I agree with the earlier (brief) review. I'm not sure what her target audience was. The information presented is either too brief and easily misundersI agree with the earlier (brief) review. I'm not sure what her target audience was. The information presented is either too brief and easily misunderstood, or is too detailed and technical for the average layperson to easily grasp.
The initial sections, as well as later sections, on evolution were laughable. The first section is barely competent in describing the basic premises of evolution. The latter section attempts a "history of life" approach, but again is simplistic and leaves out far too much information to serve much of a purpose. It feels as if Nusslein-Volhard is stepping out of her comfort zone a bit. A particular example of this is on page 131 where the caption under the diagram states that "the oldest common ancestor of humans and primates lived about seven million years ago". There are several problems with this. First, her diagram depicts only members of the Hominidae family, not primates as a whole. The common ancestor of humans and primates as a whole lived at least 65 million years ago. The other problem is the use of the term "oldest common ancestor". Technically, the oldest common ancestor of humans and primates is the originator of all life on Earth, and lived 3.6 GA or so! The correct term to use would actually be the exact opposite. A correct caption would read something like "The most recent common ancestor of humans and great apes lived about seven million years ago". This may seem like nitpicking, but I expect more from a Nobel Laureate.
The portions of the book dealing with developmental processes are good, but she doesn't seem to know who she wants to write for. The information is assuredly old hat for professional biologists, and they will likely not gain anything from it. However, the information seems as though it would also be slightly too technical for the interested layman to follow easily. She obviously has no problem with using correct technical terminology, but the problem is that there is never a clear, lucid explanation of what most of the terminology actually means or describes. In addition, the explanations of development seem more like a laundry list of what takes place, rather than an explanation. Unless the reader already has at least some sort of prior knowledge of the basics of evo-devo and embryology, it will most likely be hard to follow, or at least to visualize the processes she is describing.
On the plus side, the diagrams are very nice. They do help a somewhat in giving a visual reference to the text, but they still could be clearer about the exact movements of tissues, or how cell layers invaginate during gastrulation.
Overall, if you want to learn about evo-devo I'd go for another book. If you just want the basics, pick up Sean B. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful. It's longer, more detailed, has more diagrams, and is just plain better written. If you want to learn about the detailed processes, get a textbook, perhaps either Carroll's From DNA to Diversity, or Scott Gilbert's Developmental Biology. ...more