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From The CriticsReviewer: Kerby C. Oberg, MD, PhD (Loma Linda University)
Description: The author sets out to debunk the concept of malformation as an error of nature using examples of biologic diversity in comparison with anomalies. Along this journey he is an equal opportunity offender, challenging the concept of a heavenly creator of monstrosities and the Darwinian notion that monstrosities are accidents of development, and not part of the evolutionary continuum.
Purpose: The book attempts to widen readers' perspectives of development and evolution using anomalies as the leverage. The author states that anomalies are "indispensable weapons...to break the spell of designer thinking." To encourage readers to reconsider the archetypes of ideal by focusing on anomalies is worthwhile and well done. Attacks on designer thinking or Darwinian evolution are less compelling.
Audience: This is written for anyone with an interest in science and biology. The author is a developmental psychobiologist, although not a recognized authority in the field of zoology, developmental biology, or teratology, and does a credible job comparing species variations and anomalies.
Features: He sets the stage with some history on teratology, then focuses on the overlap between malformations, variation, and differences between species. The coverage of topics is broad and intermixes general biology, evolutionary biology, and developmental biology with the field of teratology. For example, he describes the similarity or progression between the development of elephants with a trunk and the development of cyclopia with a proboscis. He uses movement and limb differences to bolster a case for malformations being part of the spectrum of development rather than its disruption. He also tackles the sexual continuum and the plethora of biologic approaches used in nature to reproduce — to summarize, expect ambiguity. The epilogue challenges readers to recognize that we all could fit the definition of a freak or monster; thus, rather than testaments of developmental errors, malformations inform us of our incredible diversity.
Assessment: This book offers a unique perspective, challenging our view of science, evolution, and social archetypes by examining the nature of malformations. It would be a worthwhile addition to the library of students and scholars alike.