What we do and do not know about evolution, by one of the field's pioneering thinkers.
Evolution is the most important idea in biology, with implications that go far beyond science. But despite more than a century's progress in understanding, there is still widespread confusion about what evolution is, how it works and why it is the only plausible mechanism that can account for the remarkable diversity of life on Earth.
Now, for the first time in a book aimed at a general audience, one of the founding fathers of modern biology tells us what we know - and what we do not know - about evolution. In showing how evolution has gone from theory to fact, he explores various controversial fads and fallacies such as punctuated equilibrium, the selfish-gene theory and evolutionary psychology. He ends by looking at what we know about human evolution and how, in turn, this knowledge has affected the way in which we view ourselves and the world.
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, 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.