Kara's Reviews > The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution

The Making of the Fittest by Sean B. Carroll
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's review
Jul 16, 2009

really liked it
Read in July, 2009

For us scientists who spend our holidays explaining basic science concepts to our non-scientist relatives, this conversationally written book is chock full of some of the best examples that clearly illustrate and support the evolution by the forces of natural selection. Carroll simplifies DNA and molecular data and the mathematics of probability so that most people could have a better understanding of the principles that underpin evolution, and indeed, all of biology. As someone quite partial to vision, I was impressed with his chapters on eye evolution. Although I felt that he left out some key pieces of information, I had to keep reminding myself that he was writing for an audience that doesn't already know the difference between rhabdomeric and cilliary photoreceptors. Besides, he does include quite an extensive list of extra reading for people who want to know more about specific concepts and examples.

While the bulk of Carroll's book focuses on providing a clear and well-supported lay explanation of evolution, the last two chapters set this volume apart from any other popular biology book that I've read. In the chapter entitled, "Seeing and Believing", Carroll chronicles several examples of ideological resistance to science: the French doctors who did not believe Pasteur's experiments on the microbe causes of many diseases; Lysenko and the soviet era of the denial of DNA as hereditary information; chiropractors and their denial of the efficacy of the Polio vaccine; and finally evolution naysayers. This chapter alone should at least convince the people who scoff at evolution to re-evaluate their position.

The last chapter, "The Palm Trees of Wyoming" is a wake-up call for all of us. By juxtaposing the fossil record, the state of the world's oceanic fisheries (dire from all the numbers he quotes), and history of human impact on the natural world, Carroll points out that the most alarming consequence of not understanding the implications of evolution could be our own demise...after we have destroyed a multitude of ecosystems by our actions. If only we could learn the lessons of evolution by natural selection we would see how our unnatural selective pressure on many species has altered them to the point of being unable to survive.

To all of my friends and fellow readers who may or may not know much about evolution or science, I highly recommend this book. I especially urge high school biology teachers to read this and consider assigning it (or a few chapters) to their classes.

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