on 17 April 2009
This book was first published in 1932, and so is in a certain sense out of date. But JBS Haldane was a visionary biologist and what he thought about in 1932 is worth thinking about today. With modern genetics, experimental biology has now caught up with his insights. He was a also a master of the popular essay, and the main part of the book (perhaps not the appendix) is very attractively written and accessible. It is true, as another reviewer points out, that one needs to know some of the jargon of genetics. So this is really a book for biologists, from the student onwards, who want to gain some historical depth of understanding of one of the most important topics in biology today.
When Haldane wrote this book in 1932 Darwinism was in crisis as zoology, botany and the newer science of genetics had revealed a different world to that predicted by Darwin. The problem was Darwin's understanding of heredity and that Darwin had not developed a mathematical framework for his theory. So between 1930 and 1932 the three great works that would come to form the modern synthesis were written by the triumvirate of R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright and J.B.S Haldane.
Of the three Haldane's is the most accessible and so long as you keep away from the mathematical appendix it is very easy to read, although at a deep level there are some challenging questions to which we still do not know the answers. It was easy enough to read that I read it on the train and the main text is not very long (90 pages in the current edition). Where it becomes much more complex is in the appendix and in particular in the afterword by Egbert Leigh. This is definitely not something for the interested layman.