Cover image for What evolution is
What evolution is
Mayr, Ernst, 1904-2005.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xv, 318 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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QH366.2 .M3933 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH366.2 .M3933 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH366.2 .M3933 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH366.2 .M3933 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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At once a spirited defense of Darwinian explanations of biology and an elegant primer on evolution for the general reader, What Evolution Is has several audiences in mind: those scientists and nonscientists who accept evolutionary thinking but do not know exactly how it works, and those who accept evolution but are not sure the Darwinian explanation is correct.With rare clarity, Mayr poses the questions at the heart of evolution-What is the evidence for evolution on earth? What is the origin and role of organic diversity?-and describes in refreshingly nontechnical language how the search for answers has over the years revealed solutions to the most challenging problems posed by evolutionary theory. In a provocative final section, Mayr considers how our improved understanding of evolution has affected the viewpoints and values of modern man.

Author Notes

Ernst Mayr is Professor Emeritus in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Almost 150 years after Origin of Species, the edifice of evolutionary science still rests securely on the foundation Darwin laid. A pioneer in using modern genetics to enlarge that science, Mayr guides his readers through the entire evolutionary structure, from paleontology to chromosomal chronology. But what will perhaps most surprise nonspecialists is not the latest research but rather the astonishing durability of Darwin's original theory. Indeed, it will come as news to most readers that Darwin's theory--actually a composite of five theories--won complete acceptance only in the second Darwinian revolution of the 1940s, when scientists finally rejected evolutionary discontinuities in favor of gradual change in biopopulations. Since that belated second revolution, biologists have acquired powerful new tools for peering into evolutionary transformations at the molecular level. Yet in Mayr's marvelously lucid explanations of these recent advances, he fits everything within the sturdy premises of the Darwinian paradigm. But for all of the enduring explanatory power of Darwinism, Mayr still confronts stubborn mysteries: Why, for instance, do living fossils (like the horseshoe crabs) not evolve? And how did high intelligence and idealistic altruism appear among those strange creatures called humans? The general reader will find no better guide to evolutionary thought. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

At age 97, Ernst Mayr is one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century, and here he delivers yet another valuable addition to the field of evolutionary theory. Mayr, who was also a curator at the American Museum of Natural History for two decades, guides lay readers through evolutionary thought from the book of Genesis and creationist theory through Darwin's theories and "soft" evolution and on to more contemporary, inclusive concepts. He takes readers on a whirlwind voyage from the scala naturae (the Great Chain of Being, in which everything in the world was accorded a position in a developmental hierarchy) to Mayr's own work, which builds on Darwinian theory and environmental factors. No one but Mayr could explain evolution so well, and though the text is peppered with many scientific terms, overall the author is triumphant in his goal to teach "first and foremost... biologist or not, [anyone] who simply wants to know more about evolution." While many authors suggest their tomes are the authoritative source, Mayr remains humble, reminding readers that "many details remain controversial." And the combination of his expertise, his elegant prose and the sheer pleasure of so many enthralling facts (the 145-million-year-old Archaeopteryx is a near perfect link between reptiles and birds, for example) means that studying the fossil record has rarely been so absorbing. Appendixes answer FAQs and respond to various objections to evolutionary theory, while a glossary offers entries from acoelomate to zygote. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mayr (emeritus, Harvard Univ.; This Is Biology) has written a clear, comprehensive, and very informative introduction to the theory of evolution. He offers major insights into taxonomy, adaptation, common descent, biodiversity, and those mechanisms of organic evolution that result in the process of speciation. His analysis points out important contributions that molecular biology and population thinking have made to both understanding and appreciating modern Darwinism. Mayr stresses that an individual organism is the unit of natural selection, while a population is the unit of biological evolution. He rejects essentialism (typology), creationism, and teleology (orthogenesis) and gives much attention to the various aspects of macroevolution. Other topics discussed include extinction, mosaic evolution, exobiology, and the roles that both chance and necessity play in organic evolution. Of special interest is a chapter on human evolution. Mayr presents the empirical evidence substantiating hominid evolution, as well as the most recent scientific interpretation for the emergence of our species over the past five million years from an apelike ancestral group in Africa. This significant contribution to science will be of enormous value to anyone interested in evolution. Strongly recommended for all academic and public library science collections. H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mayr is a renowned evolutionary biologist (emer., Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard), author of many books about evolutionary biology, and staunch defender of the 20th-century Darwinian synthesis. He wrote this book to provide a broad introduction to evolutionary biology for educated readers. Though a basic knowledge of biology is a great benefit to anyone reading about evolution, a worthwhile glossary and a didactic style, presented clearly as possible, make this challenging subject accessible to a wide audience without oversimplifying the material. Creationism is not refuted in detail; in place of such a discussion, a list of anticreationist books is offered in the first chapter. Also included are appendixes giving brief answers to criticisms of evolution and frequently asked questions about evolution. Books on evolution abound. For instance, Mark Ridley's Evolution (2nd ed., 1996; 1st ed., CH, Apr'94) is a more in-depth work suitable for undergraduate biology students. Carl Zimmer's Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, companion book to a PBS miniseries, is popular science with more of a historical treatment. Zimmer's work is well suited for public libraries. Mayr's is strongly recommended for academic libraries and recommended for public libraries. General readers; lower-division undergraduates. J. Cummings Washington State University

Table of Contents

Jared M. Diamond
Forewordp. vii
Prefacep. xiii
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part I What Is Evolution?
1 In What Kind of a World Do We Live?p. 3
2 What Is the Evidence for Evolution on Earth?p. 12
3 The Rise of the Living Worldp. 40
Part II How Are Evolutionary Change and Adaptedness Explained?
4 How and Why Does Evolution Take Place?p. 73
5 Variational Evolutionp. 83
6 Natural Selectionp. 115
7 Adaptedness and Natural Selection: Anagenesisp. 147
Part III Origin and Evolution of Diversity: Cladogenesis
8 The Units of Diversity: Speciesp. 161
9 Speciationp. 174
10 Macroevolutionp. 188
Part IV Human Evolution
11 How Did Mankind Evolve?p. 233
12 The Frontiers of Evolutionary Biologyp. 265
Appendix A What Criticisms Have Been Made of Evolutionary Theory?p. 269
Appendix B Short Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Evolutionp. 274
Glossaryp. 283
Bibliographyp. 293
Indexp. 304