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Science Books

August 19, 2005

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
Sean B. Carroll (2005)
ISBN: 0393060160

Evolution is one word that has the capacity to stir human emotions. From the scientist who marvels at the wondrous complexities of life, to the creationist, and more recently, intelligent design theorists who see nature's complexities as a sign of a superior intelligence. In Endless Forms Most Beautiful, however, Sean B. Carroll, professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, demonstrates how two scientific theories have been combined to provide a more complete account of evolution. The new science of Evolutionary Development, known as "Evo Devo", is the culmination of two timescales in the life of organisms previously thought to be unrelated. The first of these timescales is the span of a single generation, represented by the development (ontogeny) of an embryo into adulthood. The other is the evolution (phylogeny) of organisms on Earth that gives rise to the genetic variations and, as the title suggests, endless forms most beautiful. As the term Evo Devo implies, the big discovery came when it was proposed that tiny variations in embryonic development affected the chain of evolutionary development. It was shown that a small number of primitive genes were responsible for the development of organs and appendages in many different species, including humans. As with most scientific realizations, the science behind Evo Devo might seem an obvious enough conclusion, but science is not in the habit of making claims based on mere conjecture. It wasn't until scientists could observe the relationships between ontogeny and phylogeny that the "missing link" could become scientific theory, and Evo Devo could make scientific history. Surprisingly, these scientific disciplines remained more or less distinct from one another right up until the 1970s, when the advent of new technologies coupled with a radical shift in thinking allowed a reassessment of evolutionary theory. Carroll argues that Endless Forms Most Beautiful plugs a gap in evolutionary theory that has been continually targeted by creationists. In this respect, the book represents a timely, clearly written account of evolution, whose biological message can easily be absorbed by the general reader.

Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life
Eric D. Schneider, Dorion Sagan (2005)
ISBN: 0226739368

Into the Cool is a book that weaves its way through a forest of scientific literature, providing a multidisciplinary account of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and its prevalence and relevance in everyday life. Eric D. Schneider, a former atmospheric scientist who has worked in thermodynamics for over twenty years, and Dorion Sagan, coauthor of Acquiring Genomes and Up from Dragons, thoroughly explore chaos and equilibrium within diverse systems such as politics, economics, and even human health. The second law of thermodynamics is used in Into the Cool to explain the laws governing systems like evolution, ecology, economics, and the universe itself. Using entropy to explain the dynamics of such systems, Schneider and Sagan show us the relationship between hot and cold, meteorological pressure systems and fluctuating market prices. The book is an eye-opener, an extraordinary glimpse at what might otherwise seem mundane phenomena to the casual observer. Those in search of newfound insight should know, however, that they might need to lock themselves away in a quiet room in order to fully appreciate the complex subject matter. Despite its complexity, Into the Cool is deftly written, and an excellent initiation for anyone interested in the underlying laws of energy common to all complex systems.

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