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Showing 1-10 of 11 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 25 reviews
on February 19, 2014
This is an in depth look at the modern theory of evolution. A warning: not for the uninitiated. I am a PhD in Biochemistry and a retired professor of Pharmacology and the book was far from easy. However, if you are willing to put in the effort and educate yourself on the way whenever necessary, you get a fabulous and intriguing state of art overview of the greatest milestone in biology, or perhaps in all science. Dr. Kunin is basing his review mainly on the recent achievements in the genetics of microorganisms, particularly primitive bacteria and viruses. Highlights:
1. No more infinitely small one base mutations to eventually achieve a new improved protein with the same, or even different function. Instead horizontal gene transfer for the lowly microorganisms, or gene duplication for the lofty eukaryotes. In both case, the organism purchases an entire protein or even a whole set of genes to play with.
2. The shift from the ancient RNA world to the "modern" protein world requires ribosomes, minute sub-cellular machines that synthesize proteins. However, there is no model that may explain a gradual emergence of the ribosome. What then? God? ETs? Creationists might have some fun with this problem.
3. Certain aspects of evolution appear to be DIRECTED (!!!) rather than random. This is a real whopper, even more than the unexplained/unexplainable appearance of the ribosome.
A must for a 21st century woman or man of culture and knowledge.
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on September 19, 2011
This book is targeted at the experts but can be understood well enough by knowledgeable amateurs with some background in genomics (even unofficial; mine comes from my hobby of reading research papers because I am fascinated with biology). Having already read a good number of Dr. Koonin's papers as well as several others referenced in the book helped.

Anyway, this was a fascinating, thought-provoking read, though it was also rather difficult. Koonin's writing style, which serves him quite well in academic papers, doesn't translate extremely well to a full length book. For the sake of comparison, because both books seem to be targeted at a similar level crowd, it is not as readable as "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins.

However, the ideas are fascinating, and this book seems to be an excellent overview of modern genomics research and what it tells us about what we understand and misunderstand about evolution. I certainly learned a lot about these topics as well as directions that future research will be taking. While I was less than impressed with some of the conclusions near the end (for example, the appeal to MWO and weak Anthropic Principal seemed to me to be a cop-out and at best should be a hypothesis of last resort).

However, I am not an expert, just an interested knowledgeable amateur, so I am not in the best position to judge Dr. Koonin's interpretations of the various data and research. But, whether his interpretations are spot on or not, they are certainly quite thought provoking, and will certainly serve science by creating discussion and lying groundwork for real testable hypotheses of all of the topics of genomics and evolution he discussed.

If you are very interested in biology, genetics, genomics, and evolution, you will want to read this book.
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on February 20, 2016
The Logic of Chance is probably the best biology monograph in the last hundred years. Way better than Gould or Dawkins in terms of actually understanding and making inferences from evolutionary theory and data. However, as Koonin freely admits in the introduction, this book is only approachable by those who already have a reasonable understanding of the field-specific jargon. Maybe undergrads might attempt it but this is really meant for those with PhDs or planning on getting one soon.
There's really no need to read the chapters in order and I found myself doing a lot of flipping back and forth and bookmarking pages--for that I wish I'd bought the physical copy. Plus then I could lend it around.
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on September 8, 2014
"The Logic of Chance", subtitled "The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution", is a delightful introduction to the current understanding of the natural evolution. The book is written in such a way that it allows the passionate layperson to follow and understand the presentation, with just the right amount of effort in order to provide satisfaction without (too much) frustration. The author, who is a respected researcher in evolutionary and computational biology, does not limit himself to describing the current consensus, but actually dedicates the second half of the book to the introduction of novel ideas and concepts; for example, one chapter is dedicated to exploring the question whether evolvability itself is evolvable.

This is not in any way an introductory book; it is obviously understood that the reader is well-educated and somewhat familiar with evolutionary biology. On the other hand, the book does not assume that the reader is a specialist or even a biologist; and this is why I like it. Biology in general and specifically evolutionary biology have always held my interest, although I work in an unrelated profession. That you doctor Koonin for your work.

(Scale: * - unreadable, couldn't finish. ** - bad or very bad, but readable. *** - good work, well worth its price. **** - very good in its genre. ***** - timeless masterpiece.)
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on January 23, 2012
This is a SOFTA* book on evolutionary biology. Professional and complete, it covers not only the most up-to-date aspects, but also has several good chapters detailing the history and development of evolutionary theory. However, be warned, there is no baby talk in this book. You will have to take on complex subjects (including some mathematics and analysis) and specialized terminology to get the most from this book. (I must admit I struggled at points. Good for the brain!)
I read the eBook version. However, biologists or paleontologists or any who are serious students of evolutionary biology, should probably get the hardback version because the tables and charts do not display well in the mobi [= Kindle] format.
(*State of the art)
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on July 16, 2016
Eugene Koonin's book is spectacular! The Logic of Chance is a stimulating, engaging and erudite account of the "postmodern synthesis" of evolution. He discusses the material with depth and rigor yet reading it is not at all tedious (if not quite a fireside chat). It's an incredibly enjoyable read ... could not put it down. Kudos and many thanks to Koonin!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
Disclaimer: I am reviewing an advance unproofread copy that I received for free through the Vine program. I'm also reviewing the Kindle edition, which I also got for free.

I was a little concerned from reading the "blurbs" about this book, that it might be misconstrued as some kind of support for creationist attacks on evolution (you can even see this from some other reviews). Indeed some bits in the introductory parts of the book are a bit alarming in this respect, unnecessarily appearing to attack Charles Darwin, or the neo-Darwinist strict adaptationalist modern paradigm. I think the author and/or publishers tried to gin up some non-existent controversy through some exaggerated remarks, to try and generate some sexy press, in this regard.

The exaggerated remarks pointing out that the neo-Darwinist adaptationist paradigm is incomplete are hardly indictments of the "theory of evolution" in general -- indeed, it reminds me more of how Einstein generalized Newton's laws, by filling in details in places, special cases of the very large, very small, or very fast, where Newton's laws break down.

In the case of this book, these special cases are the world of prokaryotes, basically, where things do apparently work a bit differently overall than they do in the world of eukaryotes. In fact later in the book, the author gives us a detailed picture of one important distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, leading to this difference -- HGT (Horizontal Gene Transfer) is a very common and important occurrence, "driving" evolution among prokaryotes where the DNA is not isolated. BUT in eukaryotes, the wall of the nucleus is a barrier that mostly stops HGT. So among prokaryotes with nuclei, the usual adaptationalist paradigm holds, where natural selection is the dominant occurrence and force "driving" evolution.

In the substance of the book it is obviously just a very detailed, up to date, thorough, and wonderful investigation through many aspects of molecular genomics. Also the title of the book is well chosen, because it seems that now we do have more and more real data from the molecular level, the grand story of evolution is a kind of story of molecular chance being modulated by various larger forces, leading to some kind of emergent "logic of chance"....

The early chapters of the book do present a lot of very detailed, very well documented/footnoted material, on how evolution among prokaryotes does have a strong "web" like structure rather than a strict "tree" structure, because HGT (Horizontal Gene Transfer) is turning out to be an even more fundamental force driving evolution, among prokaryotes, than strict adaptation is. But that's hardly an indictment of Darwin, or of adaptation as the most successful paradigm ever theorized, for evolution at the level of multi-cellular organisms, or even single-celled eukaryotes!

This is fascinating new stuff, for me at least. And it is pretty technical, so it is hard to follow sometimes. But I still am fascinated by it and I am able to understand enough to (I think) get the main points.

Since this is not a work of fiction, it's probably OK to leak some spoilers? (and other reviews have already done so) -- for instance, (apologies for my mis-translating into crude layman terminology here) it seems that the molecular genomic evidence strongly suggests that eukaryotes (including us humans) may have their origins in some kind of complex ancestor of some Archaea type prokaryotes (with a large genome, subsequently lost in its more modern Archaea prokaryote descendants, yet still lacking a nucleus or mitochondria etc.), which may have captured some kind of Bacterial type prokaryote (the genomic evidence is apparently fairly conclusive as to the family of bacteria that was the predecessor of mitochondria-type organelles inside eukaryotes), tried to eat it I guess :-) but resulted in endosymbiosis, where the resultant creature (and this may even have only happened once, as the rarest of rare events) was a chimera with things on the inside and things on the outside, which eventually had descendants that led to the Least Eukaryotic Common Ancestor ....

The only observation I can make about the Kindle edition is that for the most part it is well-formatted and easy to read, except for the images and diagrams. For them, I turn to the printed edition. But I do have the original Kindle 1, which is less capable at rendering images & stuff like that, so if you have a newer Kindle, they may look better on yours?

But overall I definitely recommend this book for anyone who has enough of a general science background to be able to read this level of technical stuff, and who is interested in evolution and genetics and wants to learn about the current situation (2011), of theories built from data obtained through molecular genomics, large-scale cross-species analyses and comparisons of genomes, etc. across archaea, bacteria, and all manner of eukaryotes.
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on October 2, 2011
In the preface to this book, the author writes that he set out with the desire to write a popular book along the lines of A Brief History of Time but on the subject of evolution. He soon recognized that the book "refused to be written that way" and became much more scientific and specialized. This is quite true. I am not a biologist but a physician, so I have had a fair number of biology courses, but much of this book was at about the limit of my ability to absorb, or even beyond. You probably won't get very far without a basic understanding of molecular biology: chromosomes, genes, DNA, tRNA, mRNA, transcription, translation, replication, ribosomes, operons, introns, splicing, and so on. On the other hand, if you have that background and some basic understanding with the concepts of biological evolution, you'll probably do fine with the book; little else is required--no math or biochemistry, for example. So be sure to take advantage of the "Look Inside" feature before you buy.

It's important to note the subtitle, "The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution." This is not a chronicle of evolution, but a rather detailed (for a layperson) look at mechanisms of evolution, mostly at the genetic level, along with some reasoning and speculation about how the whole ball of wax got started.

You should also be aware that the "highest" organisms considered in any detail are the earliest, single-cell eukaryotes. Animals are, after all, only "a single, relatively small, tight group of eukaryotes" while bacteria and viruses are the most numerous and successful organisms on earth. Virtually the entire book is based on the evolution of bacteria, archaea, and viruses, though occasionally animals and plants are mentioned in passing. This is fine, since the purpose of the book is to explore evolution beyond the classical understanding of natural-selection-based, adaptive evolution, and also to probe the earliest origins of life.

I'm not sure what previous reviewer Jim means by "But it will be a classic because it deals handily with nearly every contested area of evolution, neatly demolishing every criticism leveled by creationists. It does this by making positive statements about what is known rather than by arguing against creationism." The book certainly deals with some contested areas, but the contests are among evolutionary biologists and not between creationists and biologists. This book and creationists are not in the same universe of discourse.

A few of the book's interesting points include:

* At least at the "interesting" scale of evolution (up to the origin of eukaryotes), adaptation or positive natural selection is not the major factor in genetic change: "the overall quantifiable characteristics of genome architecture, functioning and evolution are primarily determined by non-adaptive, stochastic processes. Adaptations only modulate these processes."

* Increasing complexity over time is not a measure of some kind of "progress" of evolution, but is due largely to two factors: (1) a random-walk phenomenon in which more complex structures will occur by chance given longer periods of time (2) the natural result when the effective population size is not great enough for purifying selection to eliminate slightly deleterious mutations. "Junk" DNA can accumulate as a result, both requiring and providing the substrate for complexity. Complexity as a "syndrome" of less-numerically-successful lineages coping with junk.

* Viruses as a separate "empire" of life not as a derivative of cellular life. The important role of viruses (and other conceptually-related entities) in evolution especially through horizontal gene transfer.

* The importance of the "Red Queen" arms-race between hosts and parasites (including especially viruses and other selfish elements) in driving genetic change.

* The logical necessity of an "RNA world" as precursor of cellular life. At the same time, the extreme improbability of the whole replication system arising in this universe: a "back of envelope" estimate of the probability of life evolving somewhere in the observable universe in 10 billion years is something like one in 10 to the power 1000. The author resorts to the "many worlds in one" hypothesis in which there are an infinity of infinite universes, so every possible event happens in not only one but an infinite number of them. We're here to observe one of these extremely improbable universes only because, of all these universes, living observers can only exist in the ones where life did arise ("weak anthropic principle").
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on April 26, 2012
Koonin acknowledges that evolutionary biology goes beyond science.
Koonin downplays natural selection as the predominant mechanism of evolution, poking into the core of Darwinism.
He denies progression from simple to complex as the trend in evolution, turning Darwin's "tree of life" into a network of comparably complex organisms over the history of life.
Koonin points to the failure of the current models to explain the ultimate origin of life.
Using undisputably generous assumptions and simple mathematics, Koonin demonstrates the virtual impossibility for spontaneous origin of fundamental subcellular molecular machines in a finite universe. The only "reason" that life actually originated is the fact that we are here as observers. His invocation of the anthropic principle and the Many Worlds Interpretation, which may make some physicists and cosmologists shake their head, is logical, no matter how counterintuitive.
As a biologist (and specializing in virology as he does), I see Koonin as having extraordinary knowledge in biology and physical sciences. Honestly and humbly, he offers illuminating facts for everybody to learn and to assimilate. Whether one agrees with his underlying worldview or not, no one can deny his scientific professionalism.
History may prove this book a milestone in evolutionary theory.
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on September 7, 2011
I'm not qualified to judge whether there are technical errors, so I will assume that a person who has hundreds of peer-reviewed publications will not have made many mistakes.

I can, however, judge the beauty of the writing and compare it to other classics, such as The Selfish Gene and A Brief History of Time. It compares well, even though it contains numerous diagrams and formulas. It's a bit more technical than those works, but only where it needs to be in order to make its points.

But it will be a classic because it deals handily with nearly every contested area of evolution, neatly demolishing every criticism leveled by creationists. It does this by making positive statements about what is known rather than by arguing against creationism. This is a refreshing change from most books written for a wide audience.

Perhaps its boldest claim is that there has been more progress made in the last ten years than in the previous 150 years.

I suspect it will be criticized for concluding that the origin of life might have been a one in a zillion long shot, and invoking multiple universes to beat the odds. This is presented as speculation, not fact, but it will be quote-mined by ID advocates. Correction, it already has been.
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