What Evolution Is: From Theory to Fact (Science Masters) Paperback – 5 Dec 2002
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Why does evolution give rise to distinct species? Is evolution progressive? In What Evolution Is Ernst Mayr organises his text around commonly asked questions and points of difficulty, making this a resource to refer to, as well as to read. Those who find evolution endlessly engaging, or who find themselves engaged in endless argument with the creationists and nay-sayers among us, would do well to equip themselves with Mayr's well-organised armoury of sense, clarity and detail.
Mayr himself is a colourful figure: born in Germany in 1904, he embarked in 1928 on the first bird survey to New Guinea--an adventure that exposed him to tropical diseases, near-drowning in an overturned canoe and some very violent tribal politics. It is a shame, in some ways, that Mayr eschews such promising biographical material, stretching as it does across the entire development and refinement of Darwinian theory in the modern period. But we must respect the fact that Mayr is a teacher, not a writer: and his account of how evolution actually works is a tremendous resource for the interested lay reader.
What Evolution Is is not the best introduction to Darwinian theory on the market. That role is better fulfilled by Daniel Dennett with his (at times rather Mosaical) Darwin's Dangerous Idea; or (more flashily, and controversially) by Stephen Jay Gould. Those already entranced by the magic of evolution, however, should definitely knuckle down to Mayr's account of Darwinian theory: its proofs, its details and its implications.--Simon Ings --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Mayr is one of the influential scientists of the last century. This compact book delivers the wealth of his 70 year career in a single, well measured punch." GLASGOW HERALD "We are taken all the way from Darwin to the frontiers of biology, including ideas on the causes of altruism and the consequences for humans now that natural selection is no longer happening to us." OBSERVERSee all Product Description
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It is a wide-ranging book which succinctly covers all the key issues relating to evolution, but I would particularly like to draw attention to two aspects of Mayr's approach.
Firstly, he shows that Darwinian evolutionary theory actually consists of several distinct strands. For example, after the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", the idea of the common descent of all living creatures ("the tree of life") became widely accepted relatively quickly, whereas the mechanism of evolutionary change - natural selection - took much longer to gain widespread support, even amongst scientists.
Similarly, Mayr shows that evolution over time within one species and the branching off of a new species from an existing one (speciation) are two distinct but related processes. (Mayr himself played a central role in developing a fuller understanding of the speciation process.)
The second important aspect of Mayr's approach is his criticism of the fact that "most treatments of evolution are written in a reductionist manner in which all evolutionary phenomena are reduced to the level of the gene". This is directed against those like Richard Dawkins who see the gene as being the target of natural selection. Mayr shows that natural selection cannot "see" individual genes and that it is the organism as a whole which is the target of selection. It is the organism that lives or dies and succeeds or fails in reproducing, not the individual gene.Read more ›