CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 34 . . . . May 7, 2010
This is a non-fiction text that describes the theory of Evolution. The text is divided into two parts, the first being more content driven and presented in a transmissive or textbook style, the second being more conversational or transactional whereby the author answers frequently asked questions posed by various people concerning the topic of Evolution.
In the first part of the text, the author develops the key ideas of the theory of Evolution. He begins with the discovery of fossils and notes that comparing fossils to present day animals is a way to see how living things have changed. This is followed by the important point that different fossils are found in different layers of rock – indicating that different animals lived at different times. After this, the author introduces Charles Darwin, his voyage to the Galapagos Islands, development of Darwin’s theory of Evolution, and cites the breeding of pigeons as a form of “selection” possibly similar to that which occurs in Nature. At this point, more detail and depth is given, noting how these changes would occur in individuals. He discusses terms such as DNA, genes, and mutations. The author uses the game “telephone” as an analogy for evolution with the ingredients for evolution being mutation and time. An example of natural selection, an important component of evolution, the case of the peppered moth in England, is given Keeping with the theme of mutations and time, the concept of how new species can emerge is discussed with the aid of a fictional example. Mutations are also compared to “tinkering” as in how a hot-rodder tinkers with older cars to create something new and improved. This is followed by sections entitled ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘limitations of evolution’, and ‘evolutionary compromises.’ Finally, in the last section of Part 1, the author focuses on the evolution of humans, how humans may have evolved and where, we as a species, may be going.
Part two of the text poses nine commonly asked questions concerning the topic of evolution. These include: ‘How do we know that evolution happens?’, ‘Where are the transitional fossils?’, ‘How could evolution produce something as complicated as my eye?’, ‘How could walking animals turn into flying animals?’, and ‘Isn’t the web of life too complex to have come about through evolution?’ to name a few. Each question is answered in detail, often giving an analogy so as to deepen the understanding of the reader. At the end of part two, the author, in answering the question, ‘What about religion?’, makes the case that, although many people would like to connect the discoveries and ideas of science to religious ideas, “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.”
The text is summarized by a brief section entitled ‘The majestic power of evolution’ where the author comments that ‘you,’ the reader of the text, are related to every living thing that has called the Earth ‘home.’
The theory of Evolution is one that can be difficult and controversial for students, teachers and parents. However, it is an accepted scientific theory and a part of most secondary school science curricula in Canada. This text explains the theory of Evolution in a way that may help introduce young readers to the concept or deepen their current understanding of the theory. It has a descriptive text, uses common analogies to aid in understanding possibly difficult aspects of the theory, and the graphics are frequently related to the accompanying text. The text has a multi-cultural feel in that the people asking the questions that are posed in the second part of the book are both male and female and are from a variety of different racial and age backgrounds. The glossary is short but defines the majority of the technical terms used in the text. The index is well done and useful.
Although the text is very good in describing the theory of Evolution, there are points in the book where the author makes comments that could imply that Evolution is more than a theory. For example, “…Charles Darwin revealed the solution to the mystery of evolution” (p. 7). He also makes the comment that Evolution is the most important idea in all of biology (p. 7). Such phrases may lead the reader into thinking that scientists completely understand the theory of Evolution which would be incorrect, else Evolution would be a principle or a law and not a theory. As well, it is a bit bold to claim that evolution is the most important idea in all of biology – biology is a huge field of study with other key discoveries.
This text could be read by a young reader for ‘fun.’ I also think that certain elements of the text could be assigned as supplemental reading material for middle school science curricula as the contents of the text are common to various provincial science curricula.
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