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Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated [Paperback]

Steve Jones
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
RRP: 11.99
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Book Description

1 Sep 2000

In his new book, Steve Jones takes on the challenge of going back to the book of the millennium, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Before The Origin, biology was a set of unconnected facts. Darwin made it into a science, linked by the theory of evolution, the grammar of the living world.It reveals ties between cancer and the genetics of fish, between brewing and inherited disease, between the sex lives of crocodiles and the politics of Brazil. Darwin used the biology of the nineteenth century to prove his case. Now, that science has been revolutionized and his case can be reargued using the twentieth century's astonishing advances.

From AIDS to dinosaurs, from conservation to cloned sheep, bursting with anecdotes, jokes and irresistible facts, Almost Like a Whale is a popular account of the science that makes biology make sense. It will catch the millennial mood and tell all those for whom Darwin is merely a familiar name what he really meant. It exposes the Darwinian delusions which try (and fail) to explain human behaviour in evolutionary terms, and, while giving an up-to-date account of our own past, shows how humans are the first species to step beyond the constraints of biology.

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Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated + Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters + The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance
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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055299958X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552999588
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London and the president of the Galton Institute. He delivered the BBC Reith Lectures in 1991, appears frequently on radio and television and is a regular columnist for the Daily Telegraph. His previous books include The Language of the Genes, Almost Like a Whale, Y: The Descent of Man and, most recently, Coral.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Steve Jones describes Darwin's The Origin of Species as "the only bestseller to change man's conception of himself ... without doubt, the book of the millennium." That book's sensational central proposition, that speciation arose from descent with modification through the mechanism of natural selection, constituted a kind of Grand Unifying Theory of the biological sciences, allowing what had been until Darwin's time an essentially anecdotal practice to cohere into a modern discipline. In the century and a half since its publication, Darwin's big idea has been attacked many times, on many grounds, but has never convincingly been refuted. Yet, as Jones points out, hardly anybody reads The Origin of Species now for its science. It is celebrated as a landmark in the history of ideas, as a contribution to the philosophy of science and as a masterly work of high Victorian prose. The idea of evolution has pervaded almost every aspect of human thought. But it has almost been forgotten that it is primarily a work of science. Almost like a Whale is an attempt to redress the balance. Jones, himself a geneticist, assumes the mantle of Darwin and rewrites his masterpiece for the modern reader, borrowing the structure and thesis but writing with the benefit of 150 years' hindsight. Throughout the 20th century new sciences have emerged that have in all cases buttressed the central claims of evolution, chief among them embryology and Jones' own discipline of genetics. Almost Like a Whale draws widely on them for its arguments and many illuminating stories and case- studies.

It is a bold and ambitious project, carried off with considerable style and wit. Any suspicion of lightness is misplaced, though, as the seriousness and profundity of the underlying arguments are signalled early in the book: Jones destroys one of the main creationist objections to the theory of evolution--that no-one has ever seen it happen--with a devastating account of the well-documented 50-year evolution of the AIDS virus into its present varieties. The title is not a near-miss reference to Hamlet: it is Darwin himself, speculating on whether a bear seen swimming and catching food with its mouth as it swam, might represent the first, behavioural step on an evolutionary journey towards a new creature" almost like a whale." This is a powerfully entertaining book, engrossing in its science, erudite and cogent. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'Inspired by his modernising pen, the old bones throw off their dust and dance the boogie...a richly readable introduction to the science that The Origin of Species invented'" (Mark Ridley The Sunday Times)

"'A celebration of the unarguable rightness of Darwin's case, updated to take into account our century's advances, particularly in genetics...his writing is clear, precise, declamatory, often illuminating...he allies the macro and the micro, using tales of dogs and snails and polyps and islands, to create a work of persuasion rather than polemic' " (Euan Ferguson Observer)

"'To rewrite Darwin requires considerable skill, bravado, and, possibly, a touch of madness. Jones clearly has more than his fair share of all three...a barnstorming tour of modern genetics and its implications for evolutionary theory'" (Kenan Malik Independent on Sunday)

"'The richness is almost overwhelming, and I am awed by Jones's reading...hugely enjoyable'" (Steven Rose Independent)

"'Explains the workings of evolution, as they are now understood, with beautiful clarity and, naturally, with a lot more fun and jokes than Darwin ever allowed himself. The book is a pleasure to read'" (Mary Midgley New Statesman)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exemplary effort 23 Sep 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Steve Jones’ innovative approach vividly demonstrates how science has sustained the concept of evolution through natural selection. He deserves our praise for the effort he’s put into assembling a wealth of resources, while presenting the information with clarity and wit. After all, the presentation of 150 years of new information is no easy task. And that information must be given the widest possible exposure. The reluctance of Christianity [the term ‘creationist’ is meaningless distinction] to understand natural selection is depressing, but even Steve Jones is unlikely to heal that blight.
Charles Darwin’s THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES is the most important book ever written. Not the best known, of course, or most often read. Yet no other publication has changed so many aspects of human outlook. Daniel Dennett rightly calls Darwin’s idea ‘the universal acid’. The concept of change over time ranges over all science from quantum physics to cosmology. Steve Jones’ modernization of ORIGIN is necessarily limited to the biological realm, but as he aptly demonstrates, that’s complicated enough. Biology is a busy science these days, but Jones has brought us as up to date as writing and publication schedules permit. Addressing such a diversity of topics as AIDS, where whales came from [they’re not hairy fish!] and geological time scales, he’s provided us with a detailed scenario of evolution’s course.
There are some interesting omissions in this book. No listing of Mendel’s paper in the bibliography [although the synopsis of his work in the main text is valuable]; in fact, he doesn’t mention that Darwin had a copy of it in his library – unread. Nor is there anything on island biogeography.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars ALMOST LIKE A GREAT BOOK BUT... 19 Oct 1999
By A Customer
Highly enjoyable as Steve Jones's prose is - and he's a fabulous stylist - I couldn't help feeling that he has been ham-strung by his own idea here: mirroring Darwin's structure but filling in and up-dating the gaps. IN THE BLOOD was wonderful for the plethora of short, fascinating stories which he introduced and operated almost like one of those old Beano or Dandy annuals: perfect grazing. Here Jones has to rely on shortish chapters when you can almost feel him wanting to flex his writing muscles more in contrast to that. I suppose my biggest cavil is, however, that 95% of this book's material is overly familiar from the writing of others, by which I mean that so many authors are these days having to follow the same old post-Darwinian tracks and research that those who read a lot of popular science have almost reached the stage where they feel they've already read the UR-Book: a body of knowledge so regularly run through and overlapped by different books that it's almost impossible to be fresh or come up with anything new. But Steve Jones is a superb writer so if you don't read much popular science you will probably enjoy this book. Next time, however, it would be great to see him ally new syntheses or ideas to the stylistic energy.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern vindication of Darwln. 5 Nov 2002
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Using the original format of 'The Origin of Species', Steve Jones elaborates on Darwin's point with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and all the ammunition that modern science can provide.
Prof.Jones claims his writing could never match the concise brilliance of Darwin's original, but he is plainly wrong, as is clear from the first chapter; the pace is never turgid, it flows with a conversational ease and the explanations are quite simply brilliant - it takes real skill to convey an exotic technical point into layman's terms without resorting to jargon.
Professor Jones argues that there can be no more polymaths, as too much information exists now - but he defeats the argument by his encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and how it affects all spheres of life. The interesting and obscure snippets that he relates, and the little-known consequences of actions speak volumes for evolution, and man's hand in accelerating or stifling it.
He refers often to genetics (after all, that is his field of study), but that very science has done more than anything else to turn the theory of evolution into as near a law as is possible. Armed with this evidence he shows little sympathy for those who cling doggedly to a creationist or Ussherist biblical view of life.
One of the best examples of evolution played out in industry is his description of soap powder nozzles and how to improve them by natural selection. Man's breeding of dogs proves how far one can go with un-natural selection in just a few hundred years; think what could happen in a few million!
A wonderful read, full of humour and wit, with a wealth of interesting information and mind-expanding explanations.
Gets my *****
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
as a psychologist, i am acutely aware of the difficulty of scientists writing for the general public - to be clear without being condescending; to be technical without being technocratic;to be factual and accurate without being dull. Jones accomplishes this and more. he has the reader thinking about the undersea worms and the Beaufort Trench in the North Sea; AIDS in the next millennium, and the whales Darwin speculated upon. he has us thinking about our thinking about ourselves, our universe, and about the ideas we hear coming so trippingly off the tongue without consideration. never again with such abandon will we think about myths foisted easily on us, or our children. he has the reader turning with anticipation to the next chapter, to the next million years, to his next book. i shall certainly look for his other works and encourage other to do the same.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly is an modern version of origin of the species ...
Truly is an modern version of origin of the species, will help me with my AS Biology this coming year.
Published 1 month ago by Louis Potts
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
As a 25 year old "mature student" I wanted to brush up my knowledge before beginning my degree in zoology, this did just that and more. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Elizabeth
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, frustrated by an incredibly irritating writing style
Of all the popular biology books I've read over the years & I've read quite a few; this is probably the least technical but the most difficult to read. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mr. N. J. Houchin
2.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Jones' later ones..
I loved Coral and the Single Helix, but find the Whale fairly heavy going - a bit of Darwinian prose goes along way, this book definitely overdoes it for me. Read more
Published on 4 Jan 2012 by Nodrog
3.0 out of 5 stars A Whale of a Time
This is a well written account of the prevailing Darwinian biological paradigm. Jones is a fluent writer and the book itself is an excellent read. Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2009 by Neutral
5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant rewrite of a classic
This is a clear and concise rewrite of Origin of Species. It is easy to understand with many up-to-date examples, and adds to Darwin's original ideas with hindsight of modern... Read more
Published on 9 July 2006 by Spider Monkey
1.0 out of 5 stars Pompous and unoriginal
This book has had rave reviews all round, and it's quite hard, on actually reading it, to see why. There is virtually nothing in this book that hasn't been better presented... Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2003 by J. Ghosh
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
I've given up on this book. I read about 150 pages and was very frustrated. I thought some passages were so bad they were funny. Read more
Published on 15 July 2001 by R. J. Hole
4.0 out of 5 stars a conversation of science old an present
I suppose the first thing people think is "why buy a school textbook? And if it is not a textbook why buy an in accurate account of the well-travelled ground of Evolutionary... Read more
Published on 7 April 2001 by pwilliamson@myisp.co.uk
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to evolution
If you don't know anything about evolution, or what part Darwin's work played in the construction of evolutionary theory, then this is the book for you. Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2001
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