Wood explores the evolution of evolutionary theory and its connection to humans’ tendency to over-reproduce.
Wood proceeds step-by-step as he investigates our understanding of the world and the heavens, starting at the very basic—atomic structure, electromagnetism, animism, starry myths—and steadily accruing all the discoveries, conjectures, leaps of faith, inspired guesses, serendipities and theory building that led to the creation of evolutionary theory. He moves, at times breathlessly but with a sense of excitement and a touch of humor, from wild speculation to empiricism to theories based on an understanding of fundamental processes. Along the way, he points out the impediment of empirical illusion and smartly poses the who, what, where, when, how and why of his subjects. Though his intent is to not overburden the reader with detail, there is a monumental amount of material to cover and times arise when more particulars would have grounded the reader’s appreciation. Writing, “The Leyden jar solved the electricity storage problem by allowing the storage of large amounts of static electricity inside a compact object,” is a rickety infrastructure of understanding upon which to build. Considering the speed at which the author is traveling, there are inevitable mistakes—“the average man is 69 centimeters tall”—and confusions—how is it that species survival doesn’t require food or oxygen, and are not weeds and cockroaches as circumstantially “the ultimate development of evolution’s mandate to maximize the probability of species survival” as humans?—but they in no measure compromise the momentum Wood generates in documenting the power of evolutionary theory, the roles of reproductive variability and the consequences of the survival filter in the evolutionary generation process. Wood also manages to undercut creationism and intelligent design along the way. His suggestion that our species’ atypical sex drive feeds overpopulation is well reasoned, clearly presented and, importantly, falsifiable.
A prismatic and capacious story of evolution and why the imperative of species survival may lead to calamity.