Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Making of the Fittest

The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution
304 pages
© 2006 Sean B. Carroll

Sean B. Carroll's The Making of the Fittest examines the genetics of evolution, relating to readers not only how changes come about and are transmitted to the next generation, but how our genes demonstrate the passing of an evolutionary river out of Eden with the same surety that the flattened plains of the midwest testify to the passing of glaciers eons ago. After detailing the myriad ways in which genetics illuminates the inner workings and history of evolution, Carroll casts a critical eye against proponents of intelligent design and creationism.  In the stressful, chaotic world which all organisms inhabit, where circumstances and relations between prey and predator are in a state of constant flux, there is no room for grand designs:  only on-the-hoof and on-the-fly jury-rigging to respond to a given moment's crisis will do. Making of the Fittest supplies readers with both broad principles (the evolutionary arms race, in which no species is ever the 'perfected' winner, only carrying temporary momentum in the battle for survival) and specific practices, like how complex organs are formed by cobbling together smaller ones.  Though a short-enough work, it seems more technical than many other works on biology, probably because it focuses on the nitty-gritty details of genetics: one chapter is called "The Everyday Math of Evolution", and concerns mutation rates. Though of interest to general science readers, a little genetic refresher might be helpful before starting in.  


  1. Some of these can be quite hard going - especially, if like me, you haven't got a science background. The last time I officially studied the 'hard' sciences was 37 years ago!

  2. On the other hand, not having a background keeps one from being stuck in antiquated paradigms -- a lot of genetics and physics is very new!

  3. sc said: On the other hand, not having a background keeps one from being stuck in antiquated paradigms...

    Very true, though hopefully if we have a scientific 'bent' our minds will be open enough to redraw our world picture as required. Of course we should already be open-minded enough to accept changes in that way even without the science bit..