Book Review: Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of EvolutionImprobable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Professor Losos has done a very interesting job of trying to elucidate historical and modern convergent evolution studies and experiments in a manner that the layperson can understand based on some excellent examples, many of which have been known and available for study for a good p0rtion of the 19th and 20th centuries. As a Biologist and educator I found the entire book to be full of the kind of examples that would be extremely helpful to the professional teacher to bring variety and interest into the classroom when elaborating on sections of evolutionary biology at both the high school and college levels of study. Thus it is well worth buying and reading. I do have two criticisms of the author’s uses of terminology in his writing. First, I note that Losos does not from the get-go make it clear that his plethora of initial developmental similarities are more likely due to similar plastic materials (read, vertebrate DNA sequences) being similarly shaped or selected for by a common mold (read, similar environmental pressures) to arrive at similar endpoints (read, streamlining of water vertebrates, wing construction of flying vertebrates, camouflaged colors, etc.). Thus the non-biologist reader needs to be careful not to misinterpret Losos’ examples as evidences of Teleology, ie., evidences of some grand planned design in nature. A Theist could go halfway through the book reading his information as the indication of the directional guiding hand of God leading to big brain humans. This was not the author’s intention. Secondly, I would criticize Losos’ tendency to state some of his examples in the terms of Lamark’s theory of acquired characteristics (of dogs evolving longer legs or camouflaged colors to escape a predatory tiger population, rather than a population of dogs being selected naturally over time for longer legs or camouflaged colors due to a predator’s actions.). Again this does not destroy the whole nature of an excellent work of pulling together evidence and research for how convergent evolution works. With these two caveats in mind, I rate this book as an excellent read for both professionals and lay persons desiring to broaden their understanding of one of the mechanisms of evolution.

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