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Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  5,114 ratings  ·  223 reviews
For over a century, opening the black box of embryonic development was the holy grail of biology. Evo Devo Evolutionary Developmental Biology is the new science that has finally cracked open the box. Within the pages of his rich and riveting book, Sean B. Carroll explains how we are discovering that complex life is ironically much simpler than anyone ever expected.
Paperback, 350 pages
Published April 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published April 11th 2005)
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Dnf'd. Not because it is a bad book, boring or not well-written, but because it turns out that my appetite for evolutionary biology does not extend as far as embryology. I just cannot summon up the interest to concentrate and have to keep rereading and looking (again and again) at the illustrations. Maybe this is one for the future?

Notes on reading Not getting on with this, I'm not really fascinated that fingers might have once been 8 digits with different functions and this is how they might ha
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
This is a fascinating book about developments in genetics and evolution in the past twenty years. Sean Carroll is a leading researcher in the field; his lucid writing style and lively approach make this book a "must-read" for anybody interested in the subject. Plenty of illustrations and drawings help to bring the subject to life.

There are several big mysteries in genetics; humans and primates share 99% of their genes, so why is their development so different? The answer lies in "genetic switche
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: pub-2005
You've heard the stories how we share 98% of genes with chimpanzees and something like 30% with daffodils. This seems confusing because we don’t look like we’re one third daffodils. Sean B Carroll’s book tries to explain this conundrum to the general reader by introducing us to the new, exciting field of Evo Devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology) and giving me another weapon to fight against the creationists (though I don’t think they are particularly interested in having a fact-based debate ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I don't know how many articles I've read in the last 10+ years that have tried to explain some of the discoveries about how a cell "knows" it should become a liver cell or a skin cell and why we don't end up with shoulder blades in our kidneys. These articles got my level of understanding from "I bet it's complicated" to "It's complicated and has something to do with HOX genes."

Reading this book is the first time I feel I "got it"*, at least somewhat, but based on my own reading history I won't
Elliott Bignell
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is staggeringly rivetting science and lovely science writing. I have been looking for a work on embryology and evolution to clarify some questions about how to design evolutionary algorithms and this was it. At the same time, it opens up a breathtaking vista of how evolution actually happens and how it is constrained. This is one of the few cases where I can honestly say that I feel I understand a whole new set of principles and perspectives after reading that I did not before. It's also an ...more
Jul 20, 2008 rated it liked it
First of all, I should clarify that I'm no scientist. But I do have an egghead mentality, and I've read plenty on evolution. What I hadn't read was much about developmental biology, and for me, that's where the main benefit of the book came. Although sometimes I wished Carroll would have boiled some of his 30-page chapters down to two or three.

Those are my disclaimers. But I think I gained a lot of insight anyway.

The book's excitement comes in the form of summarizing the "evo devo" movement, the
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purple
Subtitle: "The New Science of Evo Devo". This cracked up my wife to no end. It's 'branding' for a new movement in biological science, about as hip-sounding as "Extreme Programming". But let's not judge a book by its cover. The author claims that this movement is "Revolution #3", on par with the Darwinian discovery of evolution by natural selection, and Mendel's discovery of genetics. Is it hype? Yes. Is it justified? Maybe...

One thing's for sure: if you like seeing pictures of a lamb born with o
Elizabeth K.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-new-reads
Well, this was very informative. I had to really buckle in to focus on everything. My favorite part was how Dr. Carroll would start off an explanation with "it's quite simple, actually ..." and then HA HA HA. I am making this sound like a chore, and it wasn't at all. But it was definitely not light reading. The diagrams weren't even light reading.

Usually I read sciencey books like this, and try to hang on to a few important takeaways. So let's see, what did I learn here (other than that I'm jus
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing

"i am not so naive to believe that science can solve all the world's problems, but ignorance of science, or denial of it's facts, is courting doom."

I have promised myself that I would read this book since I heard of it not long after it was published. Finally, it is finished and I am sorry to have taken so long. It is a wonderful set of examples of evo-devo that explain the role of tool-kit genes and the switches they contain. The elegance of this evolutionary process is magnificent. He tops off
lark benobi
The writing was much too breathless, in a "gee, look at this butterfly wing!" sort of way. The science got buried in metaphorical cliche'. Writing for a lay audience is always going to be tricky and I think in this case Carroll aimed too low and ended up using too many words that don't say much.

For those interested in another way to approach learning about current evolution theory I strongly recommend checking out the Yale open course available for free online, "Principles of Evolution, Ecology
William Schram
Biological diversity is apparent throughout the world. Time and again, we can be presented with examples of this. From the lowly worm to the towering oak, life comes in all shapes and sizes.

There is a paradox with this fact, however, and this comes from the knowledge we now have in Biology. We have known about DNA since 1953 from the work of James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin. Once we developed computers with enough power, we found that life has a fundamental tool-kit of genes th
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This book proved to be both one of the most interesting scientific readings I've ever found, and one of the hardest. It is compelling, well-written, engaging and, overall, the best aproach possible to a frankly not-so-simple reading.

And I expected that. The first time I heard about the book, or Evo-devo itself, was when I heard a "Despacito" parody made by Acapellascience where this book was the main source: I knew I would find something equally challenging and interesting. Sean B. Carroll
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A solid introduction to evo devo. I summarize the “take-home message” of the field (deep homologous & genetic toolkit) here:

Author’s treatment of creationism felt a little crude. Also his non-inclusion of population genetic findings is vehemently criticized by Michael Lynch. Despite these flaws, overall quite enjoyable.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Here's why this book blew my mind. I remember almost everything I learned in high school biology (more than 20 years ago), and there were some things that no one could then explain. What, for instance, triggers some cells to become liver cells while others become skin cells? And, why, once a cell has become a liver cell, can it not produce skin cells? Why do all vertebrates follow roughly the same sequence of embryonic and fetal development?

Those things were a mystery in the 80s, and they were o
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, biology
This is a very informative and fascinating book about evolutionary biology and genetics!
While I find the term "Evo Devo" quite silly, it is a deep and illuminating topic.
The author also uses a couple other tacky terms that bugged me:
He refers to the genomic contents not coding for proteins as "dark matter".
He refers to the Cambrian explosion as a "big bang", groan.

The book avoids heavy microbiological details on genetics, focusing instead on how different body parts are made.
The most important c
Nov 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
This is a SUPERB book! Building on Darwin's famous last sentence ("endless forms most beautiful") in the Origin of Species, Carroll gives a wonderful history and account of the science of Evolutionary Developmental Biology (Evo Devo). The story encompasses two broad categories: embryology - how animals develop their forms from embryo to adult, and evolution - how species have developed over the eons through natural selection. Evo devo exploded in the last decade as geneticists have begun to unlo ...more
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is a fine explanation of developmental evolution. It is easy to follow and even entertaining for anybody with an unbiased curiosity about nature. It's an attractive volume with some amazing color plates illustrating some of the experiments that have shown scientists how DNA works in insect larvae. There are also photos of fossils and drawings of various animals as they once appeared and as they exist now. A very important book for all biology teachers, college students, school board me ...more
Troy Blackford
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Good book on evolution with a focus on embryological development, and how the genotypic information affects the phenotype from a development standpoint. I was very intrigued, though this book had frequent long, dry passages. That's just what you get when you receive an in-depth examination of complex processes, however.

From the formation of butterflies' complex wing patterns to the camouflaging utility of zebra stripes (and a look at the question: is a zebra black with white stripes or white wi
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
First should watch this. is a much better review of the book than I am likely to give here.

Secondly, you should read this. It was engaging, and gave me a fantastic overview of the technology of genetics. How does it all work? What does all of that extra stuff do? What turns it all on or off?

And can someone get me a fruit fly and some eyeless genes?

As for the ending? I am saddened that all science and nature books must end with the obligatory chapter on
Dave Gaston
Apr 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Carroll did his best to bring break-through, gene level science down to my level of comprehension. I’m afraid I just didn’t measure up. As an interactive breather, he often paused before a big brainy ah-ha moment and stated, “...that’s right, you’ve probably already guessed the answer to this one....” Well, I never did... not once! To state the obvious, Endless Forms was endlessly over my head. I love the mere topic of evolution, so with an open slack jaw, I numbly chugged through it. Regardless ...more
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book illustrates the ways in which the new fields of Evo Devo and bioinformatics are revolutionizing biology. The art of interpreting fossils has given way to the new hard science of genome analysis. If you really want to know how evolution works and where complexity comes from, you need to read this book.
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Every so often a book comes along that completely blows you away. This is one such book. I first heard about this book from Tim Blais’ A Cappella Science video, which is in itself a superlative work of art. I bought this book to better understand the concepts presented in that video.

When I first learned about the details of DNA in school I was enraptured by how simple but incredibly powerful DNA replication is. This book rekindled that feeling of awe as it explained the beauty of evolution and t
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This book explains some of the mechanisms by which evolution works and provides clear examples from genetics that provide hard evidence for it. I really enjoyed a lot of 'aha' moments as I read this, particularly in the first few sections where he could back up all his claims with clear results from research. (I especially liked: 1) learning how nature uses data compression and combinatorics to efficiently reuse individual chunks of DNA in very different ways throughout the body; 2) learning abo ...more
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
I have to say I'm disappointed, the contents of the book could be condensed down to a handful of pages without much loss, so much did the author insist on repeating the same concept over and over again. I expected more technical details, more mechanisms unveiled, and more vaired insights into the way living things are built from their genes, instead I got few hundred pages of reminders that yes, this universal mechanism we introduced in chapter three as the basis of embryo development indeed is ...more
Shateara Davis
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever had an interest in Evolutionary Development than this is the book for a sense. One thing that Sean Carroll does well is explaining the multiple proteins that go in to the formation of
all creatures, from butterflies to humans and how those proteins are links to physical expression. One thing that I was hoping to find in this book was more information on the development of brain matter and spinal columns which was lacking for the most part. But this book helped to provid
Sep 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Ok, this book attempts to address two different problems. The first problem is how an egg is turned into an adult animal. Everyone can appreciate that this is quite an amazing process, but ever thought of its details? As the original single cell stars splitting, how does each cell – all carrying the exact same copy of the DNA – know whether it’s a heart cell or brain cell or liver cell? How does the embryo – nothing more than a tiny collection of cells at this point – know where to put each orga ...more
Son Tung
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've been exposed again and again to the idea of similarity in genome between human and chimps, they often point to the resemblance in violent, empathic behaviors of us and our closest cousins. This book carries the ideas of genetic divergence further to explain evolution, a new light was shred for me to look at evolution. While other works that i've read often describe evolution in "The strongest survives" style, but Carroll offers a glimse into this natural process with genetic lens by introdu ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

At this point, I must admit I’m a bad judge of pop-science when it covers biology. To me this is a very easy read now, covering simple topics, but I know I wouldn’t have felt that way a couple of years ago. If you’re interested in evolutionary biology, though, this is a very good primer on the science of Evo Devo: understanding evolutionary relationships through understanding the development of embryos, how certain genes work in causing large morphological differen
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A great introduction and review of the work linking the developmental impact of reusing the master regulatory proteins to control a changing galaxy of specific proteins to alter the final organisms form to fit its habitat.
He details the emergence of the body axes under the Hox proteins and how they work to isolate the expression of genes to promote modularity. Isolation makes regional use of bone, collagen, epithelium etc independent of other modules that also use the same genes. This allows con
Craig Evans
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
I received a BS in Biology in 1984 and had an affinity toward genetics. This book was written and published in 2005 and referred to advances and discoveries in biology over the preceding 20 years that more firmly supported the idea that forms of insect, fish, mammals, and other animals changed over the hundreds of millions of years of its' existence of this planet.
Over the past decade or so I have made an attempt to remedy that short
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Sean B. Carroll (born September 17, 1960) is a professor of molecular biology, genetics, and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies the evolution of cis-regulation in the context of biological development, using Drosophila as a model system. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Since 2010, he has been vice-president for science education of the Howard ...more

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“Evolution of form is very much a matter of teaching very old genes new tricks!” 2 likes
“Behe named this inability to explain the creation of new taxa through genetics "Darwin's black box". When the box is opened, he expects evidence of the Deity to be found. However, inside Darwin's black box resides merely another type of genetics--developmental genetics” 2 likes
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