Saturday, 21 July 2012

Did Darwin Get It Right?

Listening to:

Sibelius, symphony no. 1 in E minor, op. 39

Just read:

John Maynard Smith, Did Darwin Get It Right? Essays on Games, Sex and Evolution.

This rather bitty book is a collection of short pieces that Maynard Smith wrote for magazines such as Nature, Amercian Scientist and The London Review of Books. Many are reviews of various books. Unfortunately a number of these don’t make it obvious just what book is being reviewed, which makes for a rather disconnected reading experience.

Some of the pieces are also rather old. The book was originally published in 1988, and though most of the essays are from the 80s, there are some from the 70s, and one from the 60s. It’s hard, for example, to get excited about the controversies to do with punctuated equilibria and sociobiology.

My last criticism is that essays of this sort naturally need to be self-contained, and this means that those essays on similar topics often have to repeat pretty similar introductions to the area. This can be a bit wearying.

Having said all that, Maynard Smith writes in an appealing style, and most of the material is actually pretty interesting. It’s also good to be getting this stuff from someone who actually contributed to the subject and is not just a journalist. I just can’t see myself returning to this volume as a particularly great example of popular science writing.