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One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought Paperback – Mar 15 1993

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 15 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674639065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674639065
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.2 x 1.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 322 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,345,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Library Journal

Mayr has written a clear, concise, and insightful book about those major issues surrounding the theory of evolution: extinction, finalism (teleology), essentialism, creationism, determinism, neo-Darwinism, and sociobiology. He argues that it was Darwin's unique genius, scientific research, and rational speculation that founded the ongoing mechanist/materialist open-ended but complex (five subtheories) paradigm of organic evolution by common descent through genetic variation, natural selection, and population dynamics. In this historical and critical survey, Mayr also examines the influential ideas of Aristotle, T.H. Huxley, Thomas Malthus, A.R. Wallace, and especially August Weismann (among others). In particular, he points out the far-reaching significance of ornithologist John Gould's study of speciation among those mockingbirds (not finches) on the Galapagos Islands; it greatly helped to convince Darwin that evolution is indeed a fact of nature. Highly recommended for informed laypersons, students, and scholars.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Scientific living species, have forerunners and descendants, and they exhibit subtle changes over time...One Long Argument succeeds admirably in pinpointing the bits of evidence and inference that seeded Darwin's grand vision, and it illuminates his errors along with his insights. (Geoffrey Cowley New York Times Book Review)

You will read this book with great pleasure...Mayr simply admires Darwin to the hilt... Mayr's awe of Darwin is both illuminating and stimulating. It is also profoundly authoritative. Who else can present himself so effortlessly as a living symbol of the breadth of evolutionary thought in the twentieth century? (Jeffrey Levinton BioScience)

This short book should be read by anyone with an interest in the development, impact, and meaning of Darwinism. It is well written and accessible, without skimping on scholarship. (Robert Schoch Science Books and Films)

It is valuable to have [Mayr's] "mature reflections" expressed so concisely and elegantly. (Peter J. Bowler Nature)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Creationists have claimed that geology has conspired to support evolution. This book just shows how ridiculous that claim really is. Geologists tossed out the idea of "Flood Geology" long before Darwin arrived on the scene. The idea of an old Earth was developed independently of Darwin. Also interesting is that Darwin was well respected among his fellow scientists, even though they did not initially accept his idea of evolution. His work on the Beagle was considered important, and it alone was sufficent to establish Darwin's scientific reputation. He was already famous (in his day) before his landmark work.
Many scientists in Darwin's time were old earth creationists. In time, many of them were persuaded by the mass of evidence that Darwin had collected, although it would be a long time before natural selection was accepted as the mechanism. So, it is possible to not accept natural evolution and still accept the idea of common descent. Creationists try to argue that evolution is a package deal, that if one idea is out of place or not quite right, then the whole thing should be tossed out. This notion is just wrong, and reading this book will help the reader understand why. In general, creationists exploit the public's poor understanding of the scientific method. While one fact can be enough to completely toss out a theory, what often happens is that old theories get revised to accomdate the new facts. Successful, powerful theories (like Darwins) tend to evolve.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book as a brief introduction to SJ Gould's opus "A History of Evolutionary Theory." I have no idea how well it will prepare me because I have not yet tackled that tome.
Let me say a few things what this book is not about:
1) It is not an argument in any real sense of the term, at least the book does not give us a glimpse of the passions in the scientific community in the mid-19th Cen. Mayr's style is more descriptive. He describes the current thinking in Darwin's time and the, mostly philosophical, rational debates that Darwin's ideas were immersed.
2) There is no real background of description of the people around Darwin except to enumerate their thoughts in contrast or in support to him. We get some good background of Darwin's personal life when it is relevant to an idea, but this slender volume is about the battle of ideas, but at least in Mayr's work, the passion largely omited.
3) The work deals with Evolution and how Darwin and others around him reached rational scientific conclusions on certain ideas. It is testament to the intrinsic simplicity of the idea (its relative ease to being proved wrong -- yet was not) that motivated the personalities around him Darwin until Evolution became the firmanent for the scientific understanding of the origin of species and the rise of genetic theory.
4) The books lacks most of the later day varients of Darwinism, there is little about Gould's punctuated equilibrium or Dawkins' selfish genes. The reason is that these ideas compliment the theory and do not challenge any major central idea of the descent of man or the evolution of species --- all understood and accepted by the scientific community by about 1900.
5) This not a book about the "debate" between creationism and science.
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Format: Paperback
As an introductory work in the history of science, this book offers an excellent overview. Mayr was a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist and one of the authors of the "evolutionary synthesis" of the 1940's. This book is an excellent and succinct history of the development of the theories of common descent and natural selection among the biological community from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
I recommend it for the novice, however. For those interested in a more thorough examination of the sociological, and not just biological, history of Darwinian theory, I would suggest Bowler's "Evolution", which is commonly assigned in post-Newton history of science survey classes. As a biologist, Mayr tends to view the history of evolutionary thought, to which he contributed so much, in a triumphantilist manner, which is out of step with most scholarly historiography on the subject. As a biologist, one can hardly blame him. As a historian, he should know better. I would also note that he gives short shrift at the end of the book to all the recent developments in evolutionary research. For instance, he barely mentions the "rediscovery" of the power of sexual selection in the 1970's and 1980's, an idea originally proposed by Darwin himself, and which dominates so much contemporary research.
That brings me to my second point. While an excellent brief history, this book is not a detailed argument describing all the current evidence and thoughts on natural selection, as the title somewhat implies. For that, one should turn to any of Mayr's several other works.
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