John Tyler Bonner, one of our most distinguished and insightful biologists, here challenges a central tenet of evolutionary biology. In this concise, elegantly written book, he makes the bold and provocative claim that some biological diversity may be explained by something other than natural selection.
With his customary wit and accessible style, Bonner makes an argument for the underappreciated role that randomness - or chance - plays in evolution. Due to the tremendous and enduring influence of Darwin's natural selection, the importance of randomness has been to some extent overshadowed. Bonner shows how the effects of randomness differ for organisms of different sizes, and how the smaller an organism is, the more likely it is that morphological differences will be random and selection may not be involved to any degree. He traces the increase in size and complexity of organisms over geological time, and looks at the varying significance of randomness at different size levels, from microorganisms to large mammals. Bonner also discusses how sexual cycles vary depending on size and complexity, and how the trend away from randomness in higher forms has even been reversed in some social organisms.
Certain to provoke lively discussion, Randomness in Evolution is a book that may fundamentally change our understanding of evolution and the history of life.
©2013 Princeton University Press. (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
My biology background went as far as a couple of college (survey level) courses. I found this book readily understandable, and quite mind-opening. It wades right into questions such as, why and how do organisms become more complex and larger over time? What kinds of structures need to develop to make this possible, and how do these structures come into being? What effect does largeness and complexity have on the way mutation works? At what stage of an organism's development will a mutation (1) kill the organism, or (2) be incorporated as an "invention" into future generations of the organism, to its advantage? The mechanisms are very sensibly explained. I have a fascination with the topic of randomness too, and here the author takes distinctive stands. Many days, after glazing over on finance, law and history topics in audiobooks, I love to switch to this book and suddenly change how I am thinking and what I am noticing in my world.
While natural selection is the primary driving force of evolution, John Tyler Bonner does a wonderful job of reminding us that there is indeed randomness in evolution and it is often forgotten about or overlooked. He presents his argument well in concise, clear, and original thoughts which I found very refreshing. Having listened to and read a good amount of books on evolution and evolutionary biology, Bonner is a must read/listen for anyone interested in the subject.
I thought the narrator did an alright job though at times his voice did not really fit with the subject. Some words he overemphasized when it was not needed and came off as forced. It was not too distracting or detracting but could have been better.
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