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I just finished "The Darwinian Revolution", part of The Great Courses series, narrated by Professor Frederick Gregory. I really enjoyed this very in depth discussion. It wasn't just about Darwin's theory but its historical and scientific context and consequences. Prof. Gregory is one of the most enjoyable lecturers I've ever heard in an audio book.
Darwin's theory wasn't evolution - by the time Darwin published his famous book the idea of evolution had already become evident to many who had become aware of the new science of geology (which discovered the tremendous age of the earth) and the record left by fossils (which were just beginning to be understood as the remains of ancient creatures, not just fancy gewgaws left behind by God for man's bemusement). Just previous to this book I read another very good one on geology called "The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology" by Simon Winchester, another favorite of mine. I recommend it for a good overview of the beginnings of the science of geology.
No, Darwin's theory was the theory of natural selection, the first well reasoned explanation of a natural mechanism for the evolution of life.
The theory of natural selection was accepted reasonably well considering the science of the times. It had some problems. Where were the transitional fossils? How did small advantageous changes get established in a large population, rather than simply being subsumed back into it? But by far the theory's biggest problem, in the age of Victorian scientific progress, was that evolution by natural selection was purposeless - it had no goal. What good is progress if there is no worthy goal to progress towards?
Evolution by natural selection lost popularity after Darwin's death and reached its lowest point around the turn of the 20th century. Then scientific discovery gradually began to catch up with it. The fossil record became more and more complete and transitional forms were discovered. Microbiology began to understand the role of chromosomes in reproduction, and with the discovery of DNA, (and more importantly, the way DNA was able to replicate itself) a method for both the generation and preservation of random mutations became known.
And so natural selection once again became the favored mechanism for evolution.
Professor Gregory spends a few chapters addressing fundamentalism, creationism, and intelligent design, and like some other authors (I'm looking at you, Richard Dawkins) manages to put them in their proper historical and scientific context without being either condescending to their supporters, or insulting to the intelligence of the reader. He also discusses the two most well known mis-applications of natural selection, "social Darwinism" and eugenics.
All in all a very interesting read (listen). Professor Gregory's style is very engaging and manages to navigate through complicated scientific and cultural waters without getting lost in details, or becoming a boring drone.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Darwinian Revolution again? Why?
Yes, in fact I already have. I finished and started right back at the beginning because it contains so much great material.
What did you like best about this story?
It's a pivotal moment in how humans view themselves and the professor looks at it from every angle.
What does Professor Frederick Gregory bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
When the series started with Professor Gregory's education and it included a seminary, I almost quit there. I'mt so glad I didn't, I think his background imparted a unique element to the story.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
One of the best lecture series I have listened to (I've listened to a lot) and certainly one of the best lecturers!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
This audiobook is a fantastic scientific overview. It does not simply explain what Darwin's theory of natural selection was but its consequences as well as its scientific heritage - e.g: Other theories and hypotheses which were around prior to and concurrent with Darwin's theory - such as catastrophism or LeMarcian evolution.
The book also takes considerable time to explain these previous theories and the various terms used as well as multiple challenges to each discussed topic.
This volume does not suggest as some do that Darwin's paper was published and suddenly every thing changed overnight but makes it clear that at every stage after a new evolutionary theory was put out into the scientific field that it went through intense peer review and even that early on when the very first rumblings of such a concept were being discussed it was treated with similar scorn to that which believers in a flat earth or other such ideas would experience today,
If you are at all interested in a fair and intellectual as well as in my opinion unbiased discussion of evolution, Darwin, scientific advancement, natural selection and other related topics I could not recommend this book more highly. It is also excellently narrated by a clear and knowledgeable speaker who has the decency to inform the audience when he is discussing a topic if he is referring to the opinions of the individuals being discussed or his own opinion. 10 out of 10. If this Professor covers any further areas for The Great Courses series I will be sure to buy them.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
history, evolution, politics, science, theology, lots of ideas, findings, bones and stuff that's really interesting.