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Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated Hardcover – 2 Sep 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (2 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385409850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385409858
  • Product Dimensions: 24.6 x 17.5 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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


"'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) -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Paperback.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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 Biology. Well, for a start you would be unfair to call it a textbook, as well as you would be incorrect to call it inaccurate. Almost A Whale is accurate in terms of the commonly agreed beliefs of the scientific community, so you should not be disappointed in the content. This is a book that avoids controversy quite happily as it never intended to break the frontiers of science. Instead of surging to the future it keeps its feet firmly on the ground, in the present and supported by the past.
Almost A Whale should not be a mistaken as the rewriting of Darwin's "Origin of Species" as the author never intended it to be. It is a conversation almost between our understanding of the science with that of Darwin's and Huxley's. Both voices, past have present, have something to add to the conversation and it is hard not to be drawn in to it. And it is this style of writing that makes this a science book no heavier or harder to read than your average novel.
This is a fantastic book for anyone, whether your new to the subject or an experienced scientist who never did get round to reading Darwin the first time around. This is an educational book at one of its most effective - because you will read it because you want to and you will learn and understand without trying.
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Format: Hardcover
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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