Saturday 9 May 2009

Book Review: Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne

The story of the earth and its life has always fascinated me. From my first childhood ventures into nature I’ve always had a desire to understand how the places, animals and plants I saw came to be. Brought up on the Lancashire coast at Formby I quickly learnt that the landscape and its wildlife were not permanent. Shifting sand dunes, “slacks” that flooded after rain and turned dusty in droughts, a maze of tidal channels that varied constantly and could easily trap the unwary, visiting flocks of waders that could number hundreds one day and a handful the next – all these and more showed me that nature was always changing. When I first read about the formation of landscapes and the evolution of life it made perfect sense. What books I read back then I cannot remember now, maybe it was the ones I still have – “The Observer’s Book of Geology” by I.O.Evans (no date but purchased sometime in the early 1960s) and “Fossils Amphibians and Reptiles” by W.E.Swinton, British Museum of Natural History, Third Edition 1962.

Since those days I’ve read, at intermittent intervals, a series of books on geology and evolution by a variety of authors. I’ve particularly enjoyed the writing of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Richard Fortey, E.O.Wilson and Steve Jones. However, marvellous though the works of these writers are, there is none that serves as a basic introduction to evolution that could be recommended to anyone who wants to learn about the subject. Now that gap has been filled admirably by evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, a well-written account that covers clearly and logically the over-whelming evidence for evolution. The fossil record, vestigial traits, embryology (I’ve always been intrigued and delighted by the way embryos show links with distant ancestors and Coyne covers this particularly well with some wonderful examples), imperfections that could only come from bad design if there was a designer but which are perfectly explicable by evolution, biogeography, natural selection, sexual selection, speciation and the evolution of homo sapiens are all covered thoroughly yet succinctly. Anyone who can read this book and not accept the evidence for evolution must have a closed mind. I found it an enjoyable and interesting read, with many examples I had not come across before despite all my previous reading. It also makes a good book for reference and quick revision.

The author provides a good further reading list that includes online sources. One that has appeared since the book was published is Jerry Coyne’s own blog, with the same name as the book. It’s well worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thanks for this review, Chris. This looks like a great resource. Indeed, a good introductory text on the subject laying out the evidence is very much needed. I think I'll be picking this one up.

    And thanks again also for the very kind comment you left on my blog a few weeks back.

    Peace to you and happy trails