Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence

Greg Graffin. St. Martin's/Dunne, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-01762-8
Historians and scientists both see life as about competition, but it is more about cooperation, says Graffin (Anarchy and Evolution), frontman for the punk band Bad Religion and occasional Cornell University lecturer. In this spirited work, he explains that losers of human wars undergo less "annihilation" than "assimilation." Similarly, in the creation of complex life, he says that what mattered most was simple organisms' assimilation—not annihilation—of one another. However, Graffin makes some sweeping generalizations that lack essential nuance. For instance, he says that our nuclei are probably assimilated Precambrian viruses; our macrophages, assimilated amoebas. Neither theory is widely accepted, yet he grants them the same weight that he gives to the more established notions that our mitochondria are assimilated proteobacteria and plants' plastids are assimilated cyanobacteria. There are other passages that will give specialists pause, and brighter lines should have been drawn between guesses and genetically supported theories. Still, while his speculations supporting his thesis—that symbiosis is the key driver of complex life—are not all fully backed by research at this time, they are always intensely thought-provoking. Graffin's view that complex life is generally more about cooperation than conflict remains controversial among evolutionary biologists, but many of his arguments are intelligent, challenging, and inspiring. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2015
Release date: 09/15/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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