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The Theory of Evolution (Canto) Paperback – 30 Jul 1993


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'Few people in the world are better qualified than John Maynard Smith to explain evolution to us, and no subject more than evolution deserves such a talented teacher. Like Darwin himself, Maynard Smith knows that his story if intrinsically interesting and important enough to need no more than clear, patient, honest exposition. The new Introduction is an elegant essay which can be recommended in its own right as a summary of important recent developments in evolutionary theory. This book is the best general introduction to the subject now available.' Richard Dawkins, from the Foreword to the Canto edition

Book Description

A hundred years ago Darwin and Wallace in their theory of natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, explained how evolution could have happened, in terms of processes known to take place today. In this book John Maynard Smith describes how their theory has been confirmed, but at the same time transformed, by recent research, and in particular by the discovery of the laws of inheritance.

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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Good, but today slightly dated. 7 July 2001
By "agreen60" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although I do not always agree with his views, I quite like Maynard Smith, so I rushed to buy this book which at its price seemed a real gem. Well, just to caution the reader that while it is classic Maynard Smith, the book is now quite old (1975). One can say that Darwin's 1859 classic, or "Selfish Gene" (1976) is also old, but these books were a milestone at the time. This book had less impact as a classic, so if one just needs latest information in a fast moving topic, there are more up-to-date works around. Even Maynard Smith's own (1998) "The Origins of Life" would be better value. You have to use your own judgement about this one.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
One of the finest introductions to evolutionary science 24 Feb. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This summary of evolutionary theory by the dean of the British school is essential reading for those who would understand the issues argued by Dawkins and Gould. It is an engrossing read, but is not trivially easy, despite having the appearance of a popularization. I would recommend it to anyone wanting more than a cursory overview of the most important theme of modern biology.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Pros and cons... 19 Jun. 2013
By Brian C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The purpose of this book is to provide a basic overview of the theory of evolution for the layperson. If you have never studied the theory of evolution, or if you have a basic understanding of the basic theory of natural selection but are fuzzy on the details, Maynard Smith's book does a good job walking through the basics. The major pro of the book, in my opinion, is its breadth of coverage. Smith begins with a basic account of the idea of adaptation and the theory of natural selection. Smith then discusses a wide range of topics within evolutionary biology: the molecular genetics of heredity, the role of DNA, the origins of life, the control of gene action in the production of proteins, the evolution of altruism and social behavior, and the process of speciation. Most of the major topics within evolutionary biology get a chapter devoted to them so the book serves as a good general introduction to the overall theory of evolution. It does not go in depth on any one topic but the reader will get a good general survey of the field.

There are, in my opinion, two cons of the book. One was already mentioned by a previous reviewer. The book is a bit old. For example, since this book was published there have been developments in complexity theory that have opened up new avenues in our attempt to understand the origins of life, and there have been developments in the field now known as EvoDevo that have increased our understanding of the control of gene action and its role in evolution. Readers looking for good books that cover some of those developments could look at At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman, and Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo by Sean Carroll. The second con is, the book can be a bit dull. It feels a little bit like reading a textbook. The information is good but it does not really make for exciting reading.

I think the field of evolutionary biology is actually a really exciting and interesting field. The field is exciting because we are learning so much at a relatively fast rate. There is also an inherent beauty to the theory of natural selection, and the way that life operates, and writers who are able to capture that beauty are able to inform while also exciting the imagination. Maynard Smith does not, in my opinion, quite succeed in making the theory of evolution as exciting as I think it is. Unfortunately, being a layperson in the field of biology, I am not aware of any other general introductions to the theory of evolution that, 1) manage to pack as much information in as Smith, and 2) make for exciting reading. If I find one I will update my review and recommend it in place of Smith's book. Until then, I would still recommend Smith's book for anyone who wants a broad introduction to the overall field of evolutionary biology. It serves that purpose quite well. Once the reader has that broad overview they can focus in on more specific topics. There are lots of exciting books on specific topics, like the two I referenced above.
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