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Publisher's Summary

Darwin's theory of natural selection explains how useful adaptations are preserved over time. But the biggest mystery about evolution eluded him. As genetics pioneer Hugo de Vries put it, "natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest." Can random mutations over a mere 3.8 billion years really be responsible for wings, eyeballs, knees, camouflage, lactose digestion, photosynthesis, and the rest of nature’s creative marvels? And if the answer is no, what is the mechanism that explains evolution’s speed and efficiency?
In Arrival of the Fittest, renowned evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner draws on over 15 years of research to present the missing piece in Darwin's theory. Using experimental and computational technologies that were heretofore unimagined, he has found that adaptations are not just driven by chance, but by a set of laws that allow nature to discover new molecules and mechanisms in a fraction of the time that random variation would take. Consider the Arctic cod, a fish that lives and thrives within six degrees of the North Pole, in waters that regularly fall below zero degrees. At that temperature, the internal fluids of most organisms turn into ice crystals. And yet, the arctic cod survives by producing proteins that lower the freezing temperature of its body fluids, much like antifreeze does for a car's engine coolant. The invention of those proteins is an archetypal example of nature’s enormous powers of creativity.
Meticulously researched, carefully argued, evocatively written, and full of fascinating examples from the animal kingdom, Arrival of the Fittest offers up the final puzzle piece in the mystery of life's rich diversity.
©2014 Andreas Wagner (P)2014 Gildan Media LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Gary on 11-29-14

Robustness makes for an interesting life and book

Life is robust and its neutral states provide for easier suitability for overall fitness within environments leading to the fittest set of genes. Yes, that sentence is a mouthful but the author will step you through all of the steps necessary for understanding what is meant by it.

The author looks at life from its beginning to today mostly at the genotype and the resulting phenotype level. The going does get tough at times, but the author is very good at stepping the listener through. He states the two key components of life are its universal currency of energy, ATP, and the Universal Genetic Code, DNA and/or RNA.

He never misses sharing a good example while explaining the complex nature of amino acids, proteins, and metabolisms (5000 known). I didn't know dogs can synthesize vitamin C and humans can't. We need 13 vitamins, there are 20 amino acids making up the proteins we need, the body can synthesize 12 of them but needs 8 from our food sources and so on. I did not realize there were so many cool things to know about bacteria until he explained how they exchange genes and reproduce. Interesting stuff.

His professional work is in analyzing the movement necessary for viable genomes giving workable phenotypes through large scale computer modeling. He talks about this hyperspace of almost all potential combinations and how the process of evolution can move towards only viable solutions to biological configurations thus leading to the fittest.

There's definitely enough interesting things in this book to hook the average listener. His discussions on hyperspace and his computer work can get detailed, but he gives plenty of interesting discussions on many related topics making this book an interesting read.

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44 of 44 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Matthew Robert Borths on 05-09-15

Biochemical Evolution

The book focuses on the biochemical mechanisms that drive and sustain life. If you're interested in getting beyond a Jurassic Park understanding of DNA as life's code and want to explore how DNA and the rest of life's molecules interact and replicate, this book is worth a listen.

It can be slow going on audio. The author necessarily builds large, complex analogies for explaining molecular interactions. If you become distracted, let your mind wander, or stop and start the audio throughout the day or week, it's relatively easy to lose the author's argument. The narrator presents the text at a methodical pace that draws out these sections even more.

I have a decent background knowledge of biochemistry and genetics, but I think the text is a little technical without this background. There are a fair number of examples, and historical anecdotes, but much of the book felt like a dressed down textbook on the current state of biochemistry. That might be exactly what you're looking for, but if you want a more relaxed take on evolution, genetics and development, one of the Great Courses on the Origin of Life or Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin might be a better place to start. Then come back to this book with that background.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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