Alan de Queiroz' THE MONKEY's VOYAGE: HOW IMPROBABLE JOURNEYS SHAPED THE HISTORY OF LIFE
A book review by Dennis D. McDonald
The author attempts a major feat and nearly succeeds in explaining the richness and variety of life on our planet and how it got to be that way.
I say “nearly” for two reasons:
- We’re still learning so any book about this topic, no matter how good, can never be complete.
- The book rambles a bit too much.
As an example of how to relate complex scientific ideas and how their acceptance by scientific communities have evolved over time, this book is exemplary. Complex topics are clearly explained. Only a minimum of technical jargon is employed. We read about Darwin and natural selection, land bridges, dispersal of species, plate tectonics, “deep time,” and the evidence provided by DNA analysis of the diversification of species.
Note my use of the term “scientific communities” in the above paragraph. The author makes a lot of how different ideas and theories arise and the role of personality in promoting schools of thought among different “communities.” He brings in Kuhn and his “paradigms” at one point.
That part of the commentary is perhaps less convincing than the rest of the book as the author’s mastery of the social science of science is a bit underdeveloped, but he makes up for this when he brings the discussion back to data and evidence.
Ultimately science is about the data. Even the strongest “schools of thought” crumble at data’s doorstep.
One interesting thing the author accomplishes in the chapter prior to the Epilog is to demonstrate a common bond between biology and astrophysics. Astrophysicists are accustomed to observing and theorizing about vast distances and time spans. De Queiroz expresses a similar perspective in his rumination about the vast time spans and occurrences that need to be comprehended when considering how life has developed and spread. That he expresses some regret (my interpretation) that we will never know with certainty when, specifically, monkey ancestors actually travelled great distances to populate dispersed locations had me thinking, “Welcome to the real world. Looks like we’re just going to have to figure it out, aren’t we?”
Review copyright (c) 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more reviews like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting services go here.