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from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1999

A good publication for your professional library

Evolution
Third edition, 2000. 722 pages. ISBN: 0-7637-1066-0.
Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 40 Tall Pine Drive,
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776.

High-School Teachers in Several Fields
Will Prize This Book

David L. Jameson

Monroe W. Strickberger's Evolution is an introductory college text that many high-school teachers will prize as a reference book. Strickberger is a veteran teacher and author whose other works include a fine, comprehensive college textbook of genetics. His thoughtful writing reflects his years of experience in teaching bright students and in answering the questions that such students ask.

In Evolution, Strickberger has condensed a huge body of scientific literature onto a manageable number of pages. He explains patterns of evolution in plants, vertebrates and invertebrates, and he does this in ways that will help teachers to show their students what organic evolution is all about.

Evolution is divided into four major parts. In Part I, called "The Historical Framework," Strickberger first recounts the emergence and development of ideas about the origin of life and about putative relationships among living things -- these ideas, he says, are the "intellectual threads" that have led to our modern concept of organic evolution. Then, in a chapter called "The Darwinian Impact: Evolution and Religion," he confronts creationism, describes the creationists' efforts to undermine the teaching of biology, and provides an outstanding five-page article titled "Responses to Creationist Arguments." Without rancor but with considerable efficiency, Strickberger disposes of various assertions that creationists put forth, including the claim that schools must offset science with doses of biblical pseudoscience to achieve "fairness." (Strickberger asks: Why stop there? Shouldn't the schools also be required to teach astrology or phrenology or Mary Baker Eddy's nonsensical ideas about disease?) Given the present resurgence of creationist attacks on science education, Strickberger's article is timely indeed and a real boon to teachers.

In Part II ("The Physical and Chemical Framework"), Part III ("The Organic Framework") and Part IV ("The Mechanisms") Strickberger not only explains evolutionary biology's major concepts but also presents significant details that make those concepts comprehensible. He shines as he provides well written discussions of topics such as molecular clocks, neutral mutations, and definitions of species -- and as we would expect, his discussions of the genetic aspects of evolution are always adept, concise and straightforward. (See, for example, his explication of the homeobox gene complexes that govern segmentation in animals.) His discussions of current, unresolved questions in evolutionary biology will surely be useful to teachers who want to help their students begin to think critically about science.

In his final chapter, "Culture and the Control of Human Evolution," Strickberger addresses such vexed topics as sociobiology, eugenics, cloning, and genetic engineering. I find his material to be reasoned, logical and suitably cautious. For example, he calls attention to "the insufficiency of sociobiology when applied uncritically to humans" (page 613), and he observes that prospective applications of genetic engineering to humans will depend on the development of "consensual ethical principles" to deal with genetic manipulations and with the effects of genetic screening on privacy and other values (page 620).

I think that Evolution falls short in two respects: Strickberger has not given attention the evolution of quantitative characters, and he has not told about the mathematical modeling of evolutionary processes. Even so, Evolution is an excellent book and will make a worthy addition to any high school's professional library. It will be valuable not only to biology teachers but also to teachers who give courses in history, anthropology or sociology.


David L. Jameson is a senior research fellow of the Osher Laboratory of Molecular Systematics at the California Academy of Sciences. He has written books about evolutionary genetics and the genetics of speciation, and he is a coauthor of a college-level general-biology text.

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