Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Introducing Evolution: a graphic guide – Dylan Evans & Howard Selina ***

It is almost impossible to rate these relentlessly hip books – they are pure marmite*. The huge Introducing … series (a vast range of books covering everything from Quantum Theory to Islam), previously known as … for Beginners, puts across the message in a style that owes as much to Terry Gilliam and pop art as it does to popular science. Pretty well every page features large graphics with speech bubbles that are supposed to emphasise the point.
It is easy for the reader to get a little confused about which book to go for here as you can also choose Introducing Evolutionary Psychology and Introducing Darwin, the latter of which has significant overlaps with the current book. Of the two, I’d say this was probably the better choice for getting the basics of evolution – although both feature Darwin’s life and work, this covers the science better and makes better use of the illustrated ‘Introducing’ format.
The text flows nicely and the book works well as an introduction to the subject. It isn’t limited to the pure consideration of evolution by natural selection but also takes in the implications and the difficulties – so, for example, you will find quite a bit on altruism, which at first sight seems at odds with the concept of natural selection. I would have liked to see more on speciation, which is one of the areas of evolution that is less clear (even most creationists accept variations within species this way), and I was very surprised not to find a reference to evo devo (evolutionary development) in a book that is a lot more modern than the Darwin title.
The images are always important in one of these books and many of them here work well, though I found the ape-headed human used as a guide was a joke that became tired rather quickly. Overall a solid addition to the series though not an outstanding one.
*Marmite? If you are puzzled by this assessment, you probably aren’t from the UK. Marmite is a yeast-based product (originally derived from beer production waste) that is spread on bread/toast. It’s something people either love or hate, so much so that the company has run very successful TV ad campaigns showing people absolutely hating the stuff…
Review by Brian Clegg

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