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A major new work overturning our assumptions about how evolution works Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change--a random mutation or a A major new work overturning our assumptions about how evolution works Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change--a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze--caused evolution to take a completely different course. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary freaks? And what does that say about life on other planets? Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be. Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos's insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.


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A major new work overturning our assumptions about how evolution works Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change--a random mutation or a A major new work overturning our assumptions about how evolution works Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change--a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze--caused evolution to take a completely different course. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary freaks? And what does that say about life on other planets? Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be. Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos's insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

30 review for Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    I love books about science that are written by scientists in the field, especially when they can write well. This means that not only are their books informative--that is the bare minimum--but they also have a fun attitude, and they put the reader into the story of their investigations. Well, this book by Jonathan Losos does exactly that. While he gives the reader all the background story of what other scientists have done, he also conveys all the starts and stops and challenges that he faced wh I love books about science that are written by scientists in the field, especially when they can write well. This means that not only are their books informative--that is the bare minimum--but they also have a fun attitude, and they put the reader into the story of their investigations. Well, this book by Jonathan Losos does exactly that. While he gives the reader all the background story of what other scientists have done, he also conveys all the starts and stops and challenges that he faced while doing his own research. And, what a lot of challenges he faced! Losos writes some wonderful anecdotes about the dangers of being a scientist working in jungles. On Trinidad, he writes about snakes, booby traps, dangerous rocks, army ants, and even being attacked simultaneously by snakes and army ants! The major theme of this book is the controversy about how predictable is evolution? To what extent is it convergent--meaning that regardless of the circumstances, species will tend to evolve along a certain, deterministic path--or divergent, meaning that slight changes in the environment will cause a species to evolve into some different, essentially unpredictable path. Much of the controversy began with the publication of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould. Gould argued that evolution does not necessarily proceed at a slow, gradual pace. Sudden environmental changes can evoke rapid sprints in evolution. There are lots of examples of convergent evolution. Porcupines in Africa and Asia look similar, though they evolved independently from their common ancestor. Humans on different continents evolved their abilities to be lactose-tolerant evolved independently and differently on different continents, as well as their light-colored skins in northern latitudes. Many species of animals that evolve on islands all develop into miniature versions of their continental cousins. The smaller the island, the smaller the surface area-to-volume ratio becomes. Losos writes of his own research on very small islands, where he studies the rapid evolution of lizards in response to sudden importations of predators. Significant evolution can take place in just a few years. Proving this, though, can be difficult when hurricanes can overnight wipe out the entire lizard population of an island! Losos writes about some very interesting research with a benign form of E-coli. The bacteria were cleverly followed over tens of thousands of generations, to find that a rare sequence of mutations can lead to a totally new type of metabolism! A major point in the book is that "Species that are initially different will not take the same evolutionary route in response to similar selective pressures." If the dinosaurs had survived, it's not obvious that their descendants today would be similar to us. It is more probable for evolution to have developed an intelligent being that looks like a super-sized brainy chicken. On the other hand, species frequently evolve similar features in response to similar environmental conditions. The main lesson from the book is that "Evolution is not random or haphazard." This is an excellent book, engaging and informative. There is not a lot of jargon--you don't have to be a scientist to follow along. The study of evolutionary biology is now speeding along, because of the great advances in analyzing DNA. It's fun to go along for the ride!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    There's always a danger when a science author puts themselves at the heart of their book that it can come across as 'Me, me, me!' - but Jonathan Losos has a very amiable personal style that gives the impression of having a chat with the author over a beer - and some of the best parts of the book are those that talk about Losos's own work. The topic here - whether evolution inevitably tends to produce particular biological approaches given an environmental niche - is an interesting one, so the com There's always a danger when a science author puts themselves at the heart of their book that it can come across as 'Me, me, me!' - but Jonathan Losos has a very amiable personal style that gives the impression of having a chat with the author over a beer - and some of the best parts of the book are those that talk about Losos's own work. The topic here - whether evolution inevitably tends to produce particular biological approaches given an environmental niche - is an interesting one, so the combination of the writing style and the topic make the book well worth reading, but there are some drawbacks, particularly with the first 150 pages or so. Arguably these suffer rather from the 'Is it a book or an article?' syndrome - there really isn't enough going on in them. What we are told is that often there will be convergence on similar biological solutions, but equally sometimes you'll get an oddity (think duckbilled platypus). The vast majority of those 150 pages involve going through many examples of both possible outcomes, making the reader inclined to yell 'Okay, I get it! Move on!' Things get much better when Locos tells us about his own attempts in experimental evolution - one of the central threads of the book, that when ideas moved from Darwinian evolution over eons to the possibility of very quick adaptation, it was possible to put evolution to the test experimentally over periods of years. Cleverly, Locos picked up on a pre-existing experiment looking at something totally different that had involved starting lizard colonies on small islands. He was able to experiment with their development and adaptation to environmental issues and show that the populations converged on similar solutions (at least until population after population was wiped out by a hurricane). This increased level of interest continues to a degree when we get onto other people's experiments with evolution, though again we get something of a repetition problem. The trouble is, I think, partly that Losos is so immersed in his subject that he assumes we will find every detail fascinating too, and that science requires lots of boring repetition to establish a theory. This doesn't necessarily make for engaging reading, and a good science writer has to get a feel for when to use a few examples rather than plodding through endless detail as a scientist would expect to do. Despite these issues (you can always skip a bit), I repeatedly come back to the warm, approachable Locos style and the genuinely interesting (even to a non-biologist) aspects of how much evolution will tend to converge on similar solutions to environmental pressures, but how much novelties will also tend to arise - meaning the answer to the old Stephen Jay Gould 'Replay life's tape' idea is that sometimes it will be very similar, sometimes it won't. Incidentally, the blurb suggests this focuses on humans and whether life on other planets would end up fairly humanoid - that is certainly mentioned in the text, but it's far more about lizards and the like. This is a book that deserves to be widely read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Our ideas about evolution are constantly changing as we learn more. Losos starts off by discussing Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould in which he argued for the dominating importance of historical contingency in evolution. IOW, exact events & their order determine how an organism evolves & he thought that we, homo sapiens, were highly unlikely. Losos seems to disagree, but spends quite a bit of the book showing examples of convergent evolution. Towar Our ideas about evolution are constantly changing as we learn more. Losos starts off by discussing Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould in which he argued for the dominating importance of historical contingency in evolution. IOW, exact events & their order determine how an organism evolves & he thought that we, homo sapiens, were highly unlikely. Losos seems to disagree, but spends quite a bit of the book showing examples of convergent evolution. Towards the end, he shows just how easily small changes can result in significant divergence, though. Obviously, one size doesn't fit all. It's complicated & messy, so I just enjoyed all the great information on evolutionary studies. I had no idea how many long term studies were & are being done on evolution. They're all fascinating whether they take place in the lab, in the jungles of Trinidad, or on island specks in the Caribbean. The dedication & attention to detail the scientists display is incredible & their work has changed our understanding considerably. They've proven that evolution can happen incredibly quickly, in just a few generations, & even stumbled across some truly remarkable leaps. Losos showed how these studies help us in the real world, especially in the last chapter. He also went on to discuss extraterrestrial life & what might have happened on Terra if history was a bit different. Thankfully, he didn't spend much time on either, especially the first, since it is so speculative, but the bit he did cover was well done. Well narrated & really interesting. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    The question Losos asks, and tries to answer, is this: can we predict evolution? Are certain things inevitable in development — birds, humans, antibiotic resistance, etc, etc? He writes engagingly about field work, experiments, thought experiments, the various theories and people who have supported them… I definitely want to do more reading on this. Am I convinced? Well, I’m not sure Losos is convinced that evolution can be predicted in detail; he presents some good evidence that suggests that yo The question Losos asks, and tries to answer, is this: can we predict evolution? Are certain things inevitable in development — birds, humans, antibiotic resistance, etc, etc? He writes engagingly about field work, experiments, thought experiments, the various theories and people who have supported them… I definitely want to do more reading on this. Am I convinced? Well, I’m not sure Losos is convinced that evolution can be predicted in detail; he presents some good evidence that suggests that you can predict the sorts of changes in gene function that will be beneficial in a certain environment, but that you can’t predict exactly how those changes will come about. Sometimes one gene might be altered, sometimes another. The phenotype is predictable (unsurprisingly: look for what would benefit the species in breeding successfully) but the genotype is not, unless it’s a fairly simple case of one particular molecular switch needing to be flipped on or off. There is a great deal of contingency in the process of evolution: Gould was (at least to some extent) correct in suggesting that we can’t “rewind the tape of life” and then see things proceed in exactly the same way. As with determinism in any sense, I generally believe that if all factors were known, we would also know the result. I’m just not sure we can know those factors (and I dislike and squirm away from applying it to human ethics — our actions may be caused by previous events, but we don’t experience the process that way, so it’s irrelevant in how to be moral) — especially given events on a quantum level. Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    The Inquisitive Biologist wrote: "Improbable Destinies is a splendid piece of science writing that I can highly recommend. If the question this book poses sounds even remotely interesting, you should do yourself the pleasure of reading it." https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2017... His review is first-rate, and Prof. Losos's book caught my attention from the opening pages. High hopes he can keep it up! He could. Now, let's see if I can distill my 6 pages of notes into something coherent. But my botto The Inquisitive Biologist wrote: "Improbable Destinies is a splendid piece of science writing that I can highly recommend. If the question this book poses sounds even remotely interesting, you should do yourself the pleasure of reading it." https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2017... His review is first-rate, and Prof. Losos's book caught my attention from the opening pages. High hopes he can keep it up! He could. Now, let's see if I can distill my 6 pages of notes into something coherent. But my bottom line is, if you have any interest in the modern science of biological evolution, you NEED to read this book. Author Losos is a working scientist in the field, and knows most all of the players. He's made significant contributions himself. My favorite sort of popular-science book -- especially since my background in biology is weak. But then, as a geologist, my BG in evolution is strong. Starting with Darwin, the pioneering evolutionary geologist.... It turns out you really *can* study evolution in the lab, as an experimental science! People used to think evolution had to be S-L-O-W. Geologically paced. It ain't necessarily so. The trick is to study organisms with short lives and fast generations. Microbes qualify, and a lot of the lab-based evolution studies use the bacteriologist's faithful friend, E. coli: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli... 65,000 generations in the evolutionary sample populations, 1988 to 2016! Which study gets a couple of well-earned chapters in Losos's book. Losos himself, a herpetologist, got into the experimental evolution game with his early studies of the evolutionary radiation of small lizards in the Caribbean. He had to field dubious looks from colleagues in cold climates -- I mean, field work in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands sounds pretty great during the northern winters -- but he relates the usual perils that make all field work less appealing than it might sound. For example, a colleague was badly injured by the Jamaican 'hunting' custom of rigging an old shotgun with a tripwire on island game trails. He came close to losing his leg! Wow. I got 'escorted' off a couple properties in my years as an exploration geologist -- and suffered endless nights in dubious motels -- but nothing like that! Well, one of my crew caught amoebic dysentery from bad water in a northern Nevada motel 0nce -- their sewer line was leaking into the fresh water supply, which takes some seriously incompetent plumbing. Poor Sally! She was a hard-luck kid. But not a quitter! I think I'll let you read the rest of the excellent review I've linked, and close with an accidental 'experiment' of my own, in our kitchen window. We have an infestation of tiny bugs, which came in with a wildflower bouquet of a couple years ago and find the crannies there to their liking. They do no real harm -- they are about the size of grains of sand, and I first realized they weren't dirt when they started moving. By now, the survivors have evolved to move pretty briskly, to avoid my finger or the sponge and dodge back into hiding. Evolution in action! So, if some aspiring evolutionary biologist needs a project..... Highly recommended. Easy 5 stars. Best pop-science book in awhile. Losos writes well, and has an appealing light touch. Don't miss!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carl Zimmer

    I was asked to read this book, and provided this blurb: "Is evolution a story foretold? Or is it little more than the rolls of DNA's dice? In Improbable Destinies, Jonathan Losos tackles these fascinating questions not with empty philosophizing, but with juicy tales from the front lines of scientific research. Drunk flies, fast-evolving lizards, mutating microbes, and hypothetical humanoid dinosaurs all grace the pages of this wonderfully thought-provoking book." The question of how predictable e I was asked to read this book, and provided this blurb: "Is evolution a story foretold? Or is it little more than the rolls of DNA's dice? In Improbable Destinies, Jonathan Losos tackles these fascinating questions not with empty philosophizing, but with juicy tales from the front lines of scientific research. Drunk flies, fast-evolving lizards, mutating microbes, and hypothetical humanoid dinosaurs all grace the pages of this wonderfully thought-provoking book." The question of how predictable evolution is an old one. I was impressed to see how much evidence scientists can now bring to bear on it, and how well Losos wove it all into a compelling narrative.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chantal Lyons

    "Improbable Destinies" is personable, easy to follow, and fascinating - well-worth a read by anyone with at least a passing interest in biology and evolution. From beginning to end, Losos works hard to make the studies and theories in the book as vivid as possible. We get to meet the people behind the facts and dive into their trials and tribulations, from dangerous rainforest treks to lassoing lizards to battling through snowstorms. It's pretty amusing in places, and you can't help but admire th "Improbable Destinies" is personable, easy to follow, and fascinating - well-worth a read by anyone with at least a passing interest in biology and evolution. From beginning to end, Losos works hard to make the studies and theories in the book as vivid as possible. We get to meet the people behind the facts and dive into their trials and tribulations, from dangerous rainforest treks to lassoing lizards to battling through snowstorms. It's pretty amusing in places, and you can't help but admire the sheer tenacity of so many of the scientists. The subject matter is the real star, of course. And Losos reveals the science extremely clearly, perfectly pitched for lay people like myself. I might have already know that American and African porcupines aren't at all related, but I learned a huge amount more, and it was deeply satisfying. The author also heads up the "so what?" question by explaining why studying the predictability and repeatability of evolution can benefit both humans and threatened species. And what makes things even more interesting is how Losos subtly moderates his own stance over the course of the book. Strongly recommended!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    I was disappointed with this book, I basically read a 350 page book to learn what I and almost everyone else knows about evolution, it cannot be controlled , it cannot be predicted and we have no way of knowing a 100 % what factors affect it and how life could have evolved in different environments other than the Earth. I just basically described this whole book for you . Good for a beginner , not so much for someone with some background in evolutionary science.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick Davies

    This started off absolutely fascinatingly, but waned a little towards the middle. I guess unfortunately it is a consequence of science books of this type - as wonderfully written and witty as this was, I got a lot more enjoyment out of the first hundred or so pages of this (where the key concepts of evolutionary biology were explained and plenty of examples given in illustration) than out of the middle chapters where the author goes in to a lot more detail about his own research, and about some This started off absolutely fascinatingly, but waned a little towards the middle. I guess unfortunately it is a consequence of science books of this type - as wonderfully written and witty as this was, I got a lot more enjoyment out of the first hundred or so pages of this (where the key concepts of evolutionary biology were explained and plenty of examples given in illustration) than out of the middle chapters where the author goes in to a lot more detail about his own research, and about some (admittedly very important, just less readable) bacterial genetics. Certainly a very complete, well-explained and readable book, definitely there were lots of sections in the latter half of the book which were enlightening and intriguing, but these were spaced more widely than in the impactful opening chapters and the decent summations at the end. I think perhaps in the middle the author's points were laboured a little too lengthily.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is an intellectually exciting book. The author begins by looking to Stephen Jay Gould's book on the Burgess Shale as a takeoff point. Gould argued that evolution would go one time--and another way another time even if circumstances were similar. Each evolutionary path by a species would be unique. His own graduate research suggests that that is not an immutable expectation. As his studies continued and as he addressed ongoing research, he found a number of things. For one, under similar circ This is an intellectually exciting book. The author begins by looking to Stephen Jay Gould's book on the Burgess Shale as a takeoff point. Gould argued that evolution would go one time--and another way another time even if circumstances were similar. Each evolutionary path by a species would be unique. His own graduate research suggests that that is not an immutable expectation. As his studies continued and as he addressed ongoing research, he found a number of things. For one, under similar circumstances, different species (and even the same species) often took a similar path. That is, each route in the evolutionary process was not always unique. At one point, the author says: ""This alternative view emphasizes the ubiquity of adaptive convergent evolution: species living in similar environments will evolve similar features as adaptations to the shared natural selection pressures they experience." Another point he made is that evolution can move extremely quickly. Not over hundreds of generations--but within a handful if selection pressure was great. Super punctuated equilibrium? Some of the examples are quite startling, but appear to be rooted in the evidence. So, a fascinating work that raises questions. It also leaves one appreciating the extraordinary flexibility of evolution. . . .

  11. 5 out of 5

    Susan Cejka

    Splendorous! (lifted straight for the book,)accessible, informative and entertaining. Losos explains the many paths of evolutionary biology. convergence or or contingency. Kangaroos which are essentially deer have evolved nowhere but Australia. then of course there is the most interesting animal the duck billed platypus uniquely designed for its environment and in Losos's own words a one off. i'm no academic but i learned more in this book that i ever learned in biology and loved every minute of Splendorous! (lifted straight for the book,)accessible, informative and entertaining. Losos explains the many paths of evolutionary biology. convergence or or contingency. Kangaroos which are essentially deer have evolved nowhere but Australia. then of course there is the most interesting animal the duck billed platypus uniquely designed for its environment and in Losos's own words a one off. i'm no academic but i learned more in this book that i ever learned in biology and loved every minute of reading it: including 'the lizard Olympics', pygmy elephants, and the Solenodon (you will have to read the book to find out what it is)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Poirier

    In 1989, the late Stephen Jay Gould published Wonderful Life, a book intended both for the general public and for professional scientists. In it, Gould presented his thesis that today's lifeforms are the result of a historical process founded on contingency, that is if we were to rewind the biological history of the earth back a half billion years and let the tape play again, there would today be lifeforms but they would not have the shapes we see around us now. The animal kingdom would have no In 1989, the late Stephen Jay Gould published Wonderful Life, a book intended both for the general public and for professional scientists. In it, Gould presented his thesis that today's lifeforms are the result of a historical process founded on contingency, that is if we were to rewind the biological history of the earth back a half billion years and let the tape play again, there would today be lifeforms but they would not have the shapes we see around us now. The animal kingdom would have no fish or other vertebrates and definitely no human beings. Gould’s "tape of life" was a thought experiment. He described a fauna from 500 million years ago, a group of fossil animals found in the Burgess Shale quarry of British Columbia, and pointed out that the only chordate animal in it doesn't look nearly as well-adapted as the other Burgess animals. Since all vertebrates are chordates, then the only reason we are alive today is that the chordates of the Burgess shale and their cousins had the good fortune to survive. We are lucky to be here, Gould said, and there's no reason to think that chordates were somehow predestined to take over the earth. While Gould argued and illustrated his hypothesis convincingly, he was to some extent only speculating. He understood (wrongly as it turns out) that you could not really rewind the tape of life, that you could not go back in time and repeat evolution to see if the same organisms would appear each time you did. In Improbable Destinies, Harvard professor Jonathan B. Losos gives the story of biologists who have done exactly that. They did this first by observing, in the wild, populations of related species evolving differently in different places. Losos is a lizard specialist and he describes his own results of how the same species changes in different ways when different populations are let loose on different islands in the Bahamas. This seems to support Gould's hypothesis. He described another scientist seeding different river streams with one variety of fish and observing how similar changes in conditions result similar changes in the fish, which would seem to go against Gould's hypothesis. We need to find out what is going on; to do that we need to control the variables and observe them over the long term. We must go to a lab and we have to speed things up. The answer was to create cultures of E. Coli bacteria. Doctor Rich Lanski in East Lansing Michigan devoted his career to doing that. E. Coli reproduces several times a day, yielding thousands of generations a year. Lanski's team lets the bacteria culture develop in vials full glucose solutions. Every few weeks, they take a sample of each vial and freeze and label for future reference. They then transfer 1% of each vial into a new one, and discard the rest. They change the conditions in some of the vials to see what happens. Sometimes they add a little glucose, sometimes they add a different substance. The bacteria sometimes adapt to this new environment, and sometimes die out. I'm oversimplifying here, but the idea is that this allows a replay of Gould's tape of life. When interesting changes occur, the team can retrieve an earlier sample of the culture from the freezer and restart the experiment from that point. If the observed change fails to reappear, then this supports Gould's hypothesis that development depends on luck, but if the change does reappear, then this weakens Gould's thesis. It turns out life is more complicated than that. Sometimes the same morphological change comes from unrelated genetic differences. Vertebrate flight has evolved several times: pterodactyls and their allies, feathered dinosaurs and their bird descendants, and mammalian bats. The wings are fairly similar but in no case do these groups have a winged common ancestor, so this seems to point to the inevitability of wings. Predestiny, not luck. But in fact, the same change reappears because there are only so many ways to adapt to a particular environmental pressure. A wing will simply not fly if it is not aerodynamic, and that explains why bat wings look like pterodactyl wings. This is what was also observed in the lab--some of the vials with slighly different organisms converge to the same change when put in similar environments. A real surprise came one Christmas in Lanski's lab. A new change was observed and it made the career of the lucky graduate student who had drawn the short straw to be at the lab that holiday. (E. Coli never knows it’s Christmas.) That E. Coli strain had evolved to eat something other than glucose and it reproduced wildly in its vial. The team repeated the experiment from earlier generations of that strain, going back from a few hundred generations and also from a few thousand generations. No attempt from much earlier versions resulted in the change they wanted to see again but a very few attempts from the more recent versions of E.Coli yielded similar changes. This allowed the team to isolate the genes responsible for the change. It turns out that the adaptation came from a very unlikely combination of different genetic mutations. The new E. Coli. got lucky, In the end, all this largely vindicates Gould’s view of evolution. Evolution *is* contingent and there is no hint that any type of life form is predestined. Nevertheless, and as it always does, careful and detailed examination reveals that the story is even weirder, more interesting and wonderful than we ever expected it. A great book! Vincent Poirier, Montreal

  13. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos “Improbable Destinies” is an interesting exploration of evolutionary biology. Professor Jonathan B. Losos provides readers with a behind-the-scenes access to testing ideas about evolution, out in nature and in real time. This stimulating 382-page book includes twelve chapters and is broken out into the following three parts: Part One. Nature’s Doppelgangers, Part Two. Experiments in the Wild, and Part Three. Evol Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos “Improbable Destinies” is an interesting exploration of evolutionary biology. Professor Jonathan B. Losos provides readers with a behind-the-scenes access to testing ideas about evolution, out in nature and in real time. This stimulating 382-page book includes twelve chapters and is broken out into the following three parts: Part One. Nature’s Doppelgangers, Part Two. Experiments in the Wild, and Part Three. Evolution Under the Microscope. Positives: 1. An engaging, well-written, well-researched book with even a touch of humor. 2. An interesting topic, what we know about evolution and how we know what we know. “This is a book about how scientists study these topics, how tools from DNA sequencing to fieldwork in remote corners of the world are synthesized to understand the evolutionary origin of life around us. And it’s also about how science itself evolves, how new ideas are born and how research programs develop to test them. In particular, I’ll focus on the rise of experimental methods to studying evolution, an approach that was inconceivable for more than a century after Darwin’s time.” 3. Losos is an engaging author who clearly loves evolutionary biology. The book pays homage to the scientists who came before him and are currently contributing to the field. 4. Good use of charts and diagrams that effectively complements the narrative. 5. The human reality. “It wasn’t until the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs that Team Mammal got its evolutionary opportunity—and we certainly took advantage of it, quickly proliferating to fill the empty ecosphere, transforming the last sixty-six million years into the Age of Mammals. But we owe all of that to the asteroid.” 6. For the love of evolution. “There’s a commonsense explanation, the one Darwin proposed. If species live in similar environments and face similar challenges to their survival and reproduction, then natural selection will lead to the evolution of similar traits: the existence of large seeds is a resource for birds, requiring big beaks to crack them open, and so similar, big-beaked birds evolve in numerous seedy locations; threatened by big cats, oversized rodents repeatedly evolve a spiny defense, as effective against lions in Africa as it is against pumas in the Americas.” 7. Defines what evolutionary biology is. “EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY is unlike many sciences in that its basic findings about the history of life cannot be derived from first principles. It is not a deductive science. You can’t go to the chalkboard and derive the formula for a platypus. Rather, it is an inductive science in which general principles emerge from the accumulation of many case studies.” 8. Presents current views within evolutionary biology. “In any case, with the enthusiasm of a convert, Conway Morris has become the leading proponent of the view that convergent evolution is the dominant story behind life’s diversity. “Evolutionary convergence is completely ubiquitous,” he has said. “Wherever you look you see it.” Consequently, he concludes, “Rerun the tape of life as often as you like, and the end result will be much the same.”” 9. Interesting observations. “Geneticists have discovered the changes responsible for skin color and it turns out that the light coloration of people of Asian descent results from different mutations than those causing light color in Europeans. These genetic differences strongly suggest that light skin color evolved independently—convergently—in different populations as they colonized northern areas.” 10. Throughout the book, Losos is explaining progress within evolutionary biology. “The other explanation for evolutionary one-offs is that natural selection is either not as predictable or as powerful as some make it out to be. That is, even when species experience identical environments, they might not evolve in the same way.” “A key reason for lack of convergence is that there may be more than one way to adapt to a problem posed by the environment.” 11. Natural selection explained to an engineer like myself. “Natural selection, Jacob said, is not like an engineer, constructing the optimal solution to the problem at hand. Rather, he said, think about a tinkerer, a handyman who makes use of whatever materials are available to fashion whatever solution is feasible—not the best solution possible, but the best attainable under the circumstances.” “Natural selection has no foresight—it won’t favor a detrimental feature just because it is an early step on a path leading to an ultimately superior condition. Rather, for a feature to evolve by natural selection, every step along the way must be an improvement on what came before it—natural selection will never favor a worse condition, even if it’s only a transient evolutionary phase.” 12. The speed of evolution, is it really slow? “In the last half century, however, we’ve learned that Darwin got this one wrong. Far from moving imperceptibly slowly, evolution sometimes—perhaps often—moves at light speed.” “THE MESSAGE from all of these studies is clear: when the environment changes, species can adapt very quickly. Quickly enough to observe with our eyes. Quickly enough to document during the course of a five-year research grant.” 13. Provides many case studies in the wild. “Endler had shown that guppy evolution was predictable. Not only can we understand why some guppies are colorful and others aren’t, but if we re-create the selective conditions—in the lab or in the field—they will evolve exactly as expected.” 14. The evolution of plants. “Sure enough, plants grew much better on their home plot than on plots with different soil chemistry and vegetation characteristics. The conclusion was clear: over the course of a century, plants had adapted to the conditions they experienced on their own subplots.” 15. Evolution under the microscope. “On February 24, 1988, a sunny and unseasonably warm Southern California day, Lenski picked up a typical lab petri dish. E. coli, like other bacteria, grows asexually, each cell simply dividing into two identical daughter cells. When an E. coli cell is placed on the surface of a petri dish, it starts to divide, and divide, and divide, eventually producing a small mound of millions of cells, all identical descendants of that first founding cell. These mounds are called colonies. The bottom of the dish Lenski picked up was covered with a layer of goopy, translucent nutrient gelatin, with dozens of such colonies growing on its surface. All those colonies had grown from single cells of an E. coli lab strain called REL606.” 16. How evolution works. “Two considerations are relevant. First, to evolve, populations require genetic variation. No variation, no ability to change—natural selection, after all, works by favoring one variant over another; if there’s no variation, then selection has nothing with which to work.” 17. The power of microbiology. “These caveats notwithstanding, it’s fair to conclude that there’s a lot of repeatability to microbial evolution experiments. The Lenski and Rainey experiments are the best known, but in general the others give a similar message: populations adapt at roughly the same rate and they do so—as far as we can tell—primarily by evolving similar adaptations. They tend to use the same sets of genes to accomplish these parallel outcomes. These results suggest that evolution follows the same path time and again, at least at the macroscopic level—identical populations exposed to identical selection pressures usually will evolve in very similar ways.” 18. Philosophy in science. “Evolutionary biology is a particular challenge to philosophers of science. It does not fit the standard notion of how science works—itself a caricature—in which a crucial experiment decisively settles the question. Rather, evolutionary biology involves history, figuring out what happened in the past, asking questions not amenable to the experimental method (what experiment can explain the evolution of a giraffe?). 19. Drunken fruit flies. “one of the things that a fruit does as it rots is ferment, producing alcohol. As a result, the flies live in an environment thick with alcohol fumes, like spending your life in a brewery. And what happens if a fly overdoes it, soaking up too much alcohol? It gets drunk, just like you and me (well, at least like me): at first it runs around excitedly, bumping into things. Then it stumbles, it staggers, and it falls down. Eventually it falls over and doesn’t get up.” 20. The evolution of resistance. “The evolution of resistance to pesticides (construed broadly to include insecticides and herbicides*) shares many parallels with the evolution of antibiotic resistance. Like many microbes, pests have evolved a wide variety of ways to defeat our chemical arsenal, including changes in behavior that minimize contact with the pesticide; alterations in the exterior skin to keep the pesticide out; development of means to convert the pesticide to something else, sequester it in an unimportant part of the body, or quickly excrete it; or modifications in the molecular structure targeted by the pesticide. Because of these myriad possibilities, populations of the same species often adapt in different ways when exposed to a particular pesticide.” 21. An excellent closing chapter that discusses whether we humans are inevitable. “The fact is, we humans are an evolutionary singleton—nothing else like us has ever evolved on Earth anywhere, any time. The ubiquity of convergent evolution in general would seem to provide scant support for our evolutionary inevitability.” 22. Notes provided and linked. Negatives: 1. Even though the book is accessible and interesting, you really have to be a biologist enthusiast to enjoy this book. My humble opinion. 2. A personal frustration is the lack of consensus clarity on topics discussed. As a non-biologist I was at times confused with a given outcome. Losos would start one way only to divert the reader in another more compelling direction and at the end of the topical journey I wasn’t sure what the current scientific consensus is and whether the author was hedging or not. 3. A bit repetitive. 4. No formal bibliography. In summary, a very good book that will appeal to lovers of experimental biology. Losos is engaging and clearly loves his field of work and that rubs off, that said I was a little frustrated with the lack of conviction or lack of clarity on scientific consensus. Lovers of biology, enjoy, I recommend it. Further suggestions: “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry Coyne, “Why Evolution Works (And Creationism Fails)” by Matt Young and Paul K. Strode, “Your Inner Fish…” by Neil Shubin, “Why Darwin Matters” by Michael Shermer, “What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” by Donald R. Prothero, “Undeniable” by Bill Nye”, “The Making of the Fittest” by Sean B. Carroll, “What Evolution Is” by Ernst Mayr, “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution” by Nick Lane, “Only a Theory” by Kenneth R. Miller, and “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Richard Carter

    The late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways. Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution is far more predictable than Gould would have had us believe. As evidence, they cite the interesting phenomenon of convergent evolution where different species evolve strik The late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways. Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution is far more predictable than Gould would have had us believe. As evidence, they cite the interesting phenomenon of convergent evolution where different species evolve strikingly similar features in similar circumstances. A classic example is the similar body shapes of dolphins, sharks, ichthyosaurs, and (at more of a stretch) penguins: these predators’ ‘designs’ enable them to move quickly under water. If mammals, fish, ichthyosaurs, and birds evolved such similar shapes for moving at speed in the same environment, the argument goes, evolution must, to some extent, be predictable. Those who maintain that evolution is more predictable than we might suppose sometimes go so far as to claim that upright, bipedal, intelligent life was almost inevitable on Earth. Had it not been for that pesky asteroid, they say, the world would now, quite possibly, be being ruled by dinosaurian, rather than mammalian, humanoids. This despite the fact that, as far as we know, upright, bipedal, intelligent dinosaurs failed to evolve in the 180-million years that dinosaurs actually did rule the earth. Jonathon Losos's interesting book sets out to explore both the phenomenon of convergent evolution, and the possibility of performing experiments to assess evolutionary predictions. In the first part of the book, he describes many examples of convergent evolution. In subsequent sections, he describes experiments in the wild, and in more controlled environments, to determine whether the accuracy of various evolutionary predictions can be tested. Although convergent evolution is a genuinely fascinating phenomenon, it is considerably less remarkable when the species in question are closely related. When presented with similar environmental challenges, is it really at all surprising when closely related species evolve similar solutions? Evolution can only tinker with what is already there; how many fundamentally different tweaks can be made to closely related lizards, for example, to help them evade a new predator? In fairness to Losos, he makes this point more than once, but, to this non-expert at least, it seemed as if more might have been made of it. There is a world of a difference between two species of stickleback, to cite another example, evolving brighter colours in the absence of predators, and dinosaurs evolving into intelligent humanoids. Even if small-scale convergent evolution of closely related species is common, extrapolating to claim that the evolution of intelligent humanoids is almost inevitable is another thing entirely. Sensibly, Losos doesn't spend too much time examining arguments about putative humanoid dinosaurs—although he does eventually make his own position clear. This book is primarily about the experiments: how scientists have begun to test evolutionary predictions, and to assess how particular examples of convergent evolution come about. Both of which strike me as far more interesting and useful than coming up with untestable hypotheses about where dinosaurs might have gone next. An entertaining book on an interesting subject.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gracie

    This is one of the better pop-science books I've read. Losos does a great job explaining many different scientific experiments and how they fit into broader theories of evolution. I appreciated that nothing was overly-dumbed down or one-sided. Losos presents a variety of conflicting but not always mutually exclusive ideas that provide nuance to his ultimate argument about the predictability and repeatability of evolution. The book was full of evidence, yet did not feel like a list as some pop-sc This is one of the better pop-science books I've read. Losos does a great job explaining many different scientific experiments and how they fit into broader theories of evolution. I appreciated that nothing was overly-dumbed down or one-sided. Losos presents a variety of conflicting but not always mutually exclusive ideas that provide nuance to his ultimate argument about the predictability and repeatability of evolution. The book was full of evidence, yet did not feel like a list as some pop-science books I've read have been. Overall an enjoyable, engaging, and informative read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Delightful, especially if you've been following the Stephen Jay Gould vs. Simon Conway Morris celebrity death match (okay, that's possibly an overstatement) since it started unfolding with the publication of Gould's Wonderful Life. If that doesn't mean anything to you, you may still like Improbable Destinies--if only for the nifty illustrations--but I'd recommend starting with Wonderful Life and Conway Morris's Crucible of Creation. The core issue at stake is whether the pathways followed by evol Delightful, especially if you've been following the Stephen Jay Gould vs. Simon Conway Morris celebrity death match (okay, that's possibly an overstatement) since it started unfolding with the publication of Gould's Wonderful Life. If that doesn't mean anything to you, you may still like Improbable Destinies--if only for the nifty illustrations--but I'd recommend starting with Wonderful Life and Conway Morris's Crucible of Creation. The core issue at stake is whether the pathways followed by evolution are convergent (Conway Morris) or contingent (Gould). To oversimplify a bit, was the development of something very like human beings on earth more or less inevitable? The argument in its public form began when Gould used Conway Morris's research on a geological formation known as the Burgess Shale as the foundation for an argument that life could have turned out very very differently. (Both Wonderful Life and Improbable Destinies include illustrations of the life forms that existed then that are really fascinating; mostly they've died out, although Locos includes some new information I hadn't been aware of indicating that a few of them have relatively obscure lineages still around.) Partly because Gould's such an effective literary stylist, his visions had an immense immediate impact and made Conway Morris a scientific celebrity. Only problem was that Conway Morris himself came to disagree, strongly, with Gould's interpretation of his own research's significance. Along with a number of other evolutionary scientists, Conway Morris developed a counter perspective emphasizing that there are only so many solutions to particular evolutionary problems and that as a result evolutionary paths will come together, converge. As a fan of Gould--and sci fi because contingency opens up many more possibilities-- I was pulling for Gould while really wanting to see where things stand almost two decades after Conway Morris's rejoinder; I haven't followed the technical literature beyond an occasional piece in Science or Nature. Through the first part of Improbably Destinies, it appeared that Losos would come down with convergence. That's tribute in part to what a nicely balanced job he does presenting the positions, because by the end, it's fairly clear that he sees the weight of evidence coming down with Gould and contingency. One very useful section concerns an ambiguity of what exactly Gould meant by "contingency;" his oft-used metaphor of rerunning the tape of life and seeing what happened doesn't quite say what he meant or at least was unclear about what conditions had to be held steady. One heads up on the book. Aware of the angle many readers, like me, will come from, Losos starts with he crowd pleasing "big animals"--dinosaurs and marsupials and our good friend the platypus. But the center of the book, scientifically an in terms of page count, involves the nuts and bolts of both field and laboratory experiments designed to test the "repeatability" hypothesis. He writes clearly, but there's some technical detail about experiment design and appropriately cautious reports on outcomes that damps the drama and slows the pace. Worth it if you're really committed to knowing something about the science, but I can imagine a more generalist reader wanting to read part 1 and then skimming until the last two chapters, which bring it home.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sora

    Absolutely amazing!! So so so interesting and I learned so much.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

    This book was good but not great. It's good for someone who has not read much about evolution but is suddenly super interested, someone over 50 who is still convinced that evolution is a super slow process, and it's good for someone who is particularly fascinated by how experimental evolutionary science works in practice. I've read a lot about evolution, and so I found almost nothing new in terms of general understanding on how evolution works. In fact, the book focuses so much on just one type o This book was good but not great. It's good for someone who has not read much about evolution but is suddenly super interested, someone over 50 who is still convinced that evolution is a super slow process, and it's good for someone who is particularly fascinated by how experimental evolutionary science works in practice. I've read a lot about evolution, and so I found almost nothing new in terms of general understanding on how evolution works. In fact, the book focuses so much on just one type of paradigm (taking the same species, putting them in two or more conditions, and see how the population changes over a few generations), that you could read just three chapters (the first, the one on lizards, and the last) and you'd have learned 90% of what there is to learn from the book. It's almost as if he's trying to convince someone who's really skeptical that evolution can be studied experimentally in just a few generations. This results in a super detailed description of an extremely effortful experimental setup that took years...to discover that a species will change color over generations to match their environment under predation. Over, and over, again. Maybe its because I learned these things from the beginning that they seem so obvious, but really, after the moths finding, and then the guppyfish finding, you don't need much more proof, especially in a popular science book. In fact, the real novel element of his book is the detailed description of various lab and field setups that were used to study evolution. This is quite interesting in it's own right; to know how a scientist managed to convince a university to build not once but twice 12 complete ponds on campus to study the evolution of sickelback fish spines. Or how there're steel slat enclosures in the middle of nowhere America trying to keep jumping mice in a semi-controlled environment. Or how other researchers regularly populate random rocks in the Bahamas with lizards to see how they evolve, but occasionally everything falls apart after a hurricane.

  19. 5 out of 5

    ༺Kiki༻

    Improbable Destinies is broad in scope, but shallow in depth, offering a very basic overview of evolution portioned into bite-sized examples. The language is far too colloquial, the author even uses the term baby daddy. Ugh, no, just no. The topics are repetitive and uninspired, most are discussed in a multitude of other books in this genre. I had a similar reaction to The Genius of Birds. If you liked The Genius of Birds and you're looking for something similar, pick up Improbable Destinies. You Improbable Destinies is broad in scope, but shallow in depth, offering a very basic overview of evolution portioned into bite-sized examples. The language is far too colloquial, the author even uses the term baby daddy. Ugh, no, just no. The topics are repetitive and uninspired, most are discussed in a multitude of other books in this genre. I had a similar reaction to The Genius of Birds. If you liked The Genius of Birds and you're looking for something similar, pick up Improbable Destinies. You might also enjoy: ✱ Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History ✱ The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution ✱ Science in the Soul ✱ Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution ✱ Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth ✱ The Gene: An Intimate History ✱ The Genius of Birds

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    While the subject matter is intriguing - whether evolution is deterministic and can be predicted in terms of the forms it will take when organisms are put under the same conditions over time, it is such a complex topic involving countless factors that almost nothing conclusive can be gleaned even after lengthy discussion. Frustrating and unsatisfying to say the least! The meat of the book deals with the experiments that have been conducted over the last decades, be they in the field or in the la While the subject matter is intriguing - whether evolution is deterministic and can be predicted in terms of the forms it will take when organisms are put under the same conditions over time, it is such a complex topic involving countless factors that almost nothing conclusive can be gleaned even after lengthy discussion. Frustrating and unsatisfying to say the least! The meat of the book deals with the experiments that have been conducted over the last decades, be they in the field or in the lab, with large vertebrates or microbes, and can be tedious unless you are a research scientist interested in the nitty gritty. Interestingly the author started off sounding as if he was on the side of determinism driving convergence in evolution, but by the time the book ends we find that the jury is very much still out, and he kind of hedges by saying 'who knows?'.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Edwin

    An excellent overview of convergent evolution, and of long term evolution experiments that put to the test Stephen Jay Gould's thought experiment of "rewinding the tape" of evolution to determine if we would get the same results (i.e. humans). Many times, convergence happens, but once in a while you get an astonishing result that results in dramatic change and a new life form. Clearly explained and well written, this is an engaging read. An excellent overview of convergent evolution, and of long term evolution experiments that put to the test Stephen Jay Gould's thought experiment of "rewinding the tape" of evolution to determine if we would get the same results (i.e. humans). Many times, convergence happens, but once in a while you get an astonishing result that results in dramatic change and a new life form. Clearly explained and well written, this is an engaging read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schoettinger

    If you are a creationist, you will find this book largely irrelevant, or, at best, wildly speculative science fiction like Star Wars, but with less formulaic plot lines. This is because this book is about evolution. People of advanced age, such as myself, tend to think of evolution as a vague process that turned monkeys into humans a long time ago, but isn't terribly applicable to one's current life. Professor Losos would disagree with this assessment. He describes evolution as a force of nature If you are a creationist, you will find this book largely irrelevant, or, at best, wildly speculative science fiction like Star Wars, but with less formulaic plot lines. This is because this book is about evolution. People of advanced age, such as myself, tend to think of evolution as a vague process that turned monkeys into humans a long time ago, but isn't terribly applicable to one's current life. Professor Losos would disagree with this assessment. He describes evolution as a force of nature that is going on all around us, like gravity, and is just as pertinent to daily life. Much of the book is a history about how the scientific community's perception of evolutionary processes have changed (evolved?) over the last four decades and descriptions of the experiments, the results of which were responsible for those changed perceptions. I find such descriptions fascinating and also share the author's admiration for Perry the Platypus.

  23. 4 out of 5

    sarah bybee

    was going with 3.5 stars until the conclusion when Losos mentioned perry the platypus. instant boost to four. on that note, the author questions if perry is introspective, to which i would argue yes, citing my evidence as that song 'when we didn't get along' and the whole episode with the peter the panda debacle. as for the actual book though, really solid if you're into evolution or whatever. or if you're not. i read some of the Real Published Science Papers mentioned in this book for my evolutio was going with 3.5 stars until the conclusion when Losos mentioned perry the platypus. instant boost to four. on that note, the author questions if perry is introspective, to which i would argue yes, citing my evidence as that song 'when we didn't get along' and the whole episode with the peter the panda debacle. as for the actual book though, really solid if you're into evolution or whatever. or if you're not. i read some of the Real Published Science Papers mentioned in this book for my evolution course and did not understand the experiments until Losos explained them. also the illustrations, anecdotes, and connections to pop culture were fun.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jente Ottenburghs

    Wonderful book about the predictability of evolution. The book centers around the debate between Stephen Jay Gould and Conway Morris. In his book "Wonderful Life" Gould argued that life would look completely different if we replayed the tape. Humans will probably not evolve. Morris, on this other hand, argued that the evolution of humans is inevitable and used the widespread occurrence of convergent evolution as main argument. In this book, Jonathan Losos explores this question using the latest Wonderful book about the predictability of evolution. The book centers around the debate between Stephen Jay Gould and Conway Morris. In his book "Wonderful Life" Gould argued that life would look completely different if we replayed the tape. Humans will probably not evolve. Morris, on this other hand, argued that the evolution of humans is inevitable and used the widespread occurrence of convergent evolution as main argument. In this book, Jonathan Losos explores this question using the latest findings in evolutionary biology, including several famous experiments (such as the guppies in Trinidad and the long-term experiment with bacteria started by Richard Lenski). Everything is clearly explained, mixed with personal stories and references to movies (which I really appreciated). I started of on Gould's side in the debate and after finishing the book, I am still siding with Gould. I think Morris overemphasizes the importance of convergent evolution and is probably biased by his religious views (in which the origin of humans is inevitable). Everyone interested in evolution should read this book!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    A unusual book As evolutionary books go , this one was very wide ranging. From lizards to rodents to e.coli to the Platypus. Convergent Evolution and Punctuated Equilibrium are treated as equals and yet some how deficient as explanations for Evolution . Indeed I was left wondering.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Don Kent

    Confession being purportedly good for the soul, I will confess that I did quite bit of speed-reading of the second half of this book. While the author did a creditable job of covering this huge subject his emphasis on convergence made the book rather tedious.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This book was so overlooked! It was really good. :) The book questions how ubiquitous convergent evolution is. He gives examples of convergent evolution in nature to demonstrate how surprisingly common it is for two unrelated lineages to adapt in the same way. He also speak to the speed of evolution and how it is much faster than Darwin imagined given the right selective pressure. The book really shined through most of the beginning and middle, but it did slow down a bit toward the end. The firs This book was so overlooked! It was really good. :) The book questions how ubiquitous convergent evolution is. He gives examples of convergent evolution in nature to demonstrate how surprisingly common it is for two unrelated lineages to adapt in the same way. He also speak to the speed of evolution and how it is much faster than Darwin imagined given the right selective pressure. The book really shined through most of the beginning and middle, but it did slow down a bit toward the end. The first half demonstrates convergent evolution through field studies. Probably the reason the prose is so crisp and engaging in his section is because the author himself does field studies. (It is also punctuated with pictures, which I enjoyed). Less engaging is his exploration of evolution using lab studies. Perhaps this is because I have already read some of this research in previous books (Dawkins), but something was lost there. He ends with a wrapping up of the thesis, counter examples, and possible areas of research using principles of convergent evolution. Specifically he focuses on antibiotic resistance, which was a neat exploration. Overall, I think Losos is a strong, captivating writer. The ideas detailed in the book were mostly very unique (I read a LOT of evolution books) and I enjoyed learning from him.

  28. 4 out of 5

    ClareT

    Was the evolution of humans inevitable or, if something different had happened, for example, if the meteor hadn’t killed the dinosaurs, would we have still evolved or would the planet be full of different creatures. Scientific opinion is split, and the author explains why. Using various examples, including lizards that have evolved in the same way on different islands, convergent evolution is explained. But the counter argument is also given. This is an interesting book, although at the end I’m n Was the evolution of humans inevitable or, if something different had happened, for example, if the meteor hadn’t killed the dinosaurs, would we have still evolved or would the planet be full of different creatures. Scientific opinion is split, and the author explains why. Using various examples, including lizards that have evolved in the same way on different islands, convergent evolution is explained. But the counter argument is also given. This is an interesting book, although at the end I’m not sure that it made for one case more than the other, and I still feel somewhat confused.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mehdi

    Losos' book is a great example of how a complex topic can be brought to a general audience in an exciting writing style, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Having a background in evolutionary biology myself, I am probably not the best person to tell how accessible the book is, but my feeling was very positive. I loved discovering all the examples and counterexamples of convergent evolution. There is obviously still a lot to learn on the topic and there will certainly never be a clear-cut ans Losos' book is a great example of how a complex topic can be brought to a general audience in an exciting writing style, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Having a background in evolutionary biology myself, I am probably not the best person to tell how accessible the book is, but my feeling was very positive. I loved discovering all the examples and counterexamples of convergent evolution. There is obviously still a lot to learn on the topic and there will certainly never be a clear-cut answer - because that is not how nature works. This book provides an excellent overview of the current state of knowledge about convergent evolution and the predictability of evolution. Highly recommended! The only negative criticism I have (because there has to be some) is that this book is strongly focused on an American audience, without "translations" for others. As a non-American, I cannot help but flinch at the pervasive use of the imperial system of measurements and degrees Fahrenheit. I also wish scientist authors and others would stop showcasing researchers by their affiliation to certain universities, and rather focus on their achievements ("Harvard researcher John Smith": his affiliation does not make John Smith a good researcher). One last thing that could change is the very colonial use of "New World" and "Old World" (or "West Indies"). Humans were there before Europeans colonised these areas, so let's just call these geographic areas what they are.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Interesting topic, especially because it confronts the crux of what makes evolution a historical science in the same way that the study of human history could be without ever raising the idea that there's some philosophical impossibility involved in studying it. But while the research presented here is interesting, it feels sparse and tentative. The conclusions aren't too surprising: adaptive radiation is common and natural selection drives populations toward a set of viable solutions to problem Interesting topic, especially because it confronts the crux of what makes evolution a historical science in the same way that the study of human history could be without ever raising the idea that there's some philosophical impossibility involved in studying it. But while the research presented here is interesting, it feels sparse and tentative. The conclusions aren't too surprising: adaptive radiation is common and natural selection drives populations toward a set of viable solutions to problems, but the range of solutions available to any given population is limited by their past history of adaptations and the likelihood of possible viable mutation paths between them and those solutions. In other words, evolution reproduces a relatively small range of solutions over and over again but it's very hard to predict in anything but the shortest timescales or least specific anatomical configurations what that range of solutions will manifest as. The problem with it as a book is less the content or ideas as the dull and stodgy way they're reported. A lot of it feels like insipid pop science retellings of the intro, methods, and results of a series of scientific papers, made more "approachable" but not any more interesting. The language is uninspired and the treatment of ideas feels narrow.

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