induces evolutionary change. "Character can be inherited by the next generation without a genetic mechanism", he states and claims that this insight is now becoming commonplace (183). Here he refers notably to Jablonka and Lamb (Evolution in four dimensions, 2005) and West-Eberhard (Development plasticity and the origins of species, 2005). When he mentions supporters of Evo Devo, such as Sean Carroll, he still deplores their one-sidedness in conferring to genes the main role in evolutionary development. On the other side of the coin, there is no mentioning of Lamarck, making it a bit unclear to a lay-person like me what exactly it is that Blumberg so vehemently defends. In his "Nature via Nurture" from 2003, Matt Ridley states: "Learning could not be expressed without experience.
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