Evolution: Making Sense of Life

by Greg Mayer

Another book that was just published in August is a new textbook of evolution intended for biology majors, Evolution: Making Sense of Life, by Carl Zimmer and Douglas Emlen; the title evokes Theodosius Dobzhansky‘s famous 1973 paper “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (pdf). Carl Zimmer, a science writer and journalist, should be well familiar to WEIT readers, while Douglas Emlen, a biology professor at the University of Montana who works on sexual selection, has also drawn attention here at WEIT for his marvelous photographs of beetle weapons (and I wonder if he’s related to the famous Emlen family of biologists). Many illustrations have been provided by Carl Buell, the noted scientific illustrator. (I reviewed a couple of chapters in manuscript.)

The book is an interesting collaboration between a science writer and a biologist. There have been other such collaborations, usually for large multi-author introductory textbooks, where a writer is brought on to meld together and bring unity of voice to the disparate writing styles of the many scientific authors. In this case however, Zimmer is already a noted author on evolutionary topics, having written such books as At the Water’s Edge (my favorite) and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (a companion to the PBS series), and had previously written The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, intended as a non-majors text. The new majors’ text grew in part out of this earlier book.

The book is published by Roberts and Company of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a relatively new publisher that is quickly making a name for itself in academic biology publishing. In addition to textbooks, they publish important monographic works (e.g. Trevor Price’s Speciation in Birds, the perfect complement to Jerry and Allen Orr’s Speciation). We’ve noted one of their books, edited by Jonathan Losos, here at WEIT before.


  1. jpsullivan
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Looks like a wonderful textbook. Would love ot see a copy. You’re right about the family connetion: Doug is Stephen Emlen’s son.

  2. Gordon Hill
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Just as I was getting my reading stack to a manageable level… this… Thanks… 😉

  3. gbjames
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It would be nice if it wasn’t priced like a textbook.

  4. jeffery
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Fundamentalist Christian to friend: “Well, I see the evolutionists have come out with yet another book; what, do they think that if they just repeat all of their myths and lies over and over again, that we’ll believe them?”

    • lanceleuven
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Whereas our one and only book got it all right first time! 😉

  5. Avis
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Jerry- are you going to adopt it??

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      I’m using Futuyma this year, which is probably the last time I’ll teach intro evolution. The loose-leaf edition is still pricey, at $67, but still cheaper than the nearly $100 for this volume. That price I consider unconscionable, especially for students.

  6. Matt G
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve had the app on my iPad for some time now, but only the first chapter. Is there any word on when others will become available?

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      What’s the app like? Is it basically just a PDF, or is it more an all singing-all dancing kind of thing?

      • Matt G
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        It’s a party, but BYOB. Not a PDF – nice layout and access to high res graphics. Haven’t dug that deep, to be honest. The app and first chapter are free, so check it out.

  7. Umkomasia
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I got a review copy. I am very seriously considering adopting this book for my class. It’s really good at covering both population genetics level material and macroevolutionary topics including paleontological evidence.

  8. maryk321
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I agree. It’s a wonderful introductory text. If you haven’t picked up a copy, you should! I am considering adoption as well. It’s really good.

  9. Carl
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I purchased a copy a couple of weeks ago and have read four chapters and skimmed through a lot. The illustrations and writing will keep you interested and informed great for just anyone wanting to learn more than just the basics.

  10. Steve
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been out of school for a long time and shouldn’t be surprised that price are up, but JEEZ! $115 for a Bio book!! I’m glad I’m 72!

  11. Ichthyic
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    how does it compare/contrast with Futuyma’s textbook?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted October 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      I was going to ask the same question.

  12. bonetired
    Posted October 6, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Not too expensive in the UK…..

    £42 from Amazon

    • bonetired
      Posted October 6, 2012 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      Sorry – £45

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