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What is evolution, and what sort of explanation does it provide for the

diversity of life on our planet? Those are important questions, but


especially so for the United States, where so few people understand
what evolution is and so many simply reject it outright, generally
because of their religious convictions.
Summary
Title: Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
Author: Carl Zimmer
Publisher: Harpercollins
ISBN: 0060199067
Pro:
Basic history of Darwin covered in depth
Current uses of evolution discussed and explained
Nature of evolutionary theory explained clearly
Con:
Chapter on religion needed more
Description:
History and science and evolution covered
Multiple other resources can go with the book
Many chapters on specific topics in evolution and science
Book Review
In an effort to dispel misconceptions and provide the public with a better understanding of
evolution, PBS created a week-long television series covering the great scope of
evolution from its early development under Darwin down through contemporary debates.
Along with this series HarperCollins has published a companion volume written by
science journalist Carl Zimmer.
There are many complexities to the theory of evolution, and those complexities have only
grown as the theory has been refined and developed over time. Nevertheless, it is possible
to make evolutionary theory understandable to the average person, and Zimmer succeeds
at that remarkably well. This may look simply like a coffee table book like so many
companion volumes, but it really contains a wealth of information.
Zimmer begins, appropriately enough, with Charles Darwin and the very early
development of his theories. The description of Darwins intellectual progress, both
during his time on the Beagle and in the years after he returned home, is very engaging.
But what is especially good is Zimmers discussion of Darwins doubts. Throughout the
years he worked on his ideas, Darwin was afraid of alienating his mentors, his family, and
British society. How he worked through those fears, and why he eventually published,
make for a fascinating story.
But of course the book isnt only about Darwin, it is also about the science of
evolutionary theory which has progressed quite a bit since Darwins day. To that end,
Zimmer explores the many ways in which evolution is known to work and how modern
science has become dependent upon it as an organizing principle.
One of the most effective sections in this regard is the one dealing with disease. By
casting more light onto the nature of parasites, bacteria and viruses, the power of
evolution is more easily demonstrated. Modern medical science would be unthinkable
without the assumption of evolution. Just as important is the fact that the evolution of
disease-causing agents is one of the easiest ways for people to understand how evolution
works:
The coevolution between parasites and hosts has not faded into historys fog. It
continues every day, and we humans are a subject of one of the newest experiments in
host-parasite coevolution. We are trying to artificially improve our defense against
bacteria with antibiotics, and its becoming abundantly clear that were in danger of
losing this arms race.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer
After all, it isnt hard for most people to grasp the idea that if they dont take enough
medicine to kill all of a strain of bacteria, the ones left behind are the ones which were
least susceptible to the medicine. If they reproduce, their offspring will have greater
resistance to medicine, resulting in a strain of bacteria which is stronger and harder to kill.
More than a lesson in science, this is a very real medical problem because resistant strains
of diseases are appearing all over the world as microbes work to catch up in the medical
arms race. But whereas we usually hear about how it works against us, sometimes we
evolve and this works in our favor. For example, Stephen OBrien, a virologist at the
National Cancer Institute, has done research which indicates that the Black Death in
Europe may have put enough selective pressure on Europeans to spread a genetic
mutation which today confers immunity against AIDS.