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The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the world through evolutionary eyes Hardcover – 28 Oct 2010
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well written and well researched (Birdwatch)
There is much to fascinate. (THES)
Fascinating, well-written book. (Outdoor Photography)
Wills' has written a glorious examination of Earth's lesser known biological fauna and flora. (Dave Partridge, Real Travel)
A stellar new travel book...dense with fascinating knowledge and laugh-out-loud moments. the perfect gift for your globetrotting friends. (Watermelon.com)
Probably this year's most important travel book. (Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller)
About the Author
Christopher Wills is Professor of Biological Sciences and member of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of California. He received the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999. His research interests include the maintenance of genetic variability in human populations, the forces that maintain variation in complex ecosystems such as rainforests and coral reefs, the evolution of diseases, and the evolution of our species.
Top customer reviews
Christopher Wills' brilliant photographs of exotic landscapes and their myriad wildlife, from below sea level to far above, delight our eyes. His adventurous travels in almost all continents introduce novel perspectives, with anecdotes that entertain and then enlighten us with meaningful significance.
A distinguished professor of biology, Christopher Wills enriches our knowledge effortlessly without the tedium of orthodox teaching. In particular, the updates of genetics and molecular biology that refresh the knowledge of serious students of those subjects also intrigue the general reader.
But Professor Wills is an evolutionary biologist, superbly competent to illustrate the origins of species, including our own. The mutual relationships as we evolved together, albeit in a journey spanning 40 million years, become clearer as each chapter leads into the next.
Finally, knowledge prompts acceptance of the social responsibility of each one of us. Yet this book is free from the familiar aura of doom and gloom; self-evident truths do not need frequent reiteration. Christopher Wills' reminder, "Malthus pointed out that our population increases geometrically, while resources on which we depend increase linearly if at all", leads naturally to the inevitable conclusion "we must either control our own population or have a much less forgiving Mother Nature do it for us".
English readers will not be distracted by American style of authorship; and scientists worldwide, many in remotest environments, are given generous credit.
Only when approaching the end, I realised that this was no ordinary book; it was very special, inspiring me to read again immediately, this time with more profound awareness.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book starts with a dive in northern Indonesian waters and encounters with shape-shifting cuttlefish and squid, among many others. Reflecting on the very different evolutions of the eyes of humans and cuttlefish (their vision is far sharper) brings on realization of the immense family tree of all living beings on Earth. You will gain insights every few pages, such as the evidence for a long, slow (we are talking 3000 million years here!) fuse to the so-called "Cambrian explosion" of life forms.
Subsequent chapters detail how natural selection shifts frequencies of various gene varieties (alleles) in addition to the mutations caused by radiation, viruses and DNA copying mistakes. Rather than a grand design, we are all the beneficiaries of nature's re-purposing body structures and gene duplications to live, or extract energy from the ecosystem, to put it another way.
Being caught underwater during a nearby, but fortunately mild, earthquake is grounds for considering the importance of tectonic plate movements. Darwin had a similar experience: a much bigger quake, but on dry land. Crustal movements isolate animal populations, leading to speciation, and then may bring them near each other, as at the Wallace Line. or even together, as in the reconnection of North and South America. Among many other animal and plant families, these two cases notably involve placental mammals and marsupials. Did I mention the beautiful photographs?
The evolution of new species is discussed further in chapters 4 and 5, and in the latter we visit the author's work as a scientist, verifying models of plant distribution from massive data sets. It seems there is truth in the old saying "seedlings cannot grow in the shade of the mighty oak" (this is sometimes muttered by disgruntled post-doctoral assistants) but it is not completely due to the shade - parasitic organisms, fungi and viruses are more abundant around the parent tree.
The last three chapters concern the human story - our still-unfolding understanding of our ancestors (or cousins?) over the last 2 million years: Homo erectus, Neanderthals and Hobbits (OK, homo floriensis.) The focus here is on the Great Migration; out of Africa with difficulty, down the daunting Near East coast into India, down part of Indochina, island-hopping (perhaps) across Indonesia and into Australia. Again, many beautiful photographs to go with the lucid explanations and thought-provoking insights. Along the way, there is coverage of our domestication of animals and their role in our increasing domination of the planet. It will survive a good bit longer - will we?
This book caps an interesting year of reading, includingOn the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition,Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body [Your Inner Fish], and Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology) among others, and I heartily recommend them all.
This is one of the finest books I've encountered... Beautiful writing, insights, and photography.
Literally a mind-boggling book, and one that I guarantee will open your mind to the past, the present, and
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