Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated

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Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species is probably the best-known, least-read book. One of the most important achievements of the past millennium, it did for biology what Galileo did for astronomy: made it into a single science rather than a collection of unrelated facts. Important though Origin remains, its examples and intricate Victorian prose are now a century and a half old. They are ripe for renewal and reaffirmation. Writing as "Darwin's ghost," eminent geneticist Steve Jones updates this seminal work—and restates evolution's case for the 21st century.

Jones is a writer of engaging wit and dazzling erudition and has been called "the British Carl Sagan." Using modern examples—the AIDS virus, the puzzles of sexual selection, the physiology and psychology of pets, and the unparalleled genetic success of our own species—he shows the power and immediacy of Darwin's great argument and makes us appreciate how it makes life make sense. Eye-opening and entertaining, filled with astonishing facts, amusing anecdotes, and the very latest research, Darwin's Ghost is contemporary science writing at its very best.

...important achievements of the past millennium, it did for biology what Galileo did for astronomy: made it into a single science rather than a collection of unrelated facts...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There are few better or more entertaining accounts of the evolutionary process in print today than Darwin's Ghost."
—The New York Times Book Review

—The Boston Sunday Globe

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of the Species in 1859, he initiated a process that revolutionized biology and prompted humans to reconceptualize their place in the universe. Indeed, Darwin, coupling impeccable logic with a wealth of examples drawn from biology and geology, was able to win a huge number of scientific converts. A century and a half later, the book still stands as a monumental work of both science and literature, although, not surprisingly, other scientists have taught us a great deal more about evolution during those years. Jones (The Language of Genes), a professor of genetics at University College, London, has had the wonderful idea of revisiting Darwin's work, updating each chapter with the best that modern science has to offer. His execution of that idea succeeds brilliantly, on two levels. Darwin's genius is reaffirmed; having access to such a limited array of information, he was, Jones demonstrates, nonetheless correct in virtually every one of his hypotheses. And the ideas in Jones's updated Origin are every bit as powerful an organizing principle for all of biology as were Darwin's original thoughts. When Darwin first drafted Origin, the subfields of genetics, molecular biology and cladistics did not yet exist, while biogeography, geology, archeology and physiology were mere hints of their current selves. Jones, using humor and wit, draws from all these arenas to present a compelling case for evolution, one that is as accessible to the general reader as it is engaging to the specialist. Agent, Russell Galen. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Using recent empirical evidence, Jones (genetics, Univ. Coll., London) has updated Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (l859) so that the fact of organic evolution is both understandable and relevant to today's general reader. He focuses on dogs, whales, snails, insects, bacteria, and, particularly, the AIDS retrovirus in order to illustrate the struggle for existence and descent with modification through genetic variation and natural selection. Special attention is given to social instincts, biogeography, biodiversity, and the evolutionary affinities among similar species through a common descent. The author stresses that all species and their environments are continuously changing (sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly), e.g., the organisms and their habitats on the Galapagos and Hawaiian Islands. Furthermore, since Darwin's writings, serious problems with the theory of evolution are being solved in light of ongoing scientific discoveries in population genetics, geopaleontology, and radiometric dating techniques. Very informative and cogently argued, this book is an important addition to the natural history literature. Recommended for all science collections.--H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Jones has rewritten Darwin's narrative with the help of the latest insights from evolutionary biology. . . . There are few better or more entertaining accounts of the evolutionary process in print today.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345422774
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/3/2001
  • Edition description: 1 Ballantine Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,016,279
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London and has worked at universities in the U.S., Australia and Africa. His previous books include The Language of the Genes and In the Blood.

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Read an Excerpt

According to a 1991 opinion poll, a hundred million Americans believe that "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time during the last ten thousand years." A large majority saw no reason to oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. They followed in a long tradition. A text of 1923, Hell and the High Schools, claimed that: "The
Germans who poisoned the wells and springs of northern France and
Belgium and fed little children poisoned candy were angels compared to the text-book writers and publishers who are poisoning the books used in our schools . . . Next to the fall of Adam and Eve, Evolution and the teaching of Evolution in tax-supported schools is the greatest curse that ever fell upon this earth."

Fifty pieces of legislation tried to put a stop to the subject. All failed. Undeterred, Alabama called for a note to be pasted into textbooks: "This book may discuss evolution, a controversial theory some scientists give as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans . . . No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact." In 1999 the Kansas
Board of Education voted to remove evolution from the school curriculum and no doubt other states will try similar tricks.

Such intolerance is new. At the end of the last century few clerics opposed the idea of evolution. In spite of polemic against a
"genealogical table which begins in the mud, has a monkey in the middle and an infidel at the tail" most were ready to accept a compromise between The Origin and the Bible. A Day of Creation might be millions of years long, or might represent six real days that marked the origin of a spiritual Man after the long ages it took all else to evolve. Real bigotry had to wait for modern times.

The creationist movement is part of a triumphal New Ignorance that rules in many places, the United States more than most. In fact, the majority of those determined to tell lies to children believe in Darwin's theory and understand how it works, without noticing. Evolution is embedded in the American consciousness for a simple and terrible reason. For the past two decades the nation has lived through an episode that has, with extraordinary speed, laid bare the argument of The Origin of Species.
The organism involved was unknown in the nineteenth century, but is now familiar. It is the AIDS virus.

Creationists find it easy to accept the science of AIDS. Its arrival so close to the millennium and the Last Judgment is a useful illustration of God's wrath. Homosexuals, they claim, have declared war on nature,
and nature has exacted an awful retribution. Fundamentalists admit the evolution of a virus as nature's revenge but will not concede that the same process acts upon life as a whole.

Even to anti-evolutionists, AIDS is proof of descent with modification because they can see it happening. Its agent has changed in its brief history and has adapted to overcome the many challenges with which it is faced. As death approaches, a patient may be the home of creatures—descendants of those that infected him—as different as are humans and apes. Every continent, with its own sexual habits, has its own exquisitely adjusted set of viruses; and AIDS has relatives in animals quite different from ourselves. Darwin would have been delighted to see the workings of his machine so starkly exposed.

Science makes patterns from ideas. If AIDS can evolve, so can anything else. The Origin uses freshwater bears and flying fish to make a case that applies to all forms of life. For its opponents, in contrast, what is true for viruses cannot be true of birds or fish, let alone a man.
The existence of an animal as unlikely as a whale is, for them, proof that evolution does not work.

The other view of the origin of whales, men or viruses is simple. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Every part of Darwin's thesis is open to test. The clues—from fossils,
genes or geography—differ in each case, but from all of them comes the conclusion that the whole of life is kin. That is no mere assertion, but a chain of deduction with every link complete. The biography of the AIDS
virus, one of Nature's newest and tiniest products, is almost complete and that of whales—the largest animals ever seen—is fragmentary, but they are cousins under the skin. The AIDS virus is change seen under the microscope, and the whale the same process viewed, in glimpses and over long ages, through a biological telescope. Evolution at the extremes of size is an apt prelude to the great drama that is Darwinism.

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Table of Contents

The Origin of Species: Facsimile Title Page and List of Contents ix
An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species xvii
Introduction 1
I Variation Under Domestication 21
II Variation Under Nature 40
III Struggle for Existence 55
IV Natural Selection 69
V Laws of Variation 102
VI Difficulties on Theory 119
VII Instinct 144
VIII Hybridism 169
IX On the Imperfection of the Geological Record 190
X On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings 213
XI Geographical Distribution 235
XII Geographical Distribution--continued 257
XIII Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings; Morphology; Embryology; Rudimentary Organs 275
Interlude: Almost Like a Whale? 309
XIV Recapitulation and Conclusion 331
Further Reading 351
Index 361
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Delightful Review

    Clear, fresh, accessible introduction and review of Darwin and evolutionary biology. Extremely well written. "Genetics is the science of difference. Variety is the raw material of evolution, used up as natural selection takes its course."

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    A refreshing take on an old classic

    A little less than one hundred fifty years after Darwin first released On the Origin of Species, author and evolutionary biologist Steve Jones took it upon himself to use Darwin's most famous framework and apply 20th century knowledge to it. Using the same chapters and headings Darwin used in On the Origin of Species, Jones successfully manages to create an enjoyable, intellectually stimulating book. With topics ranging from the evolution of HIV and dogs to the evolutionary paths humans have taken themselves, this book covers a wide variety of topics while still holding true to its roots. This book has several significant strengths and a few weaknesses that deserve mention


    -Readability: In each section Jones manages to provide stimulating knowledge furthering the average reader's understanding of evolution, and the depth of understanding today's evolutionary biologists have without a lot of the scientific jargon you find in similar books.
    -Framework: since Jones utilizes Darwin's framework the reader feels like he's following what conclusions Darwin's On the Origin of Species would come to had it been written today.
    -Scientific Data: On every page there is either a different study or experiment being mentioned that brings evolution in practice to life. Or a furthering of Darwin's own sentiments.
    -Writing Style: Jones is a fantastic writer, and this book truly showcases his talent. While some may argue that a book supposed to be based around furthering the general knowledge of evolution is supposed to be unlined with metaphor it was exactly these lines that helped draw me in and read this more like a novel than a scientific text which I believe was Jones' goal with writing the book.


    -Scientific Data: In the text itself Jones does not provide a single in text citation. While he has his references located in the back, I found it distressing while I was reading. As a reader who likes to occasionally look up studies when they are referenced in a text I read, I was at first horrified that he wouldn't include citations at all. When I finally found the citations in the back of the book I couldn't remember which I wanted to look up.
    -Tone: While I appreciate the relative ease I was about to read this book, it might just be a bit too conversational. A topic this important possibly could use some added formality, however since this is an attempt at Darwin for the masses it is an understandable weakness.


    I enjoyed this book a great deal and while I believed in evolution both before and after reading it, I certainly learned of many more real world examples than I knew of before reading it. In addition, I think that someone who does not view evolution as at least a viable theory would gain serious second-thoughts upon finishing this book. All in all an enjoyable read that I'd suggest to anyone interested in reading a book on evolution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2004

    A good read for Intro Biology Students

    Having been raised as a strident creationist I never really had the chance to hear evolution from the proponent's view, and Jones does an excellent job bringing the ideas, problems, and hopes of the evolutionary process to the modern mind. I began reading this book during my Intro Biology university course and Jones took the heavy reading in my textbook and turned it into easily conceptualized ideas that greatly enhanced my ability to remember them later. As a student I give this book high marks for making my studies easier, and as a creationist I give this book moderate to high marks for mostly avoiding name-calling and sticking to facts as he sees them. The book has not yet changed my mind, but has given me new respect for the theory of evolution and its basic ideas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2003

    Tom, read 'The Triumph of Evolution: and the Failures of Creationism'

    ...and you'll see where hes coming from when he says 'a triumphal New Ignorance' I have always been hesitant of tackling Darwin's mamoth Origin of Species. Jones expertly translates Darwin's poetic work into something the modern world can enjoy and understand.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2001

    The Origin of the Species for the masses

    Steve Jones in this volume has encapsulated the whole works of the original papers on The Origin of the Species in a palatable format for all interested readers. The very topic of Mans evolutionary track from the primates is spelled out with a historical perspective without any flagrant blows to the Old Testament or any attempt as far as I could see to dispel the dogma of any church. The very nature of the topic is no less significant than finding the lost ark. In his precise writing Jones supplies ample data for any and all historians interested in learning so much about our beginnings on this planet. Not just animal, but vegetable and mineral. With chapters covering 'Struggling for existence,' 'Natural Selection' right up to the 'Difficulties on Theory.' He has amassed important data that would lead any and all interested people to search no more to so many unanswered questions. In his final chapter of 'Recapitulation and Conclusion' he adeptly points out the missing patterns that time and theory have so long omitted.

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