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VINE VOICEon 5 November 2002
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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HALL OF FAMEon 23 September 2003
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. While it would be unfitting to give Albert Russell Wallace more space in the text, there are several excellent books on a subject ORIGIN was only touched lightly. More significant is the lack of reference to the Grant’s work on Galapagos Finches [see Jonathan Weiner’s THE BEAK OF THE FINCH]. If anyone needs confirmation that evolution works, this three-decade long study will provide it.
None of the lacks are significant shortcomings in this effort to ‘update’ ORIGIN. Jones has presented a stunning wealth of information, but put it together in a highly readable format. He deserves the widest possible readership for this book. With luck, Jones will perform the same service with THE DESCENT OF MAN. There’s little doubt it will be as valuable as this book.
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on 7 April 2001
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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on 19 October 1999
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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on 10 December 1999
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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on 14 April 2013
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. I don't feel I learned much from it & it was just so, so frustrating to read, purely because of the writing style. I struggled with it most of the way through & didn't start to enjoy it unil around chapter 9, after which it turned into a good book! It should't take 9 chapters of frustration to get into something but I don't like to be beaten by a book. Reading this one largely became a chore to me.
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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 scientific discovery. It is up to Steve Jones usual high standard and is fascinating to read. A great place to start if you're interested in our behaviour and evolution, and a fascinating read even if you're not!

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on 28 March 2014
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. I found it to be a brilliantly engaging update of the original. Jones has managed to make it accessible to the modern layman without loosing the detail of the original.
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on 31 January 2000
A great read, particularly for anyone interested in science in general but without an in-depth formal background in biology. Jones touches on evolution's sideshows too, including the 'New Ignorance' of the creationists in bible-belt USA.
The principles are explained in detail, and some paragraphs warranted reading several times over, where there was a complex argument to be explained - not a book you can just dip into! However, the heavy arguments are well illustrated with fascinating facts and examples. Am I really nearer to bananas than to bacteria!
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on 12 February 2001
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. It takes the most cogent passages from Darwin's Origin of the Species and effortlessly places them in the most contemporary context, with reference to what we know about evolution at the beginning of the new millenium. Recommended.
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