The Plausibility of Life

Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma

Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart; Illustrated by John Norton

View Inside Price: $34.00


November 15, 2006
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
40 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300119770
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

Offering daring new ideas about evolution, two highly respected biologists here tackle the central, unresolved question in the field—how have living organisms on Earth developed with such astounding variety and complexity? Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart draw on cutting-edge biological and medical research to provide an original solution to this longstanding puzzle.

"In this terrific new book, molecular systems meet evolution. The result is a wealth of stimulating ideas set among clear explanations drawn from a revelatory decade in biology."—Andrew H. Knoll, author of Life on a Young Planet

"Thought-provoking and lucidly written. . . . The Plausibility of Life will help readers understand not just the plausibility of evolution, but its remarkable, inventive powers." —Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo

“Remarkably lucid and comprehensive, this new theoretical synthesis will . . . shift the grounds for debate in the controversy surrounding organic evolution.”—Booklist (starred review)

Marc W. Kirschner is professor and chair, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. John C. Gerhart is professor in the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley.

“Kirschner and Gerhart address some of the most interesting questions in current biology with enthusiasm and intellectual boldness. A remarkable advance in understanding evolution.”—Alan H. Brush, Emeritus, University of Connecticut

 

"In this terrific new book, molecular systems meet evolution. The result is a wealth of stimulating ideas set among clear explanations drawn from a revelatory decade in biology."—Andrew H. Knoll, author of Life on a Young Planet

"A beautifully written account of developmental evolution, integrating molecular and morphological information to describe clearly how highly complex organisms evolve through processes that facilitate variation. A tour de force." —James W. Valentine, author of On the Origin of Phyla

“One word comes to mind when I read this book: elegant. The authors have created an elegant essay/argument/overview of the subject of evolution.”—Margaret Lowman, author of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

"'Where does all the variation come from to explain the evolution of novel traits?' This book, written in simple yet engaging prose, provides an answer with a theory of facilitated variation."—Peter Grant, Princeton University 

"In this thought-provoking and lucidly written book, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart address one of the most interesting, important, and yet difficult dimensions of evolutionary science—the origins of novelty.  Drawing on a vast body of biological knowledge, from ant trails to the neural wiring of mouse whiskers, the authors illustrate how organisms are equipped to adapt to different and changing circumstances. They propose that variation, the raw material of evolution, is facilitated by newly understood properties of the development and physiology of organisms.  This new view suggests that there is a bias in organisms capacity to evolve and in the directions that evolution takes.  The Plausibility of Life will help readers understand not just the plausibility of evolution, but its remarkable, inventive powers." —Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo

"The Plausibility of Life is a brilliant effort to interpret evolutionary biology in the light of recent discoveries in genomics and developmental biology. It should be required reading for scientists and non-scientists alike."—Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton University  

"Complex living systems are plausible only if evolution can plausibly generate them. The authors show how this has been achieved by providing many detailed examples to illustrate their theory of facilitated variation. They reveal what might be called the grammar of evolved systems, the flexible organization of processes which allows change by accretion and rearrangement. What emerges is the interesting consequence that it is life by design that is implausible."—Sydney Brenner, Salk Institute

“Remarkably lucid and comprehensive, this new theoretical synthesis will . . . shift the grounds for debate in the controversy surrounding organic evolution.”—Booklist (starred review)

"A stimulating and enjoyable read; it is very stylishly and clearly written. . . . This is a book that I would recommend strongly to all interested in evolution of animals and the relationship between development and theory."—John Brookfield, Current Biology

"In The Plausibility of Life, Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart propose a theory for the origin of variation that demystifies the evolution of novelty and complexity. It is a milestone book full of new and insightful ideas. I recommend it without hesitation. Most evolution books written for the general public are dumbed down and have little new to say, but Kirschner and Gerhart walk the tightrope with spectacular success, using clear, nontechnical language, brilliantly chosen examples, and numerous illustrations."—Daniel L. Hartl, Harvard Magazine

 

 

"By using analogies and sequentially developing key points, [the authors] skillfully lay out their arguments so that, while drawing on current research, their work is remarkably comprehensible to general readers."—Library Journal

"...challenging and provocative."---New Scientist

“A new book by two distinguished developmental biologists . . . [is] a carefully argued, skillfully written work, accessible to the general reader.”—Paul R. Gross, New York Sun

"The Plausibility of Life can be highly recommended not only as an insightful look at an important area of scientific work but as powerful ammunition on the side of good - at a time when some states in the US are again trying to make creationism part of the school science curriculum. Most of all though it can be recommended as a good read."---John Gribbin, The Independent

"Kirschner and Gerhart explain in considerable detail that the genetic changes that account for evolutionary novelty involve complex circuits of gene-control switches, which are numerous—but often very short—DNA sequences. . . . The Plausibility of Life is an up-to-date review and theoretical elaboration of the enormous advances that have taken place within the last century, particularly during the last two decades, toward understanding the egg-to-adult transformation."—Francisco J. Ayala, Science & Theology News

"The Plausibility of Life makes for informative and enjoyable reading, and the issues the authors raise are worthy of attention."—Massimo Pigliucci, American Scientist

"I recommend the book as a short summary of 200 years of research into animal variation and development. It should be of interest to students of evolution at all levels."—Science Books & Films

"Well-written."—Carl D. Schlichting, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"This book will be enjoyed by all."—Southeastern Naturalist

Winner of the 2006 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Science category.

 in the Science category.

Won the 2005 Association of American Publishers, Professional/Scholarly Division (AAP/PSP) Award given for Excellence in the Biological Science category

Selected for Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 2006