Not the easiest book to digest, given the depth of the author’s scholarship and the mental leaps he makes, but an...

THE EVOLUTIONARY WORLD

HOW ADAPTATION EXPLAINS EVERYTHING FROM SEASHELLS TO CIVILIZATION

A transcendent view of evolution as adaptation, not only accounting for the origin of species but as the force that can explain the accumulation of knowledge, economies and civilization itself.

Darwin studied finches for clues; Edward O. Wilson studied ant societies. For naturalist Vermeij (Geology/Univ. California, Davis; Nature: An Economic History, 2004, etc.), snails and other mollusks have been the great teachers. The Dutch-born author, blind since age three, has travelled the world studying extant and fossil snails (and many other lineages). They illustrate for him how adaptation involves the feedback an organism gets from competitive and cooperative interactions in a given environment, shaping the selection process by which the organism survives and propagates—or not. Consequently, clam shells are thicker in a more predatory environment, and snails have honed survival mechanisms such as spines that make them hard to hold and are able to repair cracks. Those and countless other examples of prey-predator behaviors, mating strategies and responses to unpredictable challenges in marine, fresh water, island and continental environs reinforce the analogy Vermeij makes between adaptation and scientific hypothesis-making—endeavors that are provisional and subject to revision in light of new circumstances. The author draws on his immense background in geology and biology to develop surprising, and arguable, analogies between types of adaptation in nature and the development of language, legal systems and economies. He comes to grips with the role of humankind as top predator and exploiter, noting that for all the downside of global warming, in the long run it can create new opportunities and accelerate evolution. In the face of today’s loss of diversity and overconsumption of resources, our only hope is a change of values, he concludes, noting past progress with regard to slavery or child labor.

Not the easiest book to digest, given the depth of the author’s scholarship and the mental leaps he makes, but an exhilarating narrative that will surely invite debate.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-59108-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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