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The Fact of EvolutionReview - The Fact of Evolution
by Cameron M. Smith
Prometheus Books, 2011
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Aug 28th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 35)

The Fact of Evolution is a book about evolution.  The author, Cameron M. Smith, is a prehistorian in the Department of Anthropology, at Portland State University.  Smith states forthrightly, in the book's "Foreword", that evolution is a fact (not a theory).  The reader learns, in the "Introduction", that "evolution", as the term is used by Smith, is the consequence of three independent facts of the natural world.  Namely, the fact that life forms have offspring (replication); the fact that offspring are not identical (variation); and the fact that some offspring pass more of their genes to the next generation than others (selection).  Smith informs the reader, in the "Preface", that he will specifically avoid discussing human genetics, choosing to focus, instead, on the genetics of many nonhuman life forms.

The book's substance is quite adorned, intellectually, with research referenced materials.  Citations for copious research materials are given in a "Notes" section, placed structurally after the last chapter.  Many of the Notes offer intellectually illumining, annotated comment.

The research strength of the book is buttressed additionally by a "Bibliography" (structurally following the Notes), providing citations for multitudinous research materials (alphabetized by author last name; and germane substantively to the study of evolution).

After the Bibliography is a structural section ("Websites for More on Evolution"), identifying some evolution centric websites with accompanying annotated comment.

Some "Figures" add materially to the substantive strength of the book.

The book is further enhanced, didactically, by the inclusion of some "Tables".

Notably, numerous snippets, in the form of quotes, contribute importantly to the instructiveness of the book's substantive composition.

The book's substance is notable, also, for its, characteristically, instructively informative discourse.  Typically, Smith comments informatively and expertly, with the commentary tethered to a considerable multitude of research materials pertinent to evolution.  The review efforts of Smith, concerning these materials, show much erudition.

Cautious readers, without intent to be churlish, may opine cautiously that Smith  does not scrutinize the research field of evolution in fully comprehensive fashion; and that other experts, looking closely at this same field, may possibly see something different.

A further cautionary note that may be sounded is that Smith gamely walks an intellectual tightrope  between presenting science that is overly diluted (for readers who are scientists), and science that is not diluted enough (for lay readers).

But treading doughtily, Smith certainly expertly traverses considerable substantive ground in the region of evolution.

The substantive emphasis, of Chapter 2, is on the fact of "replication" (which, according to Smith, is the first fact of the evolutionary process).

In Chapter 3, Smith focuses readers' attention sharply on the fact that offspring differ from their parents and also from their siblings (what Smith terms as the fact of "variation").

The fact of selection forms the substantive cynosure, of Chapter 4.  As the term is used by Smith, "selection" means that not all members of a population will have the same number of offspring.

The intellectual flashlight of Smith, in Chapter 5, shines intellectually enlightening light on the appearance of new life forms (described, by Smith, as the fact of "speciation").  Some examples of  speciation, falling within Smith's scope of discussion, appertain to:  salamanders, mosquitoes, clam worms, fruit flies, sticklebacks, cichlids, monkeyflowers, and plankton.

The thematic emphasis, of Chapter 7, is on "evolution in action", with selected examples extending to:  meerkats, wasps, cockroaches, hermit crabs, hummingbirds, guppies, oceanic viruses, echolocation (regarding bats and whales), sea lions, cichlids, microbes, and cave fish.

In penultimate Chapter 8, Smith opens an intellectual window, revealing a "mirror house" of discoveries and details linked to evolution.  In this frame, particular topics falling within Smith's intellectual ken encompass:  molecular genetics, horizontal gene transfer, phenotypic plasticity, ancient DNA recovery, mutagenesis, developmental evolutionary biology, and co evolution.

Concluding Chapter 9, in the enframing context of evolution, takes a look at how the human mind works, as seen through the critically discerning eyes of Smith.

All persons with an interest in evolution surely will benefit greatly from a close reading of Smith's important contribution to improved understanding of evolution.

In the professional realm, biologists and geneticists may especially be enamored intellectually of Smith's intellectual toil.

 

© 2012 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.  Twitter @LeoUzych


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