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About Evolutionary Theory

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

-- Charles Darwin, ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 6th ed., p. 429

So just what is this thing called "evolution?" Everyone has heard of it, but what actually is it? What does it say? Where did it come from? What does it mean? Why do scientists accept it as valid? The books listed on this page will (I hope) help you answer these questions.

Because of the way I got interested in the subject, my approach to studying evolution is sort of like the Blind Men and the Elephant in that no one of these books will give you the whole story, but when you put them all together I think you'll have a pretty good mental image of the theory and what it says. And also what it doesn't say, which in some ways is just as important.

What is evolutionary theory?

The theory of evolution is one of the most-often-misunderstood topics in all of science. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in learning about evolution, no matter which direction you're coming to it from, read these books first. You may or may not agree with the theory, but you will at least know what it is and what it says.

  • ANIMAL SPECIES AND THEIR EVOLUTION
    Author: Cain, A. J.
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-691-02098-1
    Reprint of a 1950s work on animal species, how they are defined and how they evolve from parent stocks. Focuses heavily on "spectrum species" in birds and insects. This book is considered a classic of evolutionary theory, and rightly so in my opinion. Cain does a very good job of explaining the complexities of species: how do you define a species, and how fuzzy a species definition can get around the edges.
  • AT THE WATER'S EDGE: MACROEVOLUTION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF LIFE
    Author: Zimmer, Carl
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Free Press
    ISBN: 0-684-83490-1
    A brilliantly written look at two well-documented episodes of macroevolution, or major evolutionary changes in specific lines of descent. The first one is the emergence of amphibious vertebrates from fish; the second is the evolution of whales from land mammals. In each case, Zimmer draws on a variety of evidence -- fossils, genetics, anatomical studies, etc. -- to show how the change was accomplished.
  • BEAK OF THE FINCH, THE
    Author: Weiner, Jonathan
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Vintage Books
    ISBN: 0-679-73337-X
    A comprehensive study of the evolutionary process in action. Focuses primarily on Peter and Rosemary Grant's research among Galapagos finches, but also touches on insects and guppies, among others.
  • BLUEPRINTS: SOLVING THE MYSTERY OF EVOLUTION
    Author: Maitland Edey & Don Johanson
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Penguin Books
    ISBN: 0-14-013265-1
    Overview of the development of evolutionary theory, from Linnaeus to Darwin, through the development of Mendelian genetics, to today. Ends with a look at ideas on hominid evolution circa 1988.
  • DARWINISM EVOLVING
    Author: Depew and Weber
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: MIT Press
    ISBN: 0-262-54083-5
    This book is an overview of the history of evolutionary theory from Darwin on. It's intended to be used as an undergraduate college text, and is written to that level.
  • FROM SO SIMPLE A BEGINNING
    Author: Whitfield, Stephen
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: MacMillan Publishing
    ISBN: 0-02-038304-5
    Overview of evolutionary theory and the origin and development of Life.over time.

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The history of evolutionary theory

In recent years, several very good books have been published that provide overviews of the whole history of evolutionary theory. Here are a few of them.

  • DARWIN'S CENTURY: EVOLUTION AND THE MEN WHO DISCOVERED IT
    Author: Eiseley, Loren
    Copyright:1958
    Publisher: Doubleday & Co.
    ISBN:

  • DISCOVERY OF EVOLUTION, THE
    Author: Young, David
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-521-43587-0
    Another history of evolutionary theory and its powers for explaining the natural world. This one is written for the layman who starts with little knowledge of biology.
  • EVOLUTION: THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA
    Author: Bowler, Peter J.
    Copyright:1984
    Publisher: Univ. of California Press
    ISBN: 0-520-04890-3

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Old books about evolutionary theory

I've been lucky enough to find a few very old (as science books go) books about evolutionary theory. It's rather surprising to find that while the information in these books have largely been superseded by more recent discoveries, the basics of evolutionary theory actually haven't changed very much at all.

  • EVOLUTION AND ANIMAL LIFE
    Author: Jordan and Kellogg
    Copyright:1908
    Publisher: D. Appleton & Co.
    ISBN:
    A textbook of evolutionary theory as it was formulated in 1908.
  • EVOLUTION IN ACTION
    Author: Huxley, Julian
    Copyright:1953
    Publisher: Signet
    ISBN:
    A thin paperback book containing some of Huxley's ideas on evolution. Julian Huxley was the grandson of "Darwin's Bulldog," Thomas Henry Huxley, and was just as outspoken as his grandfather was.
  • EVOLUTION, GENETICS, AND MAN
    Author: Dobzhansky, Theodosius
    Copyright:1955
    Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
    ISBN:

  • MATERIAL BASIS OF EVOLUTION, THE
    Author: Goldschmidt, Richard
    Copyright:1940
    Publisher: Yale Univ. Press
    ISBN:
    Richard Goldschmidt's masterwork on his view of evolutionary theory. On the whole, a fairly good look at evolutionary theory circa 1940. Like any other circa-1940 biology book, some of it has survived the test of time and new findings, and much of it hasn't. Goldschmidt was a top-flight geneticist for his time, with a remarkable level of intuition concerning the aspects of genetics that weren't yet known. Unfortunately, the book is often remembered mainly for Goldschmidt's flawed "hopeful monster" hypothesis, though this takes up only a couple of pages.
  • MEANING OF EVOLUTION, THE
    Author: Simpson, George Gaylord
    Copyright:1949
    Publisher: Yale Univ. Press
    ISBN:

  • MODERN BIOLOGY AND THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION
    Author: Wasmann, Erich
    Copyright:1910
    Publisher: Paul, Trench, Turner, & C
    ISBN:
    Translated English verison of Wasmann's textbook on biology and evolution as it was being taught in Germany at the turn of the century.
  • TEXTBOOK OF EVOLUTION AND GENETICS
    Author: Lindsey, Arthur
    Copyright:1929
    Publisher: MacMillan
    ISBN:
    Another textbook on evolutionary theory as of the early 20th century. This one is from a genetic standpoint, reflecting what biologists had learned in thirty years of experimenting with genes.

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The synthetic theory of evolution

In the 1950s, the new science of population biology was combined with genetics and Darwin's ideas on natural selection to create the synthetic theory of evolution, also known as the neo-Darwinian synthesis. These books were written during that time-period and help illustrate this great transformation of evolutionary theory.

  • ADAPTATION AND NATURAL SELECTION
    Author: Williams, George C.
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-691-02615-7
    Reprint of George Williams's classic work on the nature of adaptation.
  • COEVOLUTIONARY PROCESS, THE
    Author: Thompson, John N.
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press
    ISBN: 0-226-79760-0
    A look at how organisms can co-evolve, such as insects and the flowers they feed on.
  • EVOLUTION: Readings from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1978
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-1066-8
    Reprint of all articles from the September 1978 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

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Recent books about evolution

Of course, progress in evolutionary theory didn't stop with the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It's continued to advance ever since. Every new discovery in genetics, biochemistry, ecology, and wildlife biology improves our understanding of evolutionary theory. These are a few recent books that document some of these recent developments.

  • DARWINISM DEFENDED
    Author: Ruse, Michael
    Copyright:1982
    Publisher: Addison-Wesley
    ISBN: 0-201-06273-9

  • DIVERSITY OF LIFE, THE
    Author: Wilson, Edward O.
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-31047-7

  • MAJOR TRANSITIONS IN EVOLUTION
    Author: Maynard Smith & Szathmary
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Bell & Bain
    ISBN: 0-7167-4525-9

  • NEW EVOLUTIONARY TIMETABLE, THE
    Author: Stanley, Steven
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Basic Books, Inc.
    ISBN: 0-465-05013-1
    Intro to Stanley's ideas on evolution. Stanley is from the same school as Gould and Eldredge, and strongly pushes a punctuated equilibrium model of evolution.
  • TEMPO AND MODE IN EVOLUTION
    Author: Fitch & Ayala
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: National Academy Press
    ISBN: 0-309-05191-6
    A collection of journal-quality papers on evolutionary tempo. Intended as a revisit to George Gaylord Simpson's book of the same name, published fifty years ago.
  • UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION, 5th EDITION
    Author: Volpe, E. Peter
    Copyright:1985
    Publisher: Wm. C. Brown
    ISBN: 0-697-04944-2

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