I hope Jerry Coyne will forgive me that my frequent thought as I was reading his new book, Why Evolution Is True(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) was, “Wow, this sure is easier to read than that other book.” That other book, of course, is Coyne and Orr’s comprehensive text on Speciation(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which is a technical and detailed survey of the subject in the title, and that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone who wasn’t at least a graduate student in biology. We all have our impressions colored by prior expectations, you know, and Jerry Coyne is that high-powered ecology and evolution guy at the University of Chicago whose papers I’ve read.
The new book is simple to summarize: just read the title. It’s aimed at a lay audience and answers the question of why biologists are so darned confident about the theory of evolution by going through a strong subset of the evidence. It begins with a discussion of what evolution is, then each subsequent chapter is organized around a class of evidence: fossils, embryology and historical accidents, biogeography, natural selection, sexual selection, speciation, and human evolution. If you want a straightforward primer in the experiments and observations that have made evolution the foundational principle of modern biology, this is the book for you.
Why Evolution is True makes an almost entirely positive case for evolution; it has an appropriate perspective on the current American conflict between science and religious fundamentalism that avoids dwelling on creationist nonsense, but still acknowledges where common misconceptions occur and where creationist PR, such as the Intelligent Design creationism fad, has raised stock objections. It’s a good strategy — the structure of this book is not dictated by creationist absurdities, but by good science, and creationism is simply noted where necessary and swatted down efficiently. It’s a more powerful tool for it, too — creationists can lie faster than anyone can rebut them, so the best strategy is to focus on the real evidence and force critics to address it directly.
You all really ought to pick up a copy of this book if you don’t already have a sound understanding of the basic lines of evidence for evolution (or, if you do, you could always get Speciation to get a little more depth). I recommend it unreservedly. Oh, except for one little reservation: it won’t be available until January. Go ahead and put it on your Amazon pre-order list, then.