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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on December 11, 2010
Travel to exotic locales in this marvelous book with Chris Wills as adventurous guide and interpreter of our world and how it, and we, got to be what we are. He is also a nerveless and skilled photographer who will bring the world to you, even when head-on with a whale shark or komodo dragon.
The book starts with a dive in northern Indonesian waters and encounters with shape-shifting cuttlefish and squid, among many others. Reflecting on the very different evolutions of the eyes of humans and cuttlefish (their vision is far sharper) brings on realization of the immense family tree of all living beings on Earth. You will gain insights every few pages, such as the evidence for a long, slow (we are talking 3000 million years here!) fuse to the so-called "Cambrian explosion" of life forms.
Subsequent chapters detail how natural selection shifts frequencies of various gene varieties (alleles) in addition to the mutations caused by radiation, viruses and DNA copying mistakes. Rather than a grand design, we are all the beneficiaries of nature's re-purposing body structures and gene duplications to live, or extract energy from the ecosystem, to put it another way.
Being caught underwater during a nearby, but fortunately mild, earthquake is grounds for considering the importance of tectonic plate movements. Darwin had a similar experience: a much bigger quake, but on dry land. Crustal movements isolate animal populations, leading to speciation, and then may bring them near each other, as at the Wallace Line. or even together, as in the reconnection of North and South America. Among many other animal and plant families, these two cases notably involve placental mammals and marsupials. Did I mention the beautiful photographs?
The evolution of new species is discussed further in chapters 4 and 5, and in the latter we visit the author's work as a scientist, verifying models of plant distribution from massive data sets. It seems there is truth in the old saying "seedlings cannot grow in the shade of the mighty oak" (this is sometimes muttered by disgruntled post-doctoral assistants) but it is not completely due to the shade - parasitic organisms, fungi and viruses are more abundant around the parent tree.
The last three chapters concern the human story - our still-unfolding understanding of our ancestors (or cousins?) over the last 2 million years: Homo erectus, Neanderthals and Hobbits (OK, homo floriensis.) The focus here is on the Great Migration; out of Africa with difficulty, down the daunting Near East coast into India, down part of Indochina, island-hopping (perhaps) across Indonesia and into Australia. Again, many beautiful photographs to go with the lucid explanations and thought-provoking insights. Along the way, there is coverage of our domestication of animals and their role in our increasing domination of the planet. It will survive a good bit longer - will we?
This book caps an interesting year of reading, includingOn the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition,Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body [Your Inner Fish], and Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology) among others, and I heartily recommend them all.
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on December 20, 2010
A wonderful read, fantastic photos, the most up-to-date information on evolution, ecology and the environment. I read this book on the beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and couldn't put it down! Only Wills can make density-dependent selection in tropical rain forests seem not only intriguing, but understandable...and his sections on human evolution and migration are not to be missed!
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on May 26, 2016
Fascinating adventures and scientific information.
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on February 10, 2011
I have spent pleasant moments with this book; it is also a very good gift to a person who starts his/her studies in evolution and wants facts.
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on January 18, 2011
I've written a lot of reviews on Amazon and I've read a lot of incredible books, many being the best of the best....

This is one of the finest books I've encountered... Beautiful writing, insights, and photography.
Literally a mind-boggling book, and one that I guarantee will open your mind to the past, the present, and
the future!

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on January 15, 2015
Had a blast reading the travelogue of these scientist and his ability to tie together fantastic reality with old dusty Darwin.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 4, 2011
`The Darwinian Tourist' contains fascinating photographs with explanations for each one. The book is divided into two parts, basically the first dealing with non-human living species, covering how adaptations occurred underwater and above. Fossil evidence is examined and how separate evolutionary paths were taken is well detailed and easily understood. Also covered are the shifting of earth's tectonic plates, rainforests and diseases.
The second half deals with humans, the migration of them and how animals were domesticated.
This covers evolutionary evidence south of the equator. There is no exploration of fossil remains in the northern hemisphere. It does much to answer the questions of why some ecosystems have so much vigor and diversity
Since this is Darwinian theory, it only covers that theory, there are really no comparisons to other hypothesis and speculation on the evolution of animals and of humans.
It would therefore be of interest to those who wish to learn more of this idea and have the thoughts and theories explained in an easily understood manner.
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