A bold and persuasive alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory.




An author presents a revision of neo-Darwinian evolution and a new understanding of human life. 

Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking work on evolution still casts a wide-reaching shadow over contemporary science, but in many ways to its detriment, argues Ambrose Mitchell (Student Manual, 2016, etc.). Darwin overemphasized the inheritance of superficial traits like color and, by extension, assumed that anatomical traits were passed on in the same way. In the last quarter of the 19th century, advances in microscopic technology led to the detection of chromosomes, and it was assumed that what Darwin meant as inheritable traits were transmitted through these. And since chromosomes come from both male and female parents in sexual reproduction, it was always thought that the entirety of evolution is a consequence of the male and female union. In the 1950s, this view was revised so that the inheritable traits were understood to be contained within the DNA molecules of the genes out of which chromosomes were constructed. Therefore, genes were the fundamental building blocks of all life. The celebrated scientist Francis Crick called this the “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.” Ambrose Mitchell counters that the evidence strongly suggests that the elemental particle of evolution is really the ATPase, an enzyme found in the mitochondria of every known life form. The author also makes the case that all evolution is female and that all anatomy is ultimately generated from the female, a fact obscured by the misplaced focus on chromosomes. This is a remarkably rigorous and erudite study, painstakingly written over a decade. Ambrose Mitchell is refreshingly dismissive of prevailing intellectual conventions and makes a convincing argument that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of evolution is superior in certain decisive respects to Darwin’s. He also explains the ways in which the reliance on a genetic interpretation of nature has been not only intellectually misguided, but also practically damaging (for example, with respect to experts’ understanding of disease). And in one of the more philosophical chapters, he discusses the uniqueness of the human mind—“we are the life form with issues”—with admirable nuance and accessible lucidity.

A bold and persuasive alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory. 

Pub Date: June 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5485-9267-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.


Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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