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Evolution: The History of an Idea Paperback – 25 Sep 2009
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"Clarity of purpose and powers of organization shine forth from every page."--Roy S. Porter, "Times Literary Supplement"
About the Author
Peter J. Bowler is Reader in the History of Science at Queen's University, Belfast, and is well known on both sides of the Atlantic for his books on the history of evolutionism.
Top customer reviews
The progress of theories of evolution is seen in the context of developments in other areas of biology, and also other sciences such as palaeontology, geology and physics as well as broader cultural changes. Bowler suggest that even after the publishing of the Origin of Species, Darwinism did not become mainstream until after developments in heredity and genetics in the first part of the twentieth century, and is still generating controversy today.
Bowler describes the ongoing interplay between theories of evolution and philosophy, religion, politics, and how these factors influence the acceptance and promotion or otherwise of the various theories of evolution, and also how theories of evolution have been [mis-]used to support often contrary ideological positions.
I think that Bowler's account would also provide a good case study with which to evaluate competing philosophies of science.
The book is erudite, and dense. It presents complex and subtle ideas clearly, but is not light reading, requiring, at least from me, concentration and effort. However, it does pay off: I came to this book with a background in biology rather than history and think this book helped me to a deeper understanding of both.
We find the precursors of the idea of evolution: Linné, Buffon, Cuvier, Lamarck..., the more direct sources of the theory of Charles Darwin: Lyell, Humboldt, Malthus, and the grand father of the author, Erasmus Darwin, and also the rivalry with Alfred Russel Wallace.
Since his masterpiece "On the Origins of Species", 1859, and refering to his whole Work, Darwin's heritage appears considerable, with so many scientists and the diversity of existing interpretations. We can quote: the Social Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, Neo-Lamarckism, Neo-Darwinism, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Socio-Biology (E.O. Wilson)... and by the way considering the relationship with other matters such as ethology: Konrad Lorenz. The elements of the "New Synthesis" of the XXth century are clearly exposed: the "Evolutionary Modern Synthesis" based upon the Gregor Mendel's laws of heredity and the natural selection theory of Darwin. See: Julian Huxley: "Evolution The Modern Synthesis".
Peter J. Bowler refers to epistemology (Karl Popper, Thomas S. Kuhn), having in mind to show how difficult it is to investigate within such a rich cause, how complexity is inherent in this topic, and keeping one's attitude: Darwin's theory with his significance and his implications is far more subtle that what we usually think.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Throughout the book, it seems like philosophers (at least in the West) desired a purpose and direction of evolution, if not a Director. Lamarckianism (inheritance of acquired characteristics) also seemed to have continual appeal and in the later editions of the Origin of Species, Darwin himself was leaning more that way. The continual difficulty of direct evidence and incomplete fossil record, leads to ongoing speculations.
Although generally dry/scholarly there are a few fun side-diversions, such as Kammerer's midwife toad. Bowler also highlights other key figures such as paleontologist Georges Cuvier and "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley. I would have like more history of how the general public accepted the idea, perhaps by tracing the teaching in schools or textbooks. Readers of this might also enjoy Dawkins "The Blind Watchmaker".
I would recommend this book for any biologist or amateur biologist.