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At once a spirited defense of Darwinian explanations of biology and an elegant primer on evolution for the general reader, What Evolution Is poses the questions at the heart of evolutionary theory and considers how our improved understanding of evolution has affected the viewpoints and values of modern man. Science Masters Series


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At once a spirited defense of Darwinian explanations of biology and an elegant primer on evolution for the general reader, What Evolution Is poses the questions at the heart of evolutionary theory and considers how our improved understanding of evolution has affected the viewpoints and values of modern man. Science Masters Series

30 review for What Evolution Is

  1. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    "WHAT EVOLUTION IS", a classic book on this topic, opens with an interesting foreword by Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs and Steel and The third Chimpanzee among other books), approaching the importance of how and why evolution needs to be understood not only by the scientific community but also by the general public. I have to say that now I understand the great influence Ernst Mayr I have read on Diamond's publications, specially the role that geography plays on speciation. In my opinion, "WHAT EVOLUTION IS", a classic book on this topic, opens with an interesting foreword by Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs and Steel and The third Chimpanzee among other books), approaching the importance of how and why evolution needs to be understood not only by the scientific community but also by the general public. I have to say that now I understand the great influence Ernst Mayr I have read on Diamond's publications, specially the role that geography plays on speciation. In my opinion, this is a fascinating book that will lead you from the biogeographically, molecular and embryological evidence there is on evolution and explain the basic concepts you will need to understand how and why evolution takes place. Evolution, that opportunist process, is not an easy field of study. To fully understand it you need a broad knowledge of many fields of science in which genetics plays a major role, since mutation is the principal source of genetic variation in a population. Molecular biology has and still continues to make great and astonishing contributions to our understanding of the evolutionary process and strengthening Darwinism. In this aspect, Mayr makes a successful explanation of the principles of inheritance and genetics in a very simple manner for anyone interested to understand, from the micro all the way to macroevolution. Charles Darwin views on evolution are referred to as The Darwinian Theory, but lets remember that in the scientific community the meaning of the word theory is: "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation ". Darwin contributed with five major theories of evolution. Two of them that make the theory of common descent, and marks the first Darwinian revolution. The other three: gradualism, speciation and the well known natural selection, make the second Darwinian revolution. So, you will definitely get familiar with the Darwinian theory throughout this book. Ernst Mayr closes beautifully with chapter on: how did mankind evolve, human uniqueness and altruism. It is a book that was published on 2001 and you will probably read parts where he writes that some things are still unknown but are now explained and well documented. To name a few examples: short and long term memory is now well explained from a molecular approach that led Eric Kandel win a Nobel prize on 2004; also, those genes that led to the development of our language such as the FOXP2gene. You will probably ask: "What about the mind and consciousness, is there an explanation for that, do animals have consciousness?" Yes, animals have consciousness and human consciousness evolved from animal consciousness! Hopefully, the reductionist molecular approach will soon give us a clear and definite answer and will finally settle that endless debate that has been for science, religion and philosophy for many, many years and explain us in detail what makes us human. I'll just paraphrase Mayr on this: "intelligence and consciousness is our most highly evolved end point of a long evolutionary history". Evolution is a fact.... but, like Mayr says on his preface: "That evolution has taken place is so well established that such a detailed presentation of the evidence is no longer needed. In any case, it would not convince those who do not want to be persuaded". If you want to want to fully grasp the meaning and the basic concepts of evolution and why it is important for you to understand it, bring out your curious human side and read What evolution is by Ernst Mayr. An essential reading on the subject! "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution" T. Dobzhansky

  2. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    I am guessing most of the science text-books borrowed from this masterpiece to convey these ideas effectively. But that also means that when someone goes back and reads the original it sounds too text-book-ey, in presentation and content. Not many ideas here which you wouldn't have been exposed to, but still a valuable book to turn to if you are coming to the field for the first time, or after a long break. I am giving it 3 stars only because I didn't get much out of it and had to skim through i I am guessing most of the science text-books borrowed from this masterpiece to convey these ideas effectively. But that also means that when someone goes back and reads the original it sounds too text-book-ey, in presentation and content. Not many ideas here which you wouldn't have been exposed to, but still a valuable book to turn to if you are coming to the field for the first time, or after a long break. I am giving it 3 stars only because I didn't get much out of it and had to skim through it looking for paragraphs which I couldn't predict the content of by merely glancing at the first sentence. However, it is a well presented, coherent summation of the most important scientific discovery of the age. Worth a read. Worth assigning to any class of young students.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    A splendid first course in evolution (But not for dummies.) Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that the author was born in 1905. What legendary biologist Ernst Mayr might next want to share with us is his secret for remaining so mentally acute for so many years! Reading this exposition on evolution by "The world's greatest living biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity" (Stephen Jay Gould, on the jacket cover) is somewhat like taking Evolution 101 as it might A splendid first course in evolution (But not for dummies.) Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that the author was born in 1905. What legendary biologist Ernst Mayr might next want to share with us is his secret for remaining so mentally acute for so many years! Reading this exposition on evolution by "The world's greatest living biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity" (Stephen Jay Gould, on the jacket cover) is somewhat like taking Evolution 101 as it might be taught by Professor Mayr. As he writes in the Preface, his purpose is didactic. He would like us to know more about evolution and how it works. First he presents the evidence for evolution, explaining (I hope) once and for all how evolution can be established as a fact even though we cannot perform experiments as we might in physics or chemistry: "Evolution...must be inferred from observations. Such inferences subsequently must be tested again and again against new observations, and the original inference is either falsified or considerably strengthened..." (p. 13) He adds on page 276, "I cannot see why...an overwhelming number of well-substantiated inferences is not scientifically as convincing as direct observations. Many theories in other historical sciences, such as geology and cosmology, are also based on inferences. The endeavor of certain philosophers to construct a fundamental difference between the two kinds of evidence strikes me as misleading." To this I might add that all the evidence we have of the external world is from inference. Even so-called direct observations (whatever they may be) are inferences from the evidence of our senses and must be checked against the same inferences that others make. Next Mayr explains how change and adaptation take place. He then explains why there is biodiversity. These are the first three parts of the book. Part Four is on human evolution and Chapter 11 in particular is a splendid, concise interpretation of the evidence for human evolution. One of the thorny issues Mayr addresses is selection. He explains that it is the individual (the phenotype) that is selected, and not the gene and not the population. "[A] gene as such can never be the object of selection" because it "is only part of a genotype, whereas the phenotype of the individual as a whole (based on the genotype) is the actual object of selection." (p. 126) The gene cannot be the object of selection for another reason, namely that a single gene seldom, if ever, acts independently of other genes. They work together to bring about some feature of the phenotype and are subject to the action of regulatory genes (hox and pax genes). (p. 127) Furthermore, "Many genes do not have standard selective value. A gene may be beneficial when placed in one particular genotype, but it may be deleterious when placed in a genotype with different genes." (p. 128) One of the things I learned here (p. 129) is that the phenotype includes "all the products of the behavioral genes. This includes the nest a bird builds, or the web of a spider, or the path of migration of a migratory bird." It also includes the gametes. Thus the ability of a spermatozoon to "swim" is part of the phenotype and is subject to natural selection. Another interesting issue is group selection. Mayr defines two group types, "casual groups" and "cohesive social groups." Members of the former "are associated in a group [that] makes no contribution to their fitness." The latter, however, "owing to social cooperation among its members" "can indeed be a target of selection." This cleared up the group selection fuzziness for me. It is interesting to note, however, that Mayr's argument seems to imply that if the cooperating group is the same as the species, then a species can be selected. However he writes on page 280, "The species as a whole is never the target of selection." He explains that "the differential success of [an] entire species is superimposed on...individual selection." Or, if I may phrase it another way, the differential success of a species is the result of the differential success of its individual members. What this really means, however one wishes to phrase it, is that selection can apply to an entire species (through its members). A very fine example of Mayr's intelligence and sensitivity can be gleaned from reading his answer to the question on page 262, "Are there human races?" There are indeed races, Mayr explains, but the "race problem" is a result of "a faulty understanding of race. These people," he continues, "are typologists, and for them every member of a race has all the actual and imaginary characteristics of that race. To translate this bias into an absurd example, they would assume that every African-American can run the 100-meter dash faster than any European-American." What a race is, is a population and its members are individuals, not types. This is true of species as well. There are a number of other technical and crucial issues in evolution that Mayr addresses including saltation and punctuated equilibria, altruism, kin selection, speciation, the origin of birds, etc. He even goes into a little exobiology on page 263. The book includes two appendices designed to help the reader cope with criticisms and questions about evolution. Appendix B sets forth 24 questions about evolution, such as "Is evolution a fact?" (yes) and "Is the Gaia hypothesis incompatible with Darwinism?" (no), etc. There is a glossary and an excellent index. There is some repetition, but I think we can take that as emphasis since this is an exercise in public education. Although Mayr uses a minimum of jargon and writes in a straightforward manner, the issues are not simple. They need to be studied to be understood and appreciated. This is why I call this book Evolution 101 by Professor Mayr. --Dennis Littrell, author of “Understanding Evolution and Ourselves”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marian-Cristian Rotariu

    The evolution description in this book is comprehensive, with various perspectives from philosophical point of view to biological or religious, but sometimes I had the impression of fast-forward or lack of depth. For example, the figures from the edition that I read are terrible, black and white and very low resolution. If you really want to extract all the knowledge from this book you'll need auxiliary sources, at least for the figures. Also, you need to view the facts in the appropriate tempora The evolution description in this book is comprehensive, with various perspectives from philosophical point of view to biological or religious, but sometimes I had the impression of fast-forward or lack of depth. For example, the figures from the edition that I read are terrible, black and white and very low resolution. If you really want to extract all the knowledge from this book you'll need auxiliary sources, at least for the figures. Also, you need to view the facts in the appropriate temporal context as many facts are outdated or plain obsoleted. Even the amount of religious references in this book is too much for our times. Many simple ideas are repeated over and over, while complex technical terms are referenced without any deduction or explanation. I, a non-specialized reader, hopelessly stumbled toward the middle of the book in unnecessary biological terms and enumerations of species names. On the bright side, through this book I discovered fascinating subjects, like evolutionary psychology, abiogenesis or comparative embryology. Overall, I like the motivation of the book and its representation of this wonderful subject, the evolution, but I honestly recommend other books to begin with.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charles Eliot

    I've been reading Stephen Jay Gould's final book, "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory". For all the book's impressive bulk, the central argument is straightforward. The modern interpretation of Darwin's theory (steady, continuous, and incremental evolution filtered by the agent of natural selection) has vanquished the theories that came before it (saltation, orthogenesis, Lamarkism, etc) but some key questions linger. For example, fossils often show species staying unchanged, in evolutionary st I've been reading Stephen Jay Gould's final book, "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory". For all the book's impressive bulk, the central argument is straightforward. The modern interpretation of Darwin's theory (steady, continuous, and incremental evolution filtered by the agent of natural selection) has vanquished the theories that came before it (saltation, orthogenesis, Lamarkism, etc) but some key questions linger. For example, fossils often show species staying unchanged, in evolutionary stasis, for millions of years. Fossils also show the sudden appearance of new species. Are these counter-examples to the principle of evolutionary gradualism artefacts of a woefully incomplete fossil record, or is something else going on? Gould calls that something else "punctuated equilibrium", and "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" is an extended argument for his theory and its implications. One of the implications is that evolution occurs at multiple conceptual levels. In the 1940s scientists reached a consensus about the mechanism of evolution, grandly called "The Synthesis" because it brought together thinking about genetics, systematics and populations. The Synthesis insists that natural selection acts on individual organisms, and in so doing alters the distribution of genes in the larger population, increasing the proportion of advantageous gene combinations. Gould argues that pressure to evolve comes not only from the relative reproductive success of individuals, but is also felt by local groups, entire species, and even groups of species. Gould has an axe to grind with the biologists who forged The Synthesis. While he agrees with the vital essence of the theory, he believes The Synthesis shut down legitimate discussion of levels of selection other than the individual. He demonstrates that concerns about the locus of evolution have been around for as long as scientists have been thinking about the subject. Before Darwin and the discovery of genetics, evolutionary theorists were discussing much that was later shown to be hooey. Gould believes that in their excitement at discovering a compelling mechanistic explanation for evolution, the Synthesists swept aside not just now-disprovable claims such as inheritance of acquired traits, but also legitimate and long-standing questions about the rate of evolution and the targets of selection. I've been reading "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" in chunks of one or two chapters, taking breaks between to read other books. I've reached the point where Gould has set out the background to his argument: pre-Darwinian theories of evolution, Darwin's impact, and The Synthesis. It was a good time to take a break, and I decided to read something from one of the main contributors to The Synthesis, Ernst Mayr. Ernst Mayr was an extraordinary scientist of stunning longevity. He wrote "What Evolution Is" in his 90s, and he died a few years later, in 2005, at the age of 100. He was a great ornithologist and field researcher, and his contributions to evolutionary biology and The Synthesis were foundational. In places "What Evolutions Is" is a sloppy book. Ideas are repeated, sometimes in the very next paragraph. At one point Mayr says he will describe seven factors, then lists eight. That's frustrating, but by no means a fatal problem. I was more concerned with the sometimes dismissive and condescending tone. I was reading with my ears open to evidence of what Gould calls the "hardening" of The Synthesis around a single dogmatic point-of-view, and there was plenty of evidence to be found. Mayr was a bone fide great man of science, and had earned the right to thunder out his views, but I found his attitude to Gould's concerns confusing and inconsistent. Early in the book Mayr describes punctuated equilibrium as "an ephemeral dispute". Ouch! But when Mayr discusses peripatric speciation - an idea of Mayr's that contributed directly to the theory of punctuated equilibrium - he brings up many of the same concerns Gould addresses, but labels them as difficult problems for further investigation. I came away from "What Evolution Is" feeling that Mayr and Gould were actually on the same page, but Mayr - for reasons of his own - didn't want to admit it. Mayr was much too good a scientist to deny the controversy, and he had some legitimate reservations with specific aspects of the punctuated equilibrium theory. Perhaps Mayr thought Gould was attacking deeper into the essence of The Synthesis than Gould actually was. Or maybe Mayr thought parts of punctuated equilibrium were rubbish, and therefore wasn't willing to take the theory seriously. "What Evolution Is" is not, however, a book about a specific theory of macroevolution. It's a broad treatment of the whole of modern evolutionary theory from a great scientist. If you only read one book about evolution in your life, "What Evolution Is" might be a great choice. If, like me, you've read many and intend reading many more, it's still a good read, but you can detect some narrowness in the point-of-view, and a tendency to lecture and pronounce.

  6. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    The other day I got dragooned into seeing that bland new Star Wars movie. Whatever. I was most entertained though by the ridiculously stupid trailer for the new "Planet of the Apes" movie which ends with Woody Harrelson (you can tease out the irony yourself) actually saying the words "Planet of the Apes". I found the irony chilling, as I settled back into my plush theatre chair, opposable thumbs mandating popcorn kernel after popcorn kernel into my short, flat moral-bearing jaw, that Mayr's book The other day I got dragooned into seeing that bland new Star Wars movie. Whatever. I was most entertained though by the ridiculously stupid trailer for the new "Planet of the Apes" movie which ends with Woody Harrelson (you can tease out the irony yourself) actually saying the words "Planet of the Apes". I found the irony chilling, as I settled back into my plush theatre chair, opposable thumbs mandating popcorn kernel after popcorn kernel into my short, flat moral-bearing jaw, that Mayr's book was precisely about that we DO have a Planet of the Apes and that anyone who thinks differently is just, as Mayr bluntly puts it: batshit fucking insane (pg. 3). I watched as other higher primates ran about on the screen, cold and emotionless, shooting lasers at each other in an imaginary universe that other higher primates had designed on a computer somewhere, with their own opposable thumbs, their large beards and pasty white bellies bulging up against creationist dogma by sheer dint of their incredible adaptations, and the pieces of paper that other higher primates had given them (a kind of leaf money, perhaps, a holdover from the savannah years) to construct the flashing lights and howling, crashing spaceships. I watched as cringe-worthy dialogue spewed forth against the foul vituperation of the "Death Star", really just a testicular metaphor for creationism at its most foul and I wondered, what if the finely adapted ape Mayr had written this movie? Would he have been able to make it any better? I like to dream (another ape-leap): yes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aurélien Thomas

    Perfect. Here at last is a great book explaining the essential facts about evolutionary biology to everyone -novices and afficionados alike. There's a lot of introductory books on the topic, but this one stands out for at least two reasons. First, Ernst Mayr is not taking side when dealing with arguable issues. Well, he certainly has his convictions (pro-gradualism, anti-selfish gene hypothesis...) but, he is very honest and fairplay with views opoosite to his own. We can't say the same about eve Perfect. Here at last is a great book explaining the essential facts about evolutionary biology to everyone -novices and afficionados alike. There's a lot of introductory books on the topic, but this one stands out for at least two reasons. First, Ernst Mayr is not taking side when dealing with arguable issues. Well, he certainly has his convictions (pro-gradualism, anti-selfish gene hypothesis...) but, he is very honest and fairplay with views opoosite to his own. We can't say the same about every author... Then, and above all, he's not assuming his readers are a bunch of fools unable to grasp such difficult topics if they are not trained and qualified for it. He defines every key concepts, even the toughest ones in a enlightening prose, supported by enough examples to make the whole understandable even by laymen (like me!). There's a lot to learn, that's what we are here for. Besides, the plan is well structured and organised: proofs that evolution is a fact, how it works and accounts for biodiversity and, finally, a closing chapter about human evolution. A straighforward appendix draws back on the main points by completing them. There's even a glossary to make the whole easier to go through. A MUST read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Franziska Self Fisken

    This is a wonderfully easy-to-read book that explains evolution in good accessible English and contrasts the theory of evolution with other theories and philosophies such as creationism. My daughter had borrowed it as background reading for her Biology undergraduate course but I felt that it was geared to intelligent laymen too. Due to hectic time pressures, I only had a few hours. However, I managed to skim through the book in only a couple of hours, as it was laid out in such a manner one coul This is a wonderfully easy-to-read book that explains evolution in good accessible English and contrasts the theory of evolution with other theories and philosophies such as creationism. My daughter had borrowed it as background reading for her Biology undergraduate course but I felt that it was geared to intelligent laymen too. Due to hectic time pressures, I only had a few hours. However, I managed to skim through the book in only a couple of hours, as it was laid out in such a manner one could easily pinpoint the most important points.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This is a great book, even if you are religious or not, this book will certainly answer any queries you have on evolution. why i chose to read this- my father recommended this book to me because of my fascination with natural history and biology. who would i recomend this to- anyone who is wondering how evolution works. i loved this book it is probably the best book i have read since the origin of species.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill Leach

    While the general idea of evolution is well understood, the theory has advanced since Darwin's time. Mayr provides an excellent update in this book. Even then, it is surprising how knowledge has increased since the book's publication in 2001. Mayr discusses the issues around the theory that the birds arose from the dinosaurs - it turned out that the birds did not evolve from the apparently similar therapods but from the maniraptors about 150 mya. Chapter 2 - What is the Evidence for Evolution Mayr While the general idea of evolution is well understood, the theory has advanced since Darwin's time. Mayr provides an excellent update in this book. Even then, it is surprising how knowledge has increased since the book's publication in 2001. Mayr discusses the issues around the theory that the birds arose from the dinosaurs - it turned out that the birds did not evolve from the apparently similar therapods but from the maniraptors about 150 mya. Chapter 2 - What is the Evidence for Evolution Mayr discusses the fossil record and phylogeny as a study of homologous characteristics. Recapitulation is the appearance and subsequent loss of structures during ontogeny, the growth of the fetus. While puzzling to early naturalists, it is now known that the structures are embryonic "organizers". The discontinuous distributions of organisms is due to their evolution over time, and subsequent dispersal. Molecular biology aids in understanding evolution through genetic analysis. Chapter 3 - The Rise of the Living World The prokaryotes were the first organisms, originating some 3800 mya, the earliest being the cyanobacteria. The eukaryotes formed through the combination of two bacteria. After their origin 2700 mya, the protists (single celled eukaryotes) diversified spectacularly. Multicellularity happened repeatedly during evolution. While it was originally thought that multicellular organisms arose during the Cambrian explosion, the soft-bodied Ediacara arose during the late Pre-Cambrian. It is unclear as to why the Cambrian fossils show diverse skeleton-bearing phyla. This could be do to the increasing oxygen in the atmosphere or the evolution of more effective predators. Chapter 4 - How and Why Does Evolution Take Place Pre-Darwin thinking centered on essentialism where organisms were sorted into classes - Typological Thinking. Darwin's theories featured a change in thinking from organism types to populations of individuals with variation of genetic material - Population Thinking. Earlier theories of evolution included: 1. Transmution - New species arise through instantaneous mutations (saltation). 2. Transformation Owing to Environmental Influences - Based on Gradualism, where the environment affects the genetic material to cause evolution to suit the environment - e.g. the giraffe's neck. Often known as Lamarckism. 3. Transformation Owing to a Strive for Perfection - Based on finalism, where the living world has a propensity to move toward perfection. Chapter 5 - Variational Evolution Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection may be best referred to as Variational Evolution. An enormous amount of genetic variation is produced in every generation. The individuals that are best adapted have the higher probability of surviving. Darwin's main theories were: 1. Non-constancy of species 2. Descent from common ancestors 3. Gradual evolution 4. The multiplication of species - origin of diversity 5. Natural selection The first two were widely accepted soon after Darwin published in 1859, but the other three were not until the evolutionary synthesis in the 1940's, or second Darwinian Revolution. Genetic turnover in a population is due to: 1. mutation - due to replication errors in cell division; mutations can be beneficial, neutral or deleterious 2. gene flow - from neighboring populations 3. genetic drift - the loss of genes through random processes 4. biased variation - a minor process whereby some alleles are favored 5. transposable elements - genetic sequences that do not occupy a fixed site on the chromosome; do not tend to be positive contributions 6. non-random mating - leads to preference for some genotypes 7. uni-parental reproduction - asexual reproduction Chapter 6 - Natural Selection As the resources available to every species is limited, competition favors those best suited to the environment, resulting in evolution. While evolution is well thought as "survival of the fittest", it can also be viewed as a process of elimination. Selection is a two step process. The first, largely random step is the production of a new zygote with new variation. The second step is the selection which is partly chance, but also determination. The phenotype of the organism is the unit of selection, not the individual genes. To assume the gene is the unit of selection ignores the interaction of genes, shown most clearly by the regulatory genes, such as hox and pax. The spread in genes is slower in larger populations. Evolution can be faster in smaller populations, known as founder populations. Behavior can affect evolution, as when and organism adopts a new food item - this mechanism could be confused with the Lamarkian concept of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Sexual selection encompasses factors leading to reproductive success. Chapter 7 - Adaptedness and Natural Selection An adaptation is a property of an organism that is favored by selection. A niche is a specific set of environmental conditions that provides a species with it's required living conditions. Open niches are repeatedly colonized by unrelated organisms. This can lead to convergence where unrelated organisms develop similar characteristics to utilize a particular niche. Chapter 8 - The Units of Diversity: Species While species were earlier based upon taxonomic differences, the Biological Species Concept (BSC) is now generally adhered to: "Species are groups of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups". This definition is applicable only to sexually reproducing organisms. In the prokaryotes, it is necessary to fall back to taxonomic differences in describing species: these are termed agamospecies. Sibling species are natural populations that are reproductively isolated from each other even though they often coexist sympatrically without interbreeding. Sibling species have been found to be surprisingly common among the higher taxa. Isolating mechanisms preserve the well balanced organism. Zones of hybrids occur where two populations that have not yet acquired fully effective isolating mechanisms, come into secondary contact. Chapter 9 - Speciation The accepted basis for speciation is separation of populations by geographical barriers - allopatric speciation. This can be of two forms: dichopatric speciation were a barrier arises, or peripatric speciation where a founder population establishes beyond the present range of the species. Darwin proposed sympatric speciation where individuals would acquire niche preferences, becoming different species. While infrequent, cases have been found in insects and cichlid fishes. In some situations, long chains of populations wrap around and the two ends are sufficiently different at the overlap to be separate species. An example is the gull Larus argentatas. While the population has been considered a single population in the past, closer examination has revealed breaks, supporting multiple species. The rate of speciation varies enormously. Some species exist in both Asia and North America, and although they have been separated for 6 - 8 million years, they are still fully fertile with each other. Conversely, Lake Victoria had until recently, 400 species of cichlid fishes, although the lake is only 1200 years old. Chapter 10 - Macroevolution Evolution at the species level is termed microevolution, while issues such as the origin of higher taxa, the invasion of new adaptive zones and development of new structures, such as wings, are considered part of macroevolution. These are not separate processes: macroevolution is the effect on populations of microevolution. As evolution has been considered a gradual process, the obvious gaps between the living taxa need explanation. When populations spit, they evolve separately but slowly. However, when a population buds (peripatric speciation), it enters a new adaptive zone and evolves rapidly. Due to their small size, such founder populations are genetically less constrained. This is known as speciational evolution. Due to it's faster rate, the likelihood of fossils is low, resulting in gaps in the fossil record. Once a species has become adapted to it's new niche, it may remain unchanged for long periods: the living fossils. Species turnover due to background extinction occurs when a species is no longer able to produce enough offspring to replace losses. Generally, smaller populations are more susceptible. Large numbers of species and higher taxa are lost in major extinction events - natural selection offers no protection from these. Evolutionary novelties, such as wings and eyes, occur through two processes. Intensification of function occurs when a structure becomes more specialized over times, as has happened over 40 times creating various versions of the eye. Change of function of a structure occurs when it is able to perform both an old and new function and shifts to the new function, as in the lungs in fishes converting to swim bladders. Coevolution occurs when two species exert selection pressures on each other. Pairs include predator and prey, host and parasite, and flowering plants and pollinators. The greatest example is the development of earth's oxygen rich atmosphere resulting from coevolution of oxygen-producing and oxygen-consuming organisms. Symbiosis is the collaboration of two different organisms. Correlated evolution is the development of all body parts to support an evolutionary direction, such as the development of the head, neck and body of the horse to support the large jaw. Pluralistic Solutions are those that have been repeatedly developed to enter new niches, such as flying. Convergent evolution is best illustrated to the parallel radiation of marsupials and plancentals to enter similar niches. Chapter 11 - How Did Mankind Evolve Mayr draws a picture of human evolution from the rain forest habitat of the chimpanzee, through the tree savanna stage of Australopithecus, to the bush savanna stage of Homo. Mayr points out that much of this is conjecture and is heavily debated. Australopithecus evolved around 4 mya from the African apes, as a founder population in the tree savanna surrounding the rain forest. Bipedal locomotion was needed to escape predators, although they still lived largely in the trees. No increase in brain capacity occurred. They were largely vegetarian. About 2.5 mya the African climate deteriorated with the arrival of the ice in North America and the tree savanna shifted to tree savanna. This may have spurred the evolution of Homo, where tools tool use became the key to survival. Homo was the first humans to make flaked stone tools, possibly used fire, likely used primitive weapons, and increasingly ate meat. Brain capacity doubled in early Homo and tripled in Homo sapiens. The larger brain size caused earlier birth - only at an age of 17 months does a human acquire the mobility and independence of a newborn chimpanzee. Homo erectus was the first human to leave Africa, some 2 mya, getting to Europe, Asia and Java. Further evolution produced Neanderthal man in Europe, but it is not known what happened to H. erectus in Asia. The Neanderthals were overrun by H. sapiens that came from North Africa. It appears that the human brain has not changed since the appearance of H. sapiens, 150,000 ya.

  11. 4 out of 5

    jjonas

    An ok book on the topic, I did benefit from reading it. But the style was not very inspiring, and at times it felt a bit too much like a pamphlet. According to the author, the book is written "for anyone, biologist or not, who simply wants to know more about evolution [...] The second group of readers consists of those who accept evolution, but are in doubt whether the Darwinian explanation is the correct one. [...] And finally, my account is directed to those creationists who want to know more a An ok book on the topic, I did benefit from reading it. But the style was not very inspiring, and at times it felt a bit too much like a pamphlet. According to the author, the book is written "for anyone, biologist or not, who simply wants to know more about evolution [...] The second group of readers consists of those who accept evolution, but are in doubt whether the Darwinian explanation is the correct one. [...] And finally, my account is directed to those creationists who want to know more about the current paradigm of evolutionary science" (p. xiii). But what gives the book a bit unfinished feel is that despite the "educated layman" talk, there's passages like this: "One group of protists, the choanoflagellates, gave rise to the sponges (Porifera), the simplest animals. From these rose the diploblastic coelenterates (Cnidaria, Ctenophora), which then gave rise to the triploblastic Bilateria, which soon split into the Protostomia and the Deuterostomia (see the earlier discussion). The Deuterostomia consist of four phyla: Echinodermata, Hemichordata, Urochordata, and Chordata. One of the earliest chordates, Amphioxus, is still surviving and shows approximately what our earliest ancestor looked like. Since it has gill slits and a dorsal notochord, Amphioxus is combined with the vertebrates in the phylum Chordata. Amphioxus was a filter feeder but it is inferred that the earliest vertebrates were predators. A closely related class of chordates are the extinct conodonts, which had an elaborate set of hard teeth that are copiously preserved in the fossil record." (p. 70) This seems to be way beyond any "educated layman" level I'm familiar with. Also, sometimes concepts (like taxon) are just thrown in there without introducing them first (there's a glossary at the end, however). There is also a lot of repetition, not necessarily in a pedagogically meaningful sense, as if the editing process was left unfinished. For example, first it is said (p. 119) that "Such [non-coding] DNA, sometimes probably incorrectly referred to as 'junk', is estimated for humans to be as much as 97 percent", and a few pages later it's "According to some estimates, 95 percent of the human DNA is 'junk'". Or that the eye has evolved at least 40 times (p. 125, 173, 226). While it's fine to use abbreviations like "10 my" and "10 mya" ("10 million years" and "10 million years ago") in graphs or tables where there's little space, I'm not sure it's the right choice in the text body, especially as it's sometimes one, sometimes the other. People like SJ Gould or Dawkins are superior as writers, probably that's because they've written in their native language.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jared

    An excellent synopsis of the principles of evolution. Ernst Mayr, one of the leading biologists of the 20th century, takes this topic and addresses it head on with straightforward and simple explanations. He does not dwell on theoretical computations, but gives direct, clear explanations. The book also has a strong historical component as Mayr puts the progress of evolutionary theory into context. I would say there are two concepts he really hits home in the book. First, he emphasizes the distin An excellent synopsis of the principles of evolution. Ernst Mayr, one of the leading biologists of the 20th century, takes this topic and addresses it head on with straightforward and simple explanations. He does not dwell on theoretical computations, but gives direct, clear explanations. The book also has a strong historical component as Mayr puts the progress of evolutionary theory into context. I would say there are two concepts he really hits home in the book. First, he emphasizes the distinction of population-thinking and how many misunderstandings and questions can be resolved when one adopts population-thinking to biology. Second, he also argues well against refuted ideas such as teleology. One thing the book does not do is go into great depth about specific examples. Mayr mentions many examples but his focus is on the principles of evolution and how they work, rather than the illustrated the evidence. However, his references can certainly be followed up on by anyone. This is certainly a great book for anyone wanting to learn more about evolution, I am considering using passages of it as extra reading assignments for my evolutionary biology class in college.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nabeel Hasan

    Comprehensive but lacking depth and charm. Assumes pre-knowledge in some parts and flow of information is slightly scattered. Fails to draw the wonder that other science writers, like Sagan or Dawkins, can accomplish. Of course, it is still a great stepping stone. And my review is in no way meant to undermine the authority and prowess of the author in his field. Would still recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ethelinda Webb

    I greatly enjoyed this book, and learned many new things, about biology in general and the process of evolution in particular. It was a bit more technical than I was expecting in terms of scientific vocabulary, but in the Kindle version I was able to simply highlight words I didn't know, and definitions would pop up. It's great to be able to learn new words so quickly and easily! I greatly enjoyed this book, and learned many new things, about biology in general and the process of evolution in particular. It was a bit more technical than I was expecting in terms of scientific vocabulary, but in the Kindle version I was able to simply highlight words I didn't know, and definitions would pop up. It's great to be able to learn new words so quickly and easily!

  15. 4 out of 5

    J. Gibson

    This book is well-written and informative on the topic of evolutionary biology. It is not, in my opinion, well-suited to beginners in the subject, and is quite dense. I would recommend Jerry A. Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True" over this book for those newer to the topic of evolution who don't want to read a textbook. Even so, this is well worth a read. This book is well-written and informative on the topic of evolutionary biology. It is not, in my opinion, well-suited to beginners in the subject, and is quite dense. I would recommend Jerry A. Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True" over this book for those newer to the topic of evolution who don't want to read a textbook. Even so, this is well worth a read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mckinley

    What is interesting about this science book is that while it provides a good explanation of evolution as a scientific theory, there is also a good defending against Creationism and intelligent design. See: What Evolution Is by Mayr

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Aleksandrov

    I learnt a fair bit from this book but the language can he a bit too technicals with certain terms being explained quite a bit later after they were first encountered. Still, it's worth reading! I learnt a fair bit from this book but the language can he a bit too technicals with certain terms being explained quite a bit later after they were first encountered. Still, it's worth reading!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Navid Tavakoli

    I think this is the best book for those who want to learn about the theory of evolution in Persian.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alroar

    The book was actually fabulous.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shahine Ardeshir

    Before I begin to gush about how much I enjoyed this book (and I did!), I should start with one caveat: This is not a book for casual reading. So if you're someone who's somewhat curious about evolution, I'd suggest starting with something a little lighter (Your Body: The Fish that Evolved, for instance). If, on the other hand, you're hooked on evolution and want to go into more depth, this is the book for you. Enrst Mayr has done a fabulous job of synthesizing decades of research and debate into Before I begin to gush about how much I enjoyed this book (and I did!), I should start with one caveat: This is not a book for casual reading. So if you're someone who's somewhat curious about evolution, I'd suggest starting with something a little lighter (Your Body: The Fish that Evolved, for instance). If, on the other hand, you're hooked on evolution and want to go into more depth, this is the book for you. Enrst Mayr has done a fabulous job of synthesizing decades of research and debate into one concise volume, outlining all the theoretical underpinnings of this fascinating and extremely wide-ranging subject. And to his credit, he's managed, for the most part, to keep the language simple and the logic easy to follow. He covers key concepts (selection, species, adaptedness, for instance) and explains what each of them do and do not mean. He also starts the book with a beautiful discussion on the evidence of evolution (one of my favourite chapters of all, honestly. I also learned that Darwin did a lot more than put forth a theory of science. In many important ways, he shaped the philosophy that biologists adopted in their investigations, permanently altering it. What I liked most of all was his style of not just stating what today's understanding of evolution is, but of walking the reader through prior theories, why they came about and what their limitations were. This allows you, the reader, to come to the conclusion yourself that today's explanations make the most sense, rather than being passively fed a lot of information. To be fair though, some chapters get a little too technical, even for me. And despite a lot of reading and re-reading, underlining and note-making, some aspects of this subject are simply too vast to comprehend in one read. If anything, this book left me realizing how much I don't know, and how much more there is to learn. But it will always remain my go-to text for the ABCs of evolution (okay, maybe a little more than the ABC!) :) A beautiful piece of work that has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Ernst Mayr is one of the key figures in the development of the synthetic theory of evolution, by which Mendelian genetics was wed to Darwinian natural selection. The end result is a powerful paradigm that does well in explaining change in living forms. Especially extraordinary in the case of this book is that he was nearing 100 years of age when he wrote it. And it is a literate, accessible description of evolution that non-biologists can easily understand. My interest in Mayr goes back to gradu Ernst Mayr is one of the key figures in the development of the synthetic theory of evolution, by which Mendelian genetics was wed to Darwinian natural selection. The end result is a powerful paradigm that does well in explaining change in living forms. Especially extraordinary in the case of this book is that he was nearing 100 years of age when he wrote it. And it is a literate, accessible description of evolution that non-biologists can easily understand. My interest in Mayr goes back to graduate school when I was assigned to read some of his classic works. Later on, I was given the opportunity to co-edit a volume (The Dynamics of Evolution) on the implications of Stephen Jay Gould's and Niles Eldredge's "punctuated equilibrium" theory in the natural and social sciences. Figuring "nothing ventured, nothing gained," I invited Mayr to contribute a chapter. To my astonishment, he agreed; further, I was overjoyed that major figures such as Gould, Eldredge, Kenneth Boulding, and Steven Stanley, among others, also agreed to write chapters. Mayr's chapter was one of the very strongest in this volume, even as he was in his 80s. "What Evolution Is" is a wonderful introduction to the theory. It must be stated that he was nearing 100 years of age; nonetheless, his writing was sharp. The topics that he covers include the evidence for evolution, why evolution takes place, the nature of natural selection, the nature of species and speciation, macroevolution, human evolution, and a final chapter that explores what he refers to as "the frontiers of evolutionary biology." A very nice touch is his Appendix B, which provides short answers to frequently asked questions about evolution. There is also a useful glossary at the conclusion of the volume. This is a terrific book for those wanting to know what evolutionary theory is all about by one of the greatest figures in this area. An accessible volume by a giant of science. . . .

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ana-Maria

    A book that did not grip me, in spite of it’s marketing presentation. Reading it, it felt like having to read a classroom handbook. I am used to teading science books, but this one was too scholastic for my taste.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Mayr presents here a thorough overview of the current state of evolutionary science. By comparing them to the basic principles (which he states very clearly) of evolution and the processes through which it occurs, he refutes misconceptions, and thus develops for the reader a clear understanding of what evolution is NOT. The book begins, then, with an overview of the history of evolutionary science, examining carefully how each of the historical debates regarding evolution were resolved in favor Mayr presents here a thorough overview of the current state of evolutionary science. By comparing them to the basic principles (which he states very clearly) of evolution and the processes through which it occurs, he refutes misconceptions, and thus develops for the reader a clear understanding of what evolution is NOT. The book begins, then, with an overview of the history of evolutionary science, examining carefully how each of the historical debates regarding evolution were resolved in favor of the view we have now. He goes on to explain each of the important processes/ideas in evolution: population thinking, genetics, natural selection, speciation, phylogeny, the origin of novel structures, regulatory genes (one thing I wish he'd expanded on), etc. He ends with a brief discussion of the evolution of humanity, which puts the principles of the previous sections 'into practice' so to speak, and also somehow brings home the implications of evolution for understanding human behavior. I found it rather technical and slow at times, but after a certain point it went much more quickly, and became more interesting. I have read no other 'intro to evolution' books to compare it to, but it seems like he did a good job, and so if you are interested in this (and you should be) this is worth considering.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gowan

    Ernst Mayr is a reknown evolutionary biologist who has been writing since(at least) the late fifties. That being said, for anyone interested in this book, it must be remembered that he is not a novelist. Mayr's writing style is that of a scientist, which while thorough and although he claims this book is for the 'non-specialist', and as such the book is difficult to read unless you have at least some background in biology. What makes this particular book special is two-fold: 1st, it is written by Ernst Mayr is a reknown evolutionary biologist who has been writing since(at least) the late fifties. That being said, for anyone interested in this book, it must be remembered that he is not a novelist. Mayr's writing style is that of a scientist, which while thorough and although he claims this book is for the 'non-specialist', and as such the book is difficult to read unless you have at least some background in biology. What makes this particular book special is two-fold: 1st, it is written by a respected authority in biology with years of experience within his field. 2nd, the book starts by stating explicitly that it is not 'defending' biological evolution via natural selection. Instead, the 'acceptance' of evolutionary theory is no longer a question to any thinking individual. In Appendix A, he states: "The claims of creationists have been refuted so frequently and so thoroughly that there is no need to cover this subject once more." Mayr's book takes the latest data and information concerning biological evolution and 'fills in the blanks' so to speak. This is both helpful and refreshing. In short, this book is of interest for anyone who would want to take an honest look at both biological evolution and their ignorance about it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maxczapanskiy

    As one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century, Ernst Mayr's work was integral in the modern evolutionary synthesis between natural selection and genetics. Before he passed away in 2005, he created what is essentially a guidebook to life - where it may have begun, how it changes over time, and the processes by which that change is effected. It is intended for the educated layperson and admirably walks the line between simplified and technical. No one would mistake Mayr for a n As one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century, Ernst Mayr's work was integral in the modern evolutionary synthesis between natural selection and genetics. Before he passed away in 2005, he created what is essentially a guidebook to life - where it may have begun, how it changes over time, and the processes by which that change is effected. It is intended for the educated layperson and admirably walks the line between simplified and technical. No one would mistake Mayr for a novelist, but his prose is clear and straightforward, especially for someone whose English is their second language. Unless your degree is in biology (and probably even if it is), you will undoubtedly gain a greater understanding of the living world. My only criticism would be the infrequent use of common names for taxons above species. For example, Mayr makes frequent reference to corvids when discussing tool-use and the evolution of humans. If you're a birder or an ornithologist you would know that refers to crows and jays, but I think that term would make most people reach for their smart phone. However, that is a minor criticism and I would strongly recommend this book to anyone curious about the world around them.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Benn

    “What Evolution Is,” by renowned evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, is a non-mathematical overview of modern evolutionary thought. The book starts with a brief rebuttal of creationist arguments, then turns to mechanisms of evolution and speciation, and finally to human evolution. I found it to be a written at a somewhat odd level – I think that it is ideally suited for well-educated, highly motivated readers who are seriously delving into evolution for the first time, or for readers who have had “What Evolution Is,” by renowned evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, is a non-mathematical overview of modern evolutionary thought. The book starts with a brief rebuttal of creationist arguments, then turns to mechanisms of evolution and speciation, and finally to human evolution. I found it to be a written at a somewhat odd level – I think that it is ideally suited for well-educated, highly motivated readers who are seriously delving into evolution for the first time, or for readers who have had undergraduate-level biology and evolution courses and want a refresher. The book moves too quickly over basic concepts to be accessible to a more general reader, but the lacks the mathematical aspects of evolution that would interest someone entering the field professionally. Though the book was clearly-written, I did notice a number of factual errors that suggest a lack of proofreading by a biologist. Overall, I think that the book is a nice option if you want a review of evolution, but prefer something with a more narrative feel than a textbook.

  27. 5 out of 5

    MyNameIsTim

    The author claims to be writing a book about "what evolution is" for the common man. However, he fails on both accounts. First, the book is not really about evolution. It's an unfocused summary of many of the conclusions of modern biology (with a focus on paleontology). However, much of his text has little to do with evolution itself, and the author completely ignores applications of evolution to non-biological topics. In fact, at no point does the author even define "evolution." The closest he The author claims to be writing a book about "what evolution is" for the common man. However, he fails on both accounts. First, the book is not really about evolution. It's an unfocused summary of many of the conclusions of modern biology (with a focus on paleontology). However, much of his text has little to do with evolution itself, and the author completely ignores applications of evolution to non-biological topics. In fact, at no point does the author even define "evolution." The closest he comes is labeling evolution is "noncyclical change" or "directional change," which is so nonspecific that it could apply to anything (for example, my daughter's height experiences directional change, but I wouldn't call that evolution). Second, this book is definitely not written for the "common man." I'm no dummy (I have a PhD) but even I quickly got lost in the terminology he was throwing around.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    While intended for the non-biologist, this book still makes some pretty strong demands of the reader. It's worth sticking with though as it gives the best description of the mechanisms and processes of evolution that I've read. In particular I've always wondered about the process of speciation and while this book doesn't provide all the answers (largely because we haven't discovered them all yet) it does a good job of defining the various ways speciation occurs. And it does it in fairly clear, ea While intended for the non-biologist, this book still makes some pretty strong demands of the reader. It's worth sticking with though as it gives the best description of the mechanisms and processes of evolution that I've read. In particular I've always wondered about the process of speciation and while this book doesn't provide all the answers (largely because we haven't discovered them all yet) it does a good job of defining the various ways speciation occurs. And it does it in fairly clear, easy to follow language. However, it does often resort to technical language that it doesn't stop to define so don't be afraid to look to that glossary in the back when needed as it will be a lifesaver. Recommended, but not light reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Debrah A

    Written by a highly notable figure, the book is an authoritative tome of information of what evolution is, and more importantly, what it isn't. But I must say that it would have been a good read at the time it appeared. Matter is much better organized in today's popular science books and the flow is good enough to keep most people going. If you want an intro to Evolution, there are many more books available today than was at the time this came out. If you want a text with historical significance, Written by a highly notable figure, the book is an authoritative tome of information of what evolution is, and more importantly, what it isn't. But I must say that it would have been a good read at the time it appeared. Matter is much better organized in today's popular science books and the flow is good enough to keep most people going. If you want an intro to Evolution, there are many more books available today than was at the time this came out. If you want a text with historical significance, this may be one.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    Well, it was certainly an introduction to evolution, but unless you have a solid science (biology) background, or love using a dictionary/Wikipedia, I wouldn't bother starting it just yet. It really does seem to be written for some one that is more than passively familiar with biological terms and processes. If you want an introduction for the layperson, try something else. If you are currently taking or remember your biology courses, give it a go. Well, it was certainly an introduction to evolution, but unless you have a solid science (biology) background, or love using a dictionary/Wikipedia, I wouldn't bother starting it just yet. It really does seem to be written for some one that is more than passively familiar with biological terms and processes. If you want an introduction for the layperson, try something else. If you are currently taking or remember your biology courses, give it a go.

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