DARWIN'S SPECTRE by Michael R. Rose

DARWIN'S SPECTRE

Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ironically, Rose (Evolutionary Biology/Univ. of Calif., Irvine) invokes the image of a hovering Darwinian ghost in this altogether rational, absorbing account of the past 150 years of Darwinism. His three-part analysis first addresses the origins of the ideas we call Darwinism; next, its applications; and finally, what Darwinism may or may not contribute to our understanding of human nature. Part one places the theory of natural selection into the context of Darwin’s life—and the familiar influences of family, Malthus, and Erasmus (included are unfamiliar tales of Erasmus’s prodigious feats of paternity!). The rediscovery of Mendelism at the turn of the century led to furious disputes between mutationists and biometricians who espoused Darwin’s erroneous theory of blending inheritance. Rose touches on the theory of kin selection, epitomized by insect societies, and introduces a number of game theoretic principles in discussions of intraspecies male-male competition. Part two deals with the seldom discussed importance of Darwinism in animal and plant breeding; the evils of eugenics; and the implications of evolutionary biology for medicine. Rose’s own research figures here: he has demonstrated that forced delays in the reproduction of a population of fruit flies over a dozen generations led to doubling the lifespan—presumably, by forcing natural selection to work harder to keep the older flies fit until they could reproduce. Part three is the most speculative, as Rose ponders questions of brain size, the origin of values and religion, and the various attempts of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology to ground human behavior in genetics and selection-driven behavioral strategies. Discussion here is limited to how people act in the contexts of marketplace economics and political ideology; missing are any references to our urges to create art or science, to love or sacrifice. No doubt opponents will argue that Rose, for all his rationality, has put a Darwinian ghost in the machine. Be that as it may, he makes an excellent case for the importance of evolutionary biology to all of science.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-691-01217-2
Page count: 227pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998




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