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What Evolution Is (Science Masters Series) Paperback – October 11, 2002
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Mayr, emeritus professor of zoology at Harvard University, has long been one of the world's foremost researchers in genetic and evolutionary theory. In this overview of past and current scientific thought, he discusses key concepts and terms, among them the origin of species, the (somewhat metaphorical) "struggle for existence," and agents of micro- and macroevolution. Somewhat against the grain, he argues against reduction and for the study of evolution at the phenotypic, not genetic, level. In his concluding pages, Mayr offers a careful overview of human evolution, adding his view that humankind is indeed unique--though "it has not yet completed the transition from quadrupedal to bipedal life in all of its structures."
Advanced students of the life sciences, as well as readers looking for a survey of current evolutionary theory, will find Mayr's book a useful companion. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The writer, Ernst Mayr, only recently passed away aged over 100, and had been through a good deal of this scientific development, and is therefore in a unique position to approach the subject. Jared Diamond (author of 'The Third Chimpanzee', 'Guns, Germs and Steel') describes the result: "there is no better book on evolution". Whilst a little skeptical of this hyperbole, I decided to check it out, and wasn't disappointed.
Discussions range from the philosphical (everything in this Earth seems to be in a state of flux" p7), to the palaeontological ("the older the strata in which a fossil is found...the more different the fossil will be from living relatives" p13-although see also the occassional stasis of the genotype on p278-79), to the embryonic (eg 'recapitulation'-an important point), to the modern discovery of 'transposable elements' (gene jumping and copying-p100). Important developments in the theory include the 'branching theory' of Darwin (p19), to the theory of common descent (p21), to discussions of biogeography (species distribution), molecular biology (including the molecular clock), to the formation of new genes by doubling and insertion, leading to diversification (p108-9). The reader will find all the scientific development and current investigations exhaustive, but (hopefully!) rarely exhausting.Read more ›
Indeed, there is a wealth of information in this book, but it seems like all of this stuff is just second nature to Mayer, and he doesnt realize that most people will have no idea about what he is talking about.
For instance, when disussing Biased Variation (pg 99), Mayer states "Some genes affect the segregation of alleles during meiosis in a heterozygote such that the allele of one parental chromosome goes to the gametes in more than half of the instances. If this allele controls the unfit phenotype, it will be selected."
The book is packed with stuff like this. I suppose if I had some background in biology I might have some idea of what that means.
Anyway, the books is probably a gold mine for anyone educated in biology, but I am gonna have to say that if you just want a basic intro to biological evolution, this is not the book for you. Or at the very least, it wasnt the book for me.
I cannot think of anyone else who is able to present all levels of the complexity and subtely of the process of evolution and the theory of natural selection with such precision and clarity than Ernst Mayr, a venerable scientist, "the world's greatest living evolutionary biologist" (Steven Jay Gould), "the Darwin of the 20th century" (New York Times).
This book is not only consisted of rigorous arguments, but also full of compelling illrustrative examples picked up from the diversity of living beings on our earth of various geological ages (from the fossil record to modern human beings) and places in support of those arguments.
Mayr's knowledge in biology is so comprehensive and his narrative so straighforward and lucid that he recounts those examples of evolution history just like a grandfather telling some everyday stories to his grandsons.
And I especially recommend those who once found or still find the so-called "GENE EYES' VIEW" (as popularized by Richard Dawkins) attractive shall seriously study this great work. And then he or she, I think, will soon discover that how imprecise and misguiding is the metaphorical language of those sociobiologists in their description of almost every parts of the process of evolution.Read more ›
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that the author was born in 1905. What legendary biologist Ernst Mayr might next want to share with us is his secret for remaining so mentally acute for so many years! Reading this exposition on evolution by "The world's greatest living biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity" (Stephen Jay Gould, on the jacket cover) is somewhat like taking Evolution 101 as it might be taught by Professor Mayr. As he writes in the Preface, his purpose is didactic. He would like us to know more about evolution and how it works.
First he presents the evidence for evolution, explaining (I hope) once and for all how evolution can be established as a fact even though we cannot perform experiments as we might in physics or chemistry: "Evolution...must be inferred from observations. Such inferences subsequently must be tested again and again against new observations, and the original inference is either falsified or considerably strengthened..." (p. 13) He adds on page 276, "I cannot see why...an overwhelming number of well-substantiated inferences is not scientifically as convincing as direct observations. Many theories in other historical sciences, such as geology and cosmology, are also based on inferences. The endeavor of certain philosophers to construct a fundamental difference between the two kinds of evidence strikes me as misleading."
To this I might add that all the evidence we have of the external world is from inference. Even so-called direct observations (whatever they may be) are inferences from the evidence of our senses and must be checked against the same inferences that others make.
Next Mayr explains how change and adaptation take place.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Ernst Mayr was one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century and was an active participant in the formulation of the new synthesis. His words are gold. Read morePublished 14 hours ago by O. Long
Although written for the layman, takes all your attention to keep up. At least for me.Published 9 months ago by Mark B.
I read this as someone with a Ph.D. in philosophy with special interests in the frontiers between philosophy and science. Read morePublished 13 months ago by John Mooney
The book arrived in the condition specified. So far it has been an interesting read. Not nearly finished yet.Published 16 months ago by Daniel Cloutier
It's been a long time since I took college biology courses so I had to refer to the glossary on occasion but I do have a good science and biology background so that helped, but it... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Nature Lady