Darwin's theory of natural selection explains how useful adaptations are preserved over time. But the biggest mystery about evolution eluded him. As genetics pioneer Hugo de Vries put it, "natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest." Can random mutations over a mere 3.8 billion years really be responsible for wings, eyeballs, knees, camouflage, lactose digestion, photosynthesis, and the rest of nature’s creative marvels? And if the answer is no, what is the mechanism that explains evolution’s speed and efficiency?
In Arrival of the Fittest, renowned evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner draws on over 15 years of research to present the missing piece in Darwin's theory. Using experimental and computational technologies that were heretofore unimagined, he has found that adaptations are not just driven by chance, but by a set of laws that allow nature to discover new molecules and mechanisms in a fraction of the time that random variation would take. Consider the Arctic cod, a fish that lives and thrives within six degrees of the North Pole, in waters that regularly fall below zero degrees. At that temperature, the internal fluids of most organisms turn into ice crystals. And yet, the arctic cod survives by producing proteins that lower the freezing temperature of its body fluids, much like antifreeze does for a car's engine coolant. The invention of those proteins is an archetypal example of nature’s enormous powers of creativity.
Meticulously researched, carefully argued, evocatively written, and full of fascinating examples from the animal kingdom, Arrival of the Fittest offers up the final puzzle piece in the mystery of life's rich diversity.
©2014 Andreas Wagner (P)2014 Gildan Media LLC
l'enfer c'est les autres
Life is robust and its neutral states provide for easier suitability for overall fitness within environments leading to the fittest set of genes. Yes, that sentence is a mouthful but the author will step you through all of the steps necessary for understanding what is meant by it.
The author looks at life from its beginning to today mostly at the genotype and the resulting phenotype level. The going does get tough at times, but the author is very good at stepping the listener through. He states the two key components of life are its universal currency of energy, ATP, and the Universal Genetic Code, DNA and/or RNA.
He never misses sharing a good example while explaining the complex nature of amino acids, proteins, and metabolisms (5000 known). I didn't know dogs can synthesize vitamin C and humans can't. We need 13 vitamins, there are 20 amino acids making up the proteins we need, the body can synthesize 12 of them but needs 8 from our food sources and so on. I did not realize there were so many cool things to know about bacteria until he explained how they exchange genes and reproduce. Interesting stuff.
His professional work is in analyzing the movement necessary for viable genomes giving workable phenotypes through large scale computer modeling. He talks about this hyperspace of almost all potential combinations and how the process of evolution can move towards only viable solutions to biological configurations thus leading to the fittest.
There's definitely enough interesting things in this book to hook the average listener. His discussions on hyperspace and his computer work can get detailed, but he gives plenty of interesting discussions on many related topics making this book an interesting read.
The book focuses on the biochemical mechanisms that drive and sustain life. If you're interested in getting beyond a Jurassic Park understanding of DNA as life's code and want to explore how DNA and the rest of life's molecules interact and replicate, this book is worth a listen.
It can be slow going on audio. The author necessarily builds large, complex analogies for explaining molecular interactions. If you become distracted, let your mind wander, or stop and start the audio throughout the day or week, it's relatively easy to lose the author's argument. The narrator presents the text at a methodical pace that draws out these sections even more.
I have a decent background knowledge of biochemistry and genetics, but I think the text is a little technical without this background. There are a fair number of examples, and historical anecdotes, but much of the book felt like a dressed down textbook on the current state of biochemistry. That might be exactly what you're looking for, but if you want a more relaxed take on evolution, genetics and development, one of the Great Courses on the Origin of Life or Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin might be a better place to start. Then come back to this book with that background.
If you want to understand life and how it has evolved, listen to this book. It describes how life innovates and finds new workable solutions from within a set of possibilities too large to ever sift through without these principles. It us so well read and written that you will be easily visualizing multi-dimensional hyper cubes and saying "I get it!"
The narrator kept trying to inject drama into each and every sentence, which would be fine if each sentence had some drama in it, but this is a science book. In many places the author is constructing an argument over many paragraphs. Many individual sentences are not particularly dramatic in themselves. It is badly distracting when the narrator reads a 17-sentence factual argument as if there were 17 dramatic moments... because there aren't 17 dramatic moments, there is just one main argument, and that argument isn't really anything emotional or jarring anyway, it's just an insight. The reader really should maintain a reasonable tone.
Like many narrators, Pratt simply tried too hard to inject acting into this delivery. Reading is not acting, reading is reading. The narrator should calm down and let the material speak for itself.
The entire time I was listening to this book, I was focused on the narration, and not on Wagner's line of thought. Not good.
The narrator is actually fairly talented, but he is miscast for this kind of book. Sean Pratt should read children's books or some kind of fantasy stories, not science.
The topic is fantastic and I'm curious to find out what the author was trying to say. I will try to find this by reading reviews of the book.
For potential buyers of this book, I recommend that you skip reading this book and simply read a review that summarizes the author's main points. That will be a much better way to spend your time.
I agree with the reviews by "occasional reviewer" and Alex Bejan.
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
Andras Wagner presents a well researched case demonstrating the role of chemicals in evolution. The book assumes some understanding of chemistry, especially biochemistry. It is likely to confuse those who do not have some basic understanding of biochemistry, so the target audience is limited.
I sometimes wonder if I slept my way thru high school and college and consequently learned so little. This book gave me an understanding of so many concepts and methods that didn't even exist in my day. Also a better understanding of the research community. Some was a little over my head, but it all made sense. The speaker was excellent. Maybe I was born too soon. This helped me do a lot of catching up.
Say something about yourself!
This book gives a different approach to evolution. It describes how the chemicals of life changed through time. I especially like when he compared today's world of human innoviation to life's innovations
This books sheds light on entirely new aspects of our world. The metabolisms, the proteins, and regulator circuits have wonderful libraries, and the book tells about the process of navigation within these hyper astronomical libraries. A remarkable achievement of computational biology. Well worth reading!
The author, despite his research credentials, is confused as to whom he is addressing his book - for many people the lack of details about molecular mechanisms is a major fault, for others, the mention of some enzyme names is too much. And then, Prof. Wagner is taking way too many leaps of faith to communicate his beliefs. There is no substance, no continuity and no arguments. Just like talking to a man who had one too many drinks over dinner. As for the narrator, well, just the same - he's a mass producer (more than 400 books he read for Audible I think) who has no idea what he is reading and who is reading everything as if it were a fairy tale or self help book. Another reviewer suggested the two perhaps deserve each other, but customers of Audible surely deserve better.
I'll get this book in print and try to skim past all the hype to get to whatever argument Wagner might make, assuming he does eventually getting around to saying something rather than just touting the fantastic, revolutionary, unhead-of mega-achievements in evo-devo to which he has, we are told, contributed so much. Evo-devo has a bad habit of proclaiming itself revolutionary without actually producing any ideas that fair play would count as more than detailed technical elaborations that don't alter the larger structure of evolutionary theory. Wagner might or might not be vulnerable to that accusation. But then, if he had something actually to say, why not say it, rather than perpetually leading the listener along with fanfares and preludes? I suppose he imagined that one secret of books for a "general audience" is to keep the reader in suspense. Bad idea, here, anyway. I want to know what is going to be argued so that I can assess whether the evidence being presented gives good support to the argument. After a couple of hours listening to this book, I gave up.
I might have listened longer, though with mounting frustration and annoyance, except that the reader was unbearable. I've listened to hundreds of audio books and have only very seldom given up on one because the reader was unbearable. This reader was fatuous and affected, posing and prissy, to an intolerable degree. It might be unfair, probably is unfair, to say that Wagner got what he deserved from this reader, but the posturing prose and the posing reader combined to make me turn it off and put it away, despite my real interest in the announced subject of the book.
Absolutely not. Abominable. The very worst.
Maybe. Hard to say. I have a rule about movies. If I get thirty minutes into a movie, and it has been awful all along, I quit. I figure it is unlikely to redeem itself in the last two thirds, and even if it were to get better, that would not justify the bad experience I've already had. i felt that way about this production, too.
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