Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: The Chemistry of Evolution

This book by R.J.P. Williams and J.R.R. Frausto Da Silva is a little 450-page version of a chemist's story about evolution. I have tagged and marked it up and thought about it so much all I can say is for the review wait for the Weter Lecture!

The only additional thing I have to say is that, you know how sometimes some people say there's hole in that plot (of a movie or something) big enough to drive a truck through? There's no such holes in the substance of this book, but the implications are so vast that I feel like there's holes in that sense to drive through -- questions to answer, and freeways to drive down. So in a book of science, a discussion of "holes big enough to drive a truck through" doesn't have to be pejorative -- in this case it's a very good thing because there's a lot of thinking left to do.

Now for the time to do it ...

11 comments:

Eric Sherman said...

Hi Ben,

Did you ever write a complete review of this book or give a lecture that is downloadable?

Very interested,
Eric

BenMc said...

Thanks for your interest. It's scheduled for Feb. 2 2010. It should be on iTunesU within a week or two after that (I'm sure I'll post something about that when it's up). I'll use the RJPW book as a "chemical story" of creation and then I'll talk about other stories of creation. I'm at work on it now ...

Eric Sherman said...

Ummm..,would you like to form a book club? You could send this book to me to borrow and I could send you a couple of magazines:-) Expensive book!

BenMc said...

Yeah, tell me about it ... I used a 40% off Barnes and Noble voupon with some other discounts and still paid 50 bucks for it! I was able to get my library to buy it, it may be available in interlibrary loan, AND there's a 2003 J. Theor. Biol. paper by RJPW that summarized the book. It's very very dense but covers the same ground. Let me know if you have trouble finding that article -- that's where I'd start. Most libraries have RJPW's older books, but some don't have this particular book yet.

Eric Sherman said...

I'll look for the paper. The library that has it is 2500 miles away! Thanks again.

Eric Sherman said...

Hi Ben,

I couldn't find the paper you mentioned. Any chance you have a copy or link?

Best,
Eric

BenMc said...

Search for: "Evolution was Chemically Constrained" on Google Scholar. If you have trouble tracking down a copy after that email me directly -- my email is my intials @spu.edu. (My initials are bjm!) (Sorry for the confusing way of putting it, gotta keep my email away from the 'bots)

Eric Sherman said...

Thanks, Ben. Found it.

Have you read Brian Goodwin's, "How the Leopard Changed It's Spots", "Signs of Life" or Stuart Kauffman's, "Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution?"

These seem to highlight the chemical and physics laws involved in the influence of development and evolution. (Can't say that I've been able to comprehend in detail any of these works)

Would it be proper to consider your view more persuaded by "Structuralism?" and/or "Systems Biology?"

Best,
Eric

Eric Sherman said...

For others interested, the book can be purchased in PDF chunks at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/book/9780444521156

Ugh! Still very expensive!

BenMc said...

Hi Eric, I think the short answer to your question is that as a chemist, I find that thinking about 1.) the entire system is helpful (so systems biology) and 2.) the reactivities and availabilities of the various elements is helpful. To me it's about the story that is told when you put together the periodic table with the evidence from nature about what came first and how, and I think it's a wonderful story. Not sure how that fits into those categories but I'd call it "narrative chemistry" or something. But that sounds awfully vague ...

I have not specifically read those books you mentioned, but I'll look for them. Right now I'm reading "What is Life?" (the new one, by Dorion Sagan and Lynn Marguiles), which has its strengths and weaknesses, but is definitely worth a read. More to come ...

Eric Sherman said...

It sounds like me you are really trying to account for the phenemenon from a pluralistic perpective, taking into account all the various mechanisms involved rather a simplified, genocentric, reductionst approach.

I've read Acquiring Genomes by Margulis/Sagan. Endosymbiosis is just one more example of how Irreducible Complexity can be accounted for and thus refuted.