Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Rough Guide to Evolution by Mark Pallen

An excellent overview of the many scientific, political and religious aspects of this topic.

To get the one negative comment out of the way, I must say that the "style" of having lots of information boxes and separate little bits of texts annoyed me as I kept having to flick back and forth to keep things in any kind of order. To be fair, I guess that such things are a "feature" of this whole series of books, so I can't and won't hold this against the author.

We get an excellent potted history of the theories before Darwin and a great introduction to what his theory actually entails. The facts are put across succinctly but then Pallen also manages to include a strong narrative sense and, together with his very light touch with the scientific explanations this shows off his abilities as a writer. So I would recommend this book to someone who wants to know what all the fuss is about and as a good way to get a great first taste of a huge topic.

We then take a large step back to enable us to get a sightly wider angled view on a little thing like the whole history of life on this planet and the story of human evolution. Again this is packed full of facts but rises well above a simple recounting of them. I would like to see this guy tackle something more limited in scope but in greater depth, I think he would do a good job of it.

Next we get an assessment of the impact of the theory outside of scientific circles. This will perhaps be the most interesting to the non science orientated readers as they will learn quite a lot about the current creationist movement that may surprise them (and for that matter, might surprise many creationists) such as the fact that young earth creationism is less than 100 years old for example.

Finally we get a list of "resources" ranging from tourists guides to lists of music on the subject.

All in all this was very enjoyable for me, even though I have read a lot on these subjects. I would think that it would be an excellent read for someone who wants a good overview of all the angles on the story so far, perhaps because someone is trying to tell their kids that most scientists in the world are lying to them (or is that just me?).

Four out of five stars.

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