cover image Harmony and Conflict in the Living World

Harmony and Conflict in the Living World

Alexander F. Skutch. University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-8061-3231-0

Skutch (Life of the Flycatcher, etc.), a world famous tropical ornithologist, has been publishing books and articles on birds and natural history for more than 70 years. His most recent work, however, is an uneven discourse on his view of the natural world. Here, Skutch argues that increasing harmony is the dominant force structuring all biological communities, including human ones. Ultimately, he fails to craft a convincing argument in part because he never quite provides a salient definition of harmony and in part because he wanders so far afield in his nine chapters that a sharp focus is never achieved. Often straying from his main point, Skutch makes a large number of controversial statements along the way, contending, for example, that group rather than individual selection is very common and that anthropomorphism is most assuredly not to be avoided. He claims that ""biodiversity has certainly become excessive, and is responsible for a major part of the sufferings of animals, including humans,"" and that ""beneficence too often helps incompetent individuals with heritable defects not only to survive but to beget children who are likely to receive the undesirable traits of their parents, thereby deteriorating the human stock."" There is little evidence to support the accuracy of such statements--and a great deal of recent work to discount them. Skutch seems to ignore virtually all recently published material: only two of his 74 references were published within the last 10 years. 18 line drawings by Dana Gardner. (June)