- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393330516
- ISBN-13: 978-0393330519
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 105 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution Reprint Edition
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“I recommend [The Making of the Fittest] to everybody who wants to understand more [about evolution], because it is written in such simple yet detailed language.... Quite a pleasure to read.”
- Ira Flatow, NPR "Science Friday"
“The rare scientist with an easygoing writing style.”
- Dan Vergano, USA Today
“The best refutation of intelligent design.”
“An adept and wide-ranging writer.”
- Steve Olson, Washington Post
“A fast-paced look how DNA demonstrates the evolutionary process.... Carroll offers some provocative and convincing evidence.”
- Publishers Weekly
“With fervor and clarity, Carroll amasses a glut of facts to refute the twisted logic of the anti-Darwinist camp.”
- Josie Glausiusz, Discover
About the Author
Sean B. Carroll is professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His first book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Carroll’s seminal scientific work has been featured in Time and The New Yorker. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Top customer reviews
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The book is divided as such:
Chapter 1: An introduction to what the rest of the book will be discussing. However, I would have preferred that this actually have been an introduction instead of being chapter 1, because it doesn't really get into the topic of the book so much as summarize what each of the following chapters will be about.
Chapter 2: A somewhat difficult chapter that deals with the math of evolution. I love math but I felt at times that Carroll was simply telling us what the results of particular equations mean, as opposed to explaining the math itself. I would like to have learned how to do the calculations myself in the event I need to present this evidence to someone else. At one point he uses a logarithm without even explaining how the equation works, so it raises the question of why he even bothered to show us the math at all if he wasn't going to explain it.
Chapter 3: This is where the book really hits its stride and doesn't slow down for several chapters. This chapter discusses specific genes in our DNA that have remained unchanged for billions of year, evidence that natural selection has worked to keep these genes in place because of their fundamental usefulness to life.
Chapter 4: An utterly fascinating chapter on how new genes have evolved in order to create new features across various species. In particular Carroll discusses color vision and the similarities/differences between species in the genes that affect vision in various animals.
Chapter 5: Yet another completely absorbing chapter on "fossil genes" -- genes that have mutated over time and have become inactive, yet still can be used to trace their heritage far back through the past.
Chapter 6: Discusses the phenomenon of evolution repeating itself when given the same set of selection pressures with which to work, and how different species have independently evolved similar (or the same) features as a result.
Chapter 7: Deals specifically with human issues such as the "arms race" between increasingly drug-resistant bacteria and human-created methods to deal with such germs.
Chapter 8: A discussion on how complex features (such as the eye) can evolve. Intelligent designers, pay attention!
Chapter 9: Carroll stops with the science at this point and in this chapter deals with the common arguments against evolution and the rational responses to these arguments.
Chapter 10: The final chapter discusses how acceptance of evolution is more than just a philosophical exercise but instead can help us shape the future of not only our species but of many other species on the planet (especially those on the verge of extinction because of human activity). Even though Carroll discusses things such as overfishing, overhunting, pollution, and global warming, I didn't get the impression that he tied all of this up neatly with the actual idea that accepting the truth of evolution can help us with these things.
A few complaints I had were that:
1. At some points the explanations got a little difficult to follow, and not so much because the science (or math) was over my head, but because Carroll didn't seem to fully explain what he was describing. I feel like it was a fault of the writing in certain sections.
2. There are many charts, graphs, and pictures, but they weren't all explained very well. For example, Figure 4.3 (DNA Typing and Hominoid Evolution) shows a comparison of junk DNA called "SINES" among various animals (Human, Bonobo, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, etc.), but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what I was looking at or how to read the lines. I got the general idea of what I was seeing, but the caption and even the text itself didn't seem to explain the figure very well.
3. A problem many authors, including Carroll, seem to have is the habit of summing up the topics they are about to discuss. Chapter 1 is mainly a setup for the rest of the book and the final part of it actually sums up what each of the following chapters will discuss. Furthermore, within each chapter Carroll also will sometimes close a section by describing what the next section will be about, or close a chapter by describing what the next chapter will be about. Personally, I find this kind of writing to be somewhat lazy. It contains no real content, no new information, and reads like filler. It's as if the authors are not confident enough to simply end a section or chapter as-is without resorting to some type of segue into the next part.
However, overall the book is a fantastic exploration of how DNA reveals the evidence for evolution across just about every species. If you've read other books about the evidence for evolution, chances are they dealt with a little of this material, but not as in-depth as Carroll's book does. I definitely recommend this book to complement those other books, because it deals thoroughly with the DNA record. You will be amazed to see how similar DNA is across various species, and equally amazed to see that it differs in exactly the ways we would expect it to differ if evolution is true.
One of the best points about this book are the examples that show "a whole suite of changes" (p. 24) tend to occur together and build on each other -- pushing some species far into otherwise unoccupied ecological territory, such as his excellent telling of the story of the unique "bloodless" ice-fish of Antarctica. This one extreme example illustrates nicely how the whole of evolution works -- sometimes changing existing genes and other times "inventing" whole new ways of doing things based on what all the other genes are doing.
Another great point is how he shows that evolution as a "theory" might have been questionable in the past (like heliocentrism before the telescope...) but that now molecular biology and forensic DNA studies show us beyond a shadow of a doubt how evolution made us.
Another of the most interesting points is that increasing complexity does not require proportionately more genes, (p. 76) because tiny changes in genes after basic structures are in place can have vast global effects, etc. by tweaking existing patterns. Tiny changes seem to grow potentially more important as the organism gets more complex... As a behavioral neuroscientist, this relates directly to what we know about the massively complex human brain. See the book: "The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates The Complexities of Human Thought" by Gary Marcus for more on that. I bring it up because no matter what your field, you can gain insight and inspiration from this book.
His examples about the development of color and blue-shifted vision in various organisms are extremely interesting and thourough -- revealing a scholarly breadth of knowledge and the fascinating process of evolution coming up with similar solutions to different physical problems in similar situations.
That leads to probably the best point he makes -- that evolution requires vast amounts of time compared to the human life-span. This is the source of much of the problem in people's understanding because they cannot grasp the timescales involved. He shows that tiny advantages in a given gene or changes in environment leading to a relaxation of selection can have large effects over time. He shows that the mathematical probability of certain mutations compared to the vast timescales of evolution virtually guarantee certain changes in organisms over time given environmental pressures (or lack of them...). That point is very relevant to humankind, since we have relaxed many selection pressures with our modern technological society, and created others.
The human relevance of this book to me is the most fascinating aspect of it. We are unique in the history of evolution in the sheer magnitude of our shaping of our own environment. We need to be aware of what we are doing and what that means for our future. Dr. Carroll does an excellent job of showing examples of how we are shaping the environment and survival of other species as well as our own. Whether we like it or not, it seems to be our destiny as humans to become managers of evolution if we want to survive and also save our environment.
Other amazing things he shows are that religion and evolution are not incompatible-- including quotes to that effect from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canturbury (among others)that seem very pro-evolution. In my own book "The Textbook of the Universe: the Genetic Ascent to God" I show that science and religion come from the same truth-seeking core impulses of mankind, but that science is just the updated version. That is apparent in this book as well -- where Dr. Carroll gives us a picture of a more accurate creation story that is much more elegant and powerful. A story translated via science straight from the most holy book in essence written by the creator itself in our DNA.
these are only a few of the best points that are explained clearly and engagingly in this book. Very enjoyable to read. Very enlightening. Highly recommended.