David P. Mindell - The Evolving World

"You have learned to doubt, and any man who can do so has a great advantage over the other who believes implicitly ... According to one of your authors, the knowledge acquired with a critical mind and by comparing the truthfulness of opposed opinions is certainly the most reliable because it is based on our reason and not on the prejudices of birth." -- Benoit de Maillet in the Telliamed as quoted on page 38
The Evolving World may be a mildly interesting book to someone who is just beginning to study evolution or who wants to read about a few of the issues in the religion/science clashes. However, there are far better books out there for either topic. The writing here is frequently muddy or disjointed. As someone who has read many books on evolution, I don't feel like I personally pulled much new information from this book.

As Michael Ruse states on the back cover of this book, "David Mindell is passionate about the science of evolution...," but that doesn't mean he is the most eloquent writer on the topic. I'm also currently reading Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, and that book is so much more enjoyable to read--not to mention the fact that it is far more illuminating even though it was written long before this one. At times, Mindell tries too hard; perhaps he is too passionate to write in a more objective and well-reasoned format.

Mindell isn't shy when it comes to criticizing religion. He will likely be either preaching to the choir or offending the religious with the manner in which he does it though. For instance, one quote that I enjoyed (but a believer in the Bible probably won't) is when he describes the Bible being, "principles of ideal behavior, actual behavior, and a moral authority combined in one chaotic package with many loose ends." (p. 211) I suppose he could have made it more offensive to a believer by saying that the "ideal behavior" isn't even ideal.

I wonder how many of his facts (especially regarding religion) aren't right on though. For example, his discussion of Mormonism (p. 241-242) contains several errors:

Mindell didn't reference where he got his information for this discussion on Mormonism, but four errors in just one paragraph is pretty bad.

In the chapter entitled "The Role of Evolution in Court and Classroom," Mindell brings up the "sexy" topic of DNA forensics. Although the subject was interesting, and this was one of the few parts of the book in which I did learn a thing or two, it doesn't really have anything to do with evolution. The discussion centered on DNA fingerprinting and life histories of organisms (necrophagous species to be exact). Intriguing stuff, but not "Evolution in Court."

Overall, I was more disappointed than pleased with The Evolving World. The book is not wholly without merit, but a good co-author or some quality reviewers could have made it much better.

from the publisher:
In the 150 years since Darwin, evolutionary biology has proven as essential as it is controversial, a critical concept for answering questions about everything from the genetic code and the structure of cells to the reproduction, development, and migration of animal and plant life. But today, as David P. Mindell makes undeniably clear in The Evolving World, evolutionary biology is much more than an explanatory concept. It is indispensable to the world we live in. This book provides the first truly accessible and balanced account of how evolution has become a tool with applications that are thoroughly integrated, and deeply useful, in our everyday lives and our societies, often in ways that we do not realize.

When we domesticate wild species for agriculture or companionship; when we manage our exposure to pathogens and prevent or control epidemics; when we foster the diversity of species and safeguard the functioning of ecosystems: in each of these cases, Mindell shows us, evolutionary biology applies. It is at work when we recognize that humans represent a single evolutionary family with variant cultures but shared biological capabilities and motivations. And last but not least, we see here how evolutionary biology comes into play when we use knowledge of evolution to pursue justice within the legal system and to promote further scientific discovery through education and academic research.

More than revealing evolution's everyday uses and value, The Evolving World demonstrates the excitement inherent in its applications--and convinces us as never before that evolutionary biology has become absolutely necessary for human existence.