Customer Reviews: Why Evolution Is True
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on December 5, 2013
overall I was happy with this refresher. I had totally forgotten about genetic drift and there was a nice chapter that explained it well. I would recommend book to anyone that has only a basic understanding of evolution and natural selection. My one criticism of the book would be the author constantly attempts to invalidate creationism throughout book. I believe most people reading the book are already on board that evolution/natural selection are facts and creationism is not science, but for the few who are not the tone and language is condescending. I would have preferred the author simply present the overwhelming evidence and leave it at that. I had the kindle version and the illustrations were so so.
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on March 29, 2009
Jerry Coyne's book on evolution makes for an excellent introduction to the topic for anyone wanting to know what the theory is, as well as why it is "true".

Coyne starts by breaking evolutionary theory into six components, evolution, gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection, and nonselective mechanisms. Each component is well defined. The book defines what a theory is, and how it can be tested through predicition and retrodiction. The six components and prediction/retrodiciton are recurring themes throughout the book and provide very solid support for evolutionary theory. Chapters proceed in a logical fashion addressing not only how evolution is driven, but how different branches of science support it.

One of the more interesting discussions is on how geographic distribution of animals supports evolutionary theory. Most people are familiar with the strange collection of animals on the Galapagos Islands, but are a little fuzzy as to how they support evolution. Coyne goes beyond the finches to provide a stellar explanation, including why given types of animals that are or aren't there, and the imbalance of remote island ecologies provide strong support for evolution.

I could go on, but I don't want to just regurgitate the content. Suffice it to say that the book is well organized and well written, providing a concise and very strong case for evoutionary theory. Coyne's book is surprisingly inclusive considering it is less than 250 pages. The title is "Why Evolution Is True", but what and how are not neglected by any means.

One minor quible I have is with Coyne referring to evolutionary theory as "Darwinism". He explains why, but I would avoid the term as it seems to mean anything the user wants it to. "Why Evolution Is True" is top-notch and I would recommend it to anyone who wants an overview of evolution.
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on March 28, 2013
This book contains a great account of the advances in biology and anthropology of the last few decades that allow us to draw a rather complete story of the development of man and all other living things. It explains many interesting phenomena such as why whales have legs and why people could make vitamin C if the right genes were turned on. The only thing I found a bit tedious is the regular rants about creationist arguments that evolution is a hoax for two reasons: first, most of creationists' arguments are so weak that they don't bear refuting and second, no creationist will ever read a book with this title. With that caveat, I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a fuller, more detailed understanding of evolution and its role in helping us understand many aspects of our world.
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on May 3, 2009
I had followed progress in evolution sporadically for many decades. Late last year I began looking for a book that would bring me up to date on evidence for evolution. Coyne's book was the perfect choice, a fascinating account of discoveries both old and new that provide direct evidence of evolution.

Here are some of my favorites from the book:

* Starting on page 40, recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in fossils found in China. Check out the pictures on pages 42 and 43 clearly showing impressions of feathers in dinosaur fossils. Then have a gander at note #8 on page 237:

"Paleontologists now think that all theropods - and that includes the famous Tyrannosaurus rex - were covered with some form of feathers ... It wouldn't bolster the fearsome reputation of T. rex to show it covered with fluff!"

* Transitional fossils clearly show the evidence for land mammals who evolved into whales, as discussed beginning on page 49. Throughout the book there are several more examples of transitional fossils, including of course ancestral human fossils.

* Atavisms, sporadically expressed remnants of normally dormant ancestral features, probably caused by occasional reawakening, during development of an embryo, of normally dormant genes left over from our ancestors. Proving once again the power of a picture, have a look on page 63 at the infant born with a 3 - 4 inch atavistic tail!

* Sexual selection, discussed at length in chapter 6. This is another evolution driver, different from natural selection, and explains why we see male birds are colorful and females are not. Until I read Coyne's book, this was an area of evolution entirely unknown to me.

This book is well worth your time to read. It's rekindled my interest in watching more closely progress in the study of evolution, and it's given me new information I can use to try and move away from supernatural creation explanations those of my friends and relatives who lean in that direction.
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on July 20, 2015
Darwinism, that is, the theory [fact] of evolution and natural selection is one of the most publicized scientific views in the past centuries. It was amalgamated and truly set forth by Charles Darwin in the mid nineteenth century. The idea of evolution, as philosopher Daniel Dennet may put it, is "dangerous". This is because the idea that present day life forms are a product of gradual speciation and natural selection starkly contradicts many fundamental religious beliefs. The most popular being the doctrine of Creationism; the idea everybody and everything sprung into existence with the aid of a designer (as known as intelligent design). And although opposition has and continues to concurrently run rampant, the evidence for evolution by natural selection prosper and improve. The resulting contemporary citadel of evidence proves to be impenetrably robust. "How?" one may ask. Jerry Coyne, a prolific scientist and author, has set out to answer such a question.

The author begins by explaining what evolution is, and the geological and fossil history that corroborates it. How fossils come to be is explained as well as the methods to extrapolate a timescale based off remnant evidence. Evolution should be manifest as we start from older rock strata to newer rock strata. "Missing links" is looked it and we continue to find transitional fossils (e.g. amphibian-reptile, fish-amphibian, reptile-bird - the famous Archaeopterx). Interesting speculation on the reptile-bird transition was the "tree down" and "ground up" scenarios. The author writes about animal vestiges (vestigial organs), which are the remnant organs and structures in the body that had an archaic use but now is impertinent and sometimes useless. Whales have a lot of them and we, human beings, do so too (the appendix, coccyx; our vestigial tail, arrector pili; the muscles that give goosebumps). Also talked about are "atavisms" - throwback traits produced by the occasional reawakening of ancestral genes that have long been silenced. On the same tip, dead genes are covered and Coyne lays out an interesting case on how the proportions of dead gene expressions testify to evolution and especially natural selection. The discussion of biogeography and it's testimony to evolution was particularly insightful. Of the evolution books that I've read it was best covered here. Also interesting was learning about our fish-like embryos, our transitory fetal coat of hair, and our poor design. As evolution and plate tectonics predicts, continental islands (those that were once connected to major landmasses) would have similar ancestral history than the nearest landmasses it was once connected to millions of years ago. Continental Islands have a more diverse group of animals in terms of size. On the other hand, oceanic islands (those of which were never connected to a larger landmass and became an island because of rising water,etc) tend to have endemic diversity but not many large animals (besides those that made their way to the island, either artificially or by mere chance - for example, on a log). Sex is also a big and potent driver of evolution. This is the reason why we see so many of what's called "dimorphic" traits that apply to a certain gender. Dimorphic means difference in appearance of anatomically the same organism. Despite the environmental disadvantage - which seems to contradict natural selection - many males of a certain species seem to develop dimorphic traits that are vastly different than those of females. There are different purposes to assemble such traits, for example; protection or at-least perceived protection for a female, appearance of strength, possible aesthetic appeal, etc. For example, the males of many bird species have a colorful plumage - a vast array of different colors embellished on the skin. The chapter "What Abut Us?" was fascinating to me, as it spoke about the evolution of the modern day human. It spoke on all the transitional fossils since the initial separation of man and chimpanzee around 7 million years ago. the plethora of hominid fossils (Australopithecus, Neandrathals, Homo-Erectus, Homo-Habilis, etc) found reinforce the idea of human evolution. So far, every found fossil have been testimony to the bipedality, increased brain size, etc, that you would chronologically expect in the transition from our most common known ancestor and modern-day homo-sapiens. Towards the end, there's talk of our genetic lineage and racial differences.

I most revel at the brevity and conciseness of the text, as well as how good certain topics were elucidated. Compared to other evolution books I've read, I think that this one holds the crown on the topics: atavisms, bio-geographic separation; oceanic and continental islands, homo-sapien evolution, dimorphism, and dead genes. The way these topics were covered separates this evolution book from others for me. One of the main motives behind the book was to trump creationist/intelligent design fallacies. The retort did it successfully.
Through many readings and musings on evolution I would say that my personal sentiment is that the impregnable veracity of evolution is and can be manifest, as long as one is willing to consider it, no matter how diffident the very idea of it may seem.

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on September 13, 2014
This book was a game-changer for me. As someone who was raised to accept young-earth creationism, it took Coyne's unapologetic application of verifiable science to shake me out of my religious devotion to a debunked origins theory that even many Christians now no longer accept. I suppose I was one of the holdouts - but no longer. Coyne does a great job explaining the basic premise of evolutionary theory and showing how that theory has been vindicated time after time with repeatable, verifiable tests. Coyne does wax a bit polemical in his clear disdain for religion, and I understand that he felt it necessary since all of the opposition to this theory comes from religious quarters. However, as someone who is still religious, I found it derogatory and distracting from this otherwise excellent work. I highly recommend reading this book.
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on March 27, 2013
I am a Christian, who didn't really care too much about evolution. Like many Christians, I believed that microevolution happens and that macroevolution does not. It stems from people telling you (on both sides) that beliefs in evolution and Christianity cannot coexist.

I initially read "The Language of God" by Francis Collins, and was convinced that these two ideas need not contradict each other.

I was recommended this book, and it was absolutely fascinating. This book is really packed with evidence, that someone like me, who lacked a lot of knowledge in this area, really needed. Vestigial features that still exist in us and other animals, the bio-geographical differences of life around the world, and many other things mentioned in the book really make it seem unlikely that we were just created out of no where.

I still love God and accept Jesus Christ as my savior, but that is no excuse to turn a blind eye towards the evidence because many people within the church don't want to see it.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is curious about the evidence for evolution.
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VINE VOICEon February 26, 2015
There should not be a book called “why evolution is true” in the 21st century, just like there shouldn’t be a book named “why we know germs exist”, or “why we know the heart is pumping the blood”. Evolution is scientifically speaking; a long ago settled issue, and the evidence that it has happened and that it is continuously happening is undisputable. One of the reasons this book exist is because religious zealotry in the Muslim world and the United States has made the theory of evolution by natural selection highly controversial and as a result it is often dismissed amongst many in the public.

Creationists often claim that the there is no evidence for evolution, or that the evidence is equally well evidence for “creationism”. They can get away with these kinds of false claims because many people are unfamiliar with the evidence for evolution. This book “Why Evolution is True” outlines a long list of some very powerful evidence for evolution by natural selection. It also explains what evolution is and what modern evolutionary theory is more specifically; evolution, gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection, and it also discuss non-selective mechanisms of evolutionary change. In addition the book discusses various concepts within evolutionary theory, mutations, genetic drift, adaptive traits, speciation, modern findings, the history of evolutionary theory, as well as different variants and controversies within evolutionary theory. The book presents evidence for the various components of modern evolutionary theory in addition to just providing evidence for evolution.

One type of evidence for evolution (among many) comes from the fossil record. There are millions of fossils representing 250,000 different species (17 million to 4 billion species has lived on Earth). The fossil record shows that early life was simple with complex life appearing later, with the youngest fossils being most similar to living species. This is predicted by the theory of evolution but it is not predicted by the assumption of a creator. In the fossil record you can follow lineages; species of animals and plants changing into something different over time (including the so called transitional fossils). The book discusses apes/human lineages, wasps to ant lineages, fish to amphibians, reptiles to mammals, dinosaurs to birds, mammals to whales, lizard like reptiles to snakes, etc. The fossil record is also matched by the structure of DNA. All this is evidence for evolution but a problem for creationists. Other types of evidence discussed in the book include sub-optimality, vestiges, embryos, the structure of the DNA, and evidence from biogeography. The latter might be the most compelling and the most easily verified of all the evidence.

Unlike some other books on the topic “Why Evolution is True” is a fairly in depth book and not an easy read. Another book that I also recommend, “The Evidence for Evolution”, by Alan R. Rogers, is a brief but compelling overview of the evidence for evolution, and it is also a quick and easy read. Unlike, for example, “the Counter-Creationism Handbook” by Mark Isaak, this book is not focused on debunking creationist claims about evolution. The focus of this book is instead on explaining evolution and presenting the evidence for it in a thorough manner.

Overall I found the book to be enlightening and educational, and it was well organized and well written. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in understanding evolution and the evidence for it a bit more thorough. I do not recommend giving this book to a creationist as they are likely to dig in and refuse to honestly consider the evidence. Reading it together with a creationist to help keep things honest is more likely to work.
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on August 6, 2009
Dr. Coyne's book deserves to be to the current go-to book recommended to people wanting to better understand: the fact of evolution, the theory of evolution, the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution, and how that evidence falsifies notions argued by creationists/IDists.

Unlike creationist books, Coyne is not merely publishing a personal or collective argument in support of his beliefs; instead Coyne is reporting and explaining the evidence that is peer-accepted within the scientific community. Coyne also educates his readers on how science within its community deals with ignorance, doubt, and skepticism, which by design compels science to do more research to increase our understanding rather than reactively and lazily throwing up our collective hands and proclaiming that "God did it" like we experience with creationists when confronted with holes in their understanding (but not usually Science's understanding). Coyne also provides several examples where we infer what we understand - often with some confidence - but then explains how such inferences in no way settles the matter but instead often leads to additional research that either validates into fact or falsifies such inferences. However, while Coyne is masterful in reporting how creationist notions have been falsified with evidence and framing many of his explanations from a creationist's point of view, he is selective in covering only their best arguments and keeping his rebuttals to an absolute minimum. This is not an evolution vs. creationist book, it is instead a survey of what we understand and can reasonably ascertain about the origin of species framed within the skepticism of a reader cognizant and tending toward creationist arguments or with a vaguely understood objection to evolution though ignorant on the topic, the latter objection being a popular condition within the American fundamentalist/evangelical community.

What distinguishes this book over all other similar books is the breadth of scientific disciplines surveyed, all of which independently validate evolution while also convincingly falsifying the idea that species were ever intelligently designed, not with mere arguments but with physical evidence. Coyne is especially good at describing how geography plays a role, a strong focal point of Darwin's work that is often ignored by supporters of science when debating creationists.

Too often books on evolution geared to the general reader fail to cover the mechanics of speciation adequately, especially since most general readers think in terms of individual organisms rather than populations of organisms. Speciation is an evolutionary process that results in new species. Coyne not only weaves the mechanics and examples of speciation into nearly all his chapters, he also dedicates one full chapter to both explaining it, describing the various mechanisms that cause new species to originate, and provides examples of our observing new species coming into being. Some of these examples show exactly what mechanism(s) were involved and the relative degree multiple mechanisms had on the new species given we've successfully validated some results observed in the field with the same results in the lab. This sort of independent validation is also described for features and forms, not just organisms, for example the evolution of blood clotting.

I did find one major shortcoming in Coyne's book and it is somewhat disconcerting given its part of Coyne's area of study. Coyne is a leading expert in the field of speciation where much of the research focus is spent on genetics at the cellular down to the molecular level. While Coyne artfully weaves the evidence in cells, DNA and our genes into many of his explanations, this field does not get a dedicated chapter in spite of his being a perfect candidate to communicate this evidence in a focused chapter or book. If one were so unfortunate to have only one field of science providing an understanding of the origin of species and the mechanisms that causes new species, it would be the evidence in molecular biology given its even more convincing than the fossil evidence (though less intuitive to the general public and generally more challenging to grasp which is why Coyne left it out according to a post in his blog). Coyne's writing is entertaining enough and the book doesn't suffer from being too ambitiously large, so I find this a significant failing; it would have pushed the quality of this book from "current best in class" to "absolute masterpiece". Therefore, as an accompanying book to get a good though still introductory grasp of the evidence for evolution as both fact and explanatory model, I also highly recommend reading either Daniel Fairbanks' Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA or Sean B. Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution.

If you enjoyed the journey Coyne provides and would like to delve more deeply into this subject I recommend starting to more narrowly focus on a topic too technical for an introductory book, but highly rewarding on its own merits. Given our recent technological advancements, we can now more precisely study how we develop and how it relates to our evolutionary background, e.g., `Why four appendages?', `Why is our body plan so similar to closer relatives and yet so different from other animals, like octopi?', `Why does fetal development appear to mimic our evolutionary background?', `How can the study of genetics lead to superior treatments tailor-made to individuals?', and `How can the study of genetics provide information for pregnant mothers to reduce the odds of birth defects?'. For these topics I recommend Sean B. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom. For the most entertaining read in science having to do with evolution, and a nice case study on the life of a modern day scientist that could influence a bright high school kid to consider a career in science, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage) is an absolute masterpiece. By the way, any moderately bright high school kid can easily grasp all of the other books mentioned here as well, including "Why Evolution is True".
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on November 2, 2014
I previously read Richard Dawkins' book "The Greatest show on earth" which has similar aims. This one does the job of explaining in comprehensible terms why we know evolution happened far better. This one is much more focused on explaining evolution and showing the evidence for it. Dawkins is much more argumentative and blustering.

After reading this book you could read Darwin's books "The Origin of Species" and "The Descent of Man". Or perhaps a series of biology textbooks (specifically Molecular Genetics and Evolution).

Of course you won't convince everybody - see the 1 star reviews for what a closed mind looks like.

A few minor points.

He repeats the statement that in prehistoric times the average life span was 30 therefore people died at 30. In fact with high infant mortality, most people died in childhood and it was quite routine for people to live to 50 or 60 or beyond. In ancient Greek times, where medical care was very primitive and crowded conditions led to plagues, many of the philosophers lived to 60, 70, 80, 90 or in one case past 100. Statements like this are what make other scientists ask biologist "Do you even math???".

In the treatment of human evolution we see the author being *very*, perhaps overly, careful not to transgress the boundaries of political correctness. Early in the book he points out how much dogs have evolved in about 10,000 years since domestication, in the face of artificial selection - this is offered as evidence of the power of selection. We have smart breeds (eg poodles) and intellectually challenged breeds (eg Spaniels), large and small, fast and slow etc. And humans have had time to evolve resistance to malaria and to tuberculosis, and the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, different sizes and tolerances for various climates. But here he claims that there was no time for behavioral or intellectual differences to evolve. I offer no opinion on whether they did evolve, having not researched the issue, but the arguments in the book seem inconsistent. This detracts from the book because if someone is prepared to bend the arguments for non-scientific reasons, you find yourself asking whether the rest of the book is as disinterested as it makes out.

He also quotes favorably Stephen Jay Gould, a man whose reputation has declined in recent years as evidence of his fraudulent research has come to light (See eg "The Folly of Fools: Self-deception in the service of deceit" in Psychology Today) and people tire of the way he pushed his political agendas to the detriment of science. This was not necessary and detracts from the book.

Overall though I highly recommend this book.
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