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One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought (Questions of Science)

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674639065
ISBN-10: 0674639065
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Mayr has written a clear, concise, and insightful book about those major issues surrounding the theory of evolution: extinction, finalism (teleology), essentialism, creationism, determinism, neo-Darwinism, and sociobiology. He argues that it was Darwin's unique genius, scientific research, and rational speculation that founded the ongoing mechanist/materialist open-ended but complex (five subtheories) paradigm of organic evolution by common descent through genetic variation, natural selection, and population dynamics. In this historical and critical survey, Mayr also examines the influential ideas of Aristotle, T.H. Huxley, Thomas Malthus, A.R. Wallace, and especially August Weismann (among others). In particular, he points out the far-reaching significance of ornithologist John Gould's study of speciation among those mockingbirds (not finches) on the Galapagos Islands; it greatly helped to convince Darwin that evolution is indeed a fact of nature. Highly recommended for informed laypersons, students, and scholars.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Scientific theories...like living species, have forerunners and descendants, and they exhibit subtle changes over time...One Long Argument succeeds admirably in pinpointing the bits of evidence and inference that seeded Darwin's grand vision, and it illuminates his errors along with his insights. (Geoffrey Cowley New York Times Book Review)

You will read this book with great pleasure...Mayr simply admires Darwin to the hilt... Mayr's awe of Darwin is both illuminating and stimulating. It is also profoundly authoritative. Who else can present himself so effortlessly as a living symbol of the breadth of evolutionary thought in the twentieth century? (Jeffrey Levinton BioScience)

This short book should be read by anyone with an interest in the development, impact, and meaning of Darwinism. It is well written and accessible, without skimping on scholarship. (Robert Schoch Science Books and Films)

It is valuable to have [Mayr's] "mature reflections" expressed so concisely and elegantly. (Peter J. Bowler Nature)
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Product Details

  • Series: Questions of Science (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674639065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674639065
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The title "One Long Arguement", it is a reference to part of Darwin's introductory description to The Origin of Species (appearing within Origin itself). This book is not about arguing with Creationists (Thank God ;). I suspect the above reviewers were misled to the point that they felt rating stars must be subtracted. Don't be fooled by title bashers. This is an excellent history and theory primer for the novice and a nice knowledge gap filler for those well-read in the science of evolution and biology.
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This is definitely THE book to give friends, students and even enemies who are interested in the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Ernst Mayr, one of the foremost architects of our understanding of the ecological nature of evolution draws on his immense scholarship to bring us a highly readable text on the many facets of Darwinism. I have given this book to graduate and undergraduate students, we have fought over it in seminars, and in general it holds a premier place in the library pf anyone with a genuine interest in understanding one of the key elements of modern biology.
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Format: Paperback
As an introductory work in the history of science, this book offers an excellent overview. Mayr was a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist and one of the authors of the "evolutionary synthesis" of the 1940's. This book is an excellent and succinct history of the development of the theories of common descent and natural selection among the biological community from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
I recommend it for the novice, however. For those interested in a more thorough examination of the sociological, and not just biological, history of Darwinian theory, I would suggest Bowler's "Evolution", which is commonly assigned in post-Newton history of science survey classes. As a biologist, Mayr tends to view the history of evolutionary thought, to which he contributed so much, in a triumphantilist manner, which is out of step with most scholarly historiography on the subject. As a biologist, one can hardly blame him. As a historian, he should know better. I would also note that he gives short shrift at the end of the book to all the recent developments in evolutionary research. For instance, he barely mentions the "rediscovery" of the power of sexual selection in the 1970's and 1980's, an idea originally proposed by Darwin himself, and which dominates so much contemporary research.
That brings me to my second point. While an excellent brief history, this book is not a detailed argument describing all the current evidence and thoughts on natural selection, as the title somewhat implies. For that, one should turn to any of Mayr's several other works.
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This is a history of the arguments about evolution made by actual biologists, not creationists. It is not a page turner, but it is informative and shows that even the best theories get refined and modified over the course of time.
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Format: Paperback
Creationists have claimed that geology has conspired to support evolution. This book just shows how ridiculous that claim really is. Geologists tossed out the idea of "Flood Geology" long before Darwin arrived on the scene. The idea of an old Earth was developed independently of Darwin. Also interesting is that Darwin was well respected among his fellow scientists, even though they did not initially accept his idea of evolution. His work on the Beagle was considered important, and it alone was sufficent to establish Darwin's scientific reputation. He was already famous (in his day) before his landmark work.
Many scientists in Darwin's time were old earth creationists. In time, many of them were persuaded by the mass of evidence that Darwin had collected, although it would be a long time before natural selection was accepted as the mechanism. So, it is possible to not accept natural evolution and still accept the idea of common descent. Creationists try to argue that evolution is a package deal, that if one idea is out of place or not quite right, then the whole thing should be tossed out. This notion is just wrong, and reading this book will help the reader understand why. In general, creationists exploit the public's poor understanding of the scientific method. While one fact can be enough to completely toss out a theory, what often happens is that old theories get revised to accomdate the new facts. Successful, powerful theories (like Darwins) tend to evolve.
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Format: Paperback
Good introduction to history of evolution from Darwin's time to present date with the major academic controversies.
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Format: Paperback
The title of One Long Argument can be a bit misleading, as an earlier reviewer mentioned - it is in reference to Darwin's Origin of Species, and Mayr really does not make an argument himself; the book, nonetheless is interesting, if a bit dry.Mayr begins by picking apart Darwin's evolutionary theories (its not one single theory, but actually 5 inter-dependent theories that relate to evolution as a system), before addressing its impact on the scientific community up until the mid - 1970's. Yes, Darwin is still being scrutinized, and not just by the religious set.I found the book a bit dry and difficult to keep my attention. Far too little is discussed about the thinkers before Darwin, and too much is spent on the scientific debate the 50 years after Origins was published. I would have preferred Mayr exploring the implications and impact of the discovery of DNA and microbiology on modifications of natural selection, specicies variation and adaptation instead. Therefore I can only give it 4 stars. In my opinion, a far better book on a related subject is Loren Eisley's Darwin's Century.
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