The Theory That Changed Everything: ‘On the Origin of Species’ As a Work in Progress

Philip Lieberman. Columbia Univ., $30 (224p) ISBN 978-0-231-17808-2
Lieberman (The Unpredictable Species), professor emeritus at Brown University, uses Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection as a springboard to discuss a range of interesting topics that demonstrate the power natural selection has had in shaping human evolution. He references some of his own groundbreaking research, including some regarding humans’ ability to speak and our closest primate relatives’ inability to do the same. Lieberman clearly explains complex issues such as epigenetic mechanisms and the reasons he disputes “Noam Chomsky’s claim that all humans possess an innate organ of the brain, a universal grammar that specifies the syntax of every language that has or will exist.” The book concludes with a chapter entitled “What Would Darwin Think About...” that is misguided at best and embarrassing at worst. Here readers are told, for example, that in response to global warming “Darwin would be a presence on the Internet [and] would be e-mailing friends and contacts in high places, urging them to action.” Such speculation isn’t particularly informative; nonetheless, there’s much of interest elsewhere in the book to engage readers interested in the evolution of humans. Illus. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/11/2017
Release date: 11/01/2017
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