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The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection
Published in Hardcover by Princeton Univ Pr (October, 1988)
Author: John Tyler Bonner
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Though 12 years old, it still has a wealth of ideas!
Bonner is a master developmental/evolutionary biologist who is best known for his work on the development and morphogenesis of a little known group of organisms called slime molds. A wonderful group of organisms, by the way. In this book, however, Bonner takes on the task of explaining how natural selection can produce increasingly complex systems of living things. A formidable challenge.

The book contains 8 chapters, as follows:

1. A brief summary of Darwinian evolution, along with an indication of the purpose of the book.

In this section Bonner addresses issues such as time, what natural selection is, and the roles that factors such as development, ecology, behavior, and genetics play in the processes of evolution. This chapter is a great primer on ideas regarding natural selection.

2. Evidence for the evolution of size increase (and decrease) from the fossil record.

In this chapter Bonner presents data from the fossil record (which is unavoidably biased) that indicates how the size of things have changed over time. He makes a case that, generally speaking, things have tended to get larger over time.

3. The size of organisms in ecological communities.

Here is a good thought to consider while reading this chapter...organisms of increased size are necessarily more structurally complex than smaller organisms, but, complexity that allowed increases in size to occur existed BEFORE those size increases took place (e.g., mammals). In this chapter Bonner considers topics such as relations between the size and abundance of organisms, size and life histories, size changes wtihin a species, and size in sexual selection. A great chapter full of thought provoking ideas!

4. A problem in developmental biology: Why and how larger plants and animals are built.

In this chapter Bonner addresses these topics: ways to become multicellular; selective forces for multicellularity; development of support structures (thus allowing increased size); proportions and size; developmental steps and size; and the legacy (opportunities and constraints) of past developments.

5. The relation between the complexity of communities and the size, diversity, and abundance of the organisms within them.

This is the chapter that will catch ecologists' eyes. In this chapter Bonner discusses what complexity is, relationships between diversity, abundance, and size, connections between diversity and habitat, and the evolution of diversity. Great stuff!

6. How size affects the internal complexities of organisms in their evolution and in their development.

This was my favorite chapter in the book. Since I have done a good chunk of research on clonal animals, I was interested in reading Bonner's thoughts on clonal versus aclonal animals (the first topic in this chapter). He also addresses topcis such as size and internal complexity, cell size and internal complexity, how large complex organisms are built, plasticity in development, the evolution of internal complexity, and related ideas. This chapter will catch the attention of developmental/evolutionary biologists.

7. Animal behavior: The pinnacle of biological complexity.

In this chapter Bonner looks at relationships between behavior and nervous systems, and natural selection and behavior.

8. The evolution of complexity: A conclusion with three insights.

Bonner concludes with three insights: 1) somatic versus genomic complexity; 2) size-complexity connections; and 3) and connections between integration and isolation.

Though this book is now 12 years old, it is well worth the effort. Bonner does a great job of making complex ideas understandable, and he is able to bring the professional and advanced amateur along for the ride. At 241 pp. this book is not a daunting challenge. It is a great addition to anyone's library!

5 stars, no doubt about it!

Alan Holyoak, Dept of Biology, Manchester College, IN

Life Cycles
Published in Paperback by Princeton Univ Pr (03 April, 1995)
Author: John Tyler Bonner
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Nice Book
Now this is a nice book. The life a biologist and the biology of life in a charming and compact 200 pages. Bonner's cellular slime molds are just facinating; I can't wait to get somewhere where there is soil (I live in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile) so I can find some of these creatures and play with them. If you have any interest in biology or evolution, get youself a copy. It will make you smile. I promise.

On Size and Life
Published in Hardcover by W H Freeman & Co. (May, 1985)
Authors: Thomas McMahon, James Bonner, and John Tyler Bonner
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A full of facts book that's a pleasure to read
This is a delightful book to read ! I found many answers to puzzling questions, and really there were many more riddles than I had previously thought of.

The book is far more than informative. It made me think deeper on how life on earth is organized.

I always wondered if animal shapes where subject to any pattern. Did evolution follow any rules or was it a haphazard process ? Was there any relationship between size and velocity ? Could an organism grow to any size ? Giants can be expected to appear, can I believe unbelievable tales ?

Well, maybe the answer to all above questions is not in the book's scope, but it helps a lot. Actually, I found that top of the scale animals routinely departed from the rule set for the rest of their group. They had simply overrun possible competitors.

Reading it is a pleasure. Even though you'll find some math's in it, this is not a technical book. I wasn't disappointed. It stands as a reference book in my library.

On Growth and Form Abridged Edition
Published in Hardcover by Cambridge University Press (October, 1961)
Authors: D'Arcy W. Thompson and John Tyler Bonner
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On Growth and Form
On Growth and Form written by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson is a classic and should be found on the bookshelf of any well read person.

This book sets our mind up for an education in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and physiology with form and function. Language skills are needed for reading this book as the author uses the original Greek in places for explaination and emphsis. Aristotle comes to mind and German is used for emphsis.

If you want to get the full extent of the text and you are not up to speed on the subjects mentioned or you'll find it hard to read this book. This could be read by a junior or senior in high school. But, I think it would be more appropriate for college.

This book is the study of organic form using methods found in the physical sciences. This book is a challenge to read, but it is very logical and straight forward.

A misunderstood classic
Biologists currently believe that DNA 'codes' 'information'--you can see the garbage we impose on these little hydrogen bonds--everything from your eye color to your ability to speak language.

Yet Physicists now believe that there are universal aspects to phase transitions, which make no reference to their constituent parts. I read Thompson as saying something similar: forms such as the spiral and hexagonal array are displayed in wildly disconnected systems, because they solve an optimization problem that is commonly seen. We may -not- describe a shell with reference to its DNA--not only would it be tremendously difficult, it would be impossible! These forms make -no reference- to constituent parts, only to the very high-level enviornment.

If this is correct, biologists may be barking up the wrong tree! Whatever made them think that DNA 'codes' anything? We know perfectly well that tiny changes in initial conditions can radically change the final product, but in a totally unpredictable way! Better to ask, why do so many things in the world--'living' or not--take on the form that they do? What is this urge to 'live', that is (in physicist's terms) to self-assemble? And, is our instinct correct, that life's form displays the same kind of universality that we know exists for phase transitions?

Thompson's reference to Leibnitz (usually taken as kooky classicism) is hand-in-glove with this argument. His discussion of effective versus final cause reads like a manifesto for a new (or long ignored) science. Wolfram take note: this guy beat you (was genuinely original, and even wrote beautifully) by about 100 years.

a quantitatiave approach to biology
This book is a classic, no two ways about it. It is really the first credible attempt to start taking a quantitative approach to biology, and despite the developments of the past century (molecular biology, etc), the problems raised in this book are just as pressing as they were when thompson wrote it. Anyone working in cell biology nowadays will immediately see applications of the ideas in this book, for example to organelle morphogenesis. The genius and erudition of thompson shine through on every page, making the book inspiring to read.

Lives of a Biologist: Adventures in a Century of Extraordinary Science
Published in Hardcover by Harvard Univ Pr (May, 2002)
Author: John Tyler Bonner
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science in a fortunate era
John Tyler Bonner's career as a biologist spans an incredible era of ever-accelerating advances and complexity in science. Divided into chapters covering two decades each, his account mixes personal memoir with the story of his research. He specialized in slime molds, although his interest roamed throughout all biological disciplines.

Young scientists reading Bonner's book will both smile and grimace. His account of his reports fifty years ago to the NSF regarding his grant will surely produce both reactions at the same time: "Things have not worked out well. I have tried this, that, and the other, and nothing has really worked." The reply was, "Don't worry about it---this is the way research goes sometimes. Maybe next year you will have better luck." My husband, a cloud physicist for over twenty-five years, is utterly astonished at such an exchange.

Bonner writes clearly and sometimes jokily, in true scientific fashion, without much color and brio to hold a reader's interest. Nevertheless he has lived in a fascinating time, has seen the germination and flowering of many ideas that have revolutionized biology, and for this reason alone his book is worth reading.

A Gentle Memoir of a Lifelong Passion
John Tyler Bonner's lifelong passion with slime molds makes for more interesting and delightful reading than one would at first expect in Lives of a Biologist (Adventures in a Century of Extraordinary Science). His life story includes many wonderful anecdotes that go beyond the world of science and include such a unusual assembly of characters as Trotsky, Harpo Marx and Evelyn Waugh. The joy of this book, though, is the biological experiences and this will be a pleasure regardless of one's level of biological background. The excitement of discovery and learning comes through clearly in these pages and the amazing transitions in this field over the past century are presented in a readable and fascinating manner. This is a light, friendly read and a gentle glimpse into the sometimes cloudy world of biological research.

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
Published in Paperback by Princeton Univ Pr (01 August, 1981)
Authors: Charles Darwin, John Tyler Bonner, and Robert M. May
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Cautious Science at its Best
This book contains a wealth of facts, compiled during Darwin's life on matters which were highly controversial at the time. His prior book, Origin of Species, provided the scientific framework for thinking that mankind might, in some way, be a descent from the animal kingdom. For personal reasons, there was some doubt, at the time, whether it would ever be diplomatic to admit such a thing to the human beings themselves, right in their very faces. The title which Darwin placed on this book showed how easy it would be to imagine that the fundamental distinction was closely linked to the question of whom an individual might choose to have sex with, given the great parallels to a wide range of behavior in the animal kingdom. I have looked in this book for evidence that philosophy is a set of ideas adopted mainly in relation to sex, but the philosophy of the fittest for that kind of activity seems to be a bit more modern than Darwin. On a scale of stillborn to born with a brain, Darwin was definitely born with a brain, but it didn't make him crazy enough to suggest that which we may imply ourselves. There are a lot of facts in this book, compared to the number of suggestions, but it shows a considerable amount of thought.

Homo sapiens: just another species under evolutionary theory
A beautiful, historical account of a great naturalist's work. It is important to keep in mind that the book was written 129 years ago, though, since the use of the language would not be considered "politically correct" nowadays.

Darwin was someone "who viewed life on earth in terms of an evolutionary framework grounded in science and reason" (taken from the Introduction by H. James Birx). It is difficult to believe that an educated person would misinterpret his ideas as being sexist or racist. Only the ignorant (or a creationist in disguise) would attempt to discredit the work of one of the greatest minds of all times by giving it the wrong label. Reading Daniel C. Dennett's "Darwin Dangerous Idea" (highly recommended) might help to put it in the right context.

Excellent historical review
While I would never presume - as some reviewers might - to misstate what is said in this classic volume and then presume to suggest that "now you don't need to read the book," I will say that this is an excellent edition of a classic work. All who have any interest in the history of Darwinian evolution and particularly the historical views of the evolution of man will find this fascinating reading, particularly if the context can be juxtaposed with what has been discovered since Darwin's time. Of course, times have changed, our hopefully less euro-centric views have been altered and there has been considerable progress through the generations since the original publication by Darwin, and that makes the progress of human knowledge all the more fascinating, as well as the insight Darwin obviously possessed in his day. This one's a "must-read" for anyone interested in the history of science.

Cells and Societies.
Published in Hardcover by Princeton Univ Pr (March, 1999)
Author: John Tyler. Bonner
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The Evolution of Culture in Animals
Published in Paperback by Princeton Univ Pr (01 May, 1983)
Authors: John Tyler Bonner, Margaret LA Farge, and Margaret LaFarge
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First Signals: The Evolution of Multicellular Development
Published in Hardcover by Princeton Univ Pr (15 February, 2001)
Author: John Tyler Bonner
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The Ideas of Biology
Published in Paperback by Dover Pubns (November, 2002)
Author: John Tyler Bonner
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