Skip to main content

Exploring Evolution – Michael Alan Park ***

In this heavily illustrated hardback, (part of the same series as my Exploring the Universe) small enough to be readable in a way that coffee table book isn’t, but big enough to have some dramatic pictures, Michael Alan Park takes a look at evolution and its context.
The book begins with the age of the Earth and how it has changed over time, takes us through the basics of genetics and its relevance to evolution, examines the way species change over time – and how new species emerge – gives us a chapter with a particular focus on humans (we can’t help but be interested in humans!) and looks at the challenges to evolution from creationism and intelligent design. The final chapter, ‘How has the theory of evolution influenced modern society’ tries to put evolution into the context of its everyday significance, a difficult thing to do that doesn’t quite come off, so it’s an unfortunate ending.
Overall the content is fine – sometimes a little phrased the way an academic rather than a good writer would, but there’s nothing too obscure or incomprehensible. And the images are often stunning, full colour, glossy pages and well presented. It’s certainly a handsome and attractive book. There are one or two bits of the science that could be done better. In the genetics section it’s rather dismissive of the 98% of DNA that’s noncoding, where in reality, the more we learn about it, the more significant it is, showing that genes on their own really don’t tell the story.
I also think the key points about evolution that Dawkins brings out so well in his The Magic of Reality don’t really come across. One of the best bits in Dawkins book was where he imagines the whole pile of photos of ancestors for any individual and points out how each individual is the same species as its parents – you never see a species change from generation to generation – which really gets around a lot of the problems some people have with evolution. On the other hand, Park does a lovely reversal of the clockmaker analogy in his creationism section, pointing out that a clock is, in effect, evolved – because the clockmaker doesn’t design all the parts from scratch, but rather uses and adapts existing parts and mechanisms. That was brilliant.
Overall it’s an attractive book with some great illustrations.
Hardback (despite what Amazon says):  
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…