Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present

1632866153-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present by Peter Ward

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

The slow progress of Darwinian evolutionary theory seems to be lacking evidence in the fossil record, but a paradigm shift maybe in the offering as epigenetics might explain why evolution happens so fast that potential fossil specimens can’t be put in the strata. Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics in Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present by Peter Ward attempts to show that epigenetics should be incorporated into the understanding of current evolutionary paradigm thanks to new evidence thanks to various disciplines.

Ward puts forth that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described what is now being call “epigenetics” in his explanation of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, but do to unfriendly colleagues and later Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection Lamarck became a scientific laughingstock for over a century and a half. However, Ward states that as DNA became to be understood and brought into consideration in its role in evolution the ideas of Lamarck began to return to study and now needs to be incorporated into the paradigm of the theory of evolution. Ward then goes through the history of life, especially focusing on the sudden expansion of life and body forms after the great mass extinctions, as well as the history of humanity from the Ice Age through today and our possible future.

Unfortunately instead of a straightforward emphasis on Lamarck’s ideas, epigenetics, and how it can be seen in how evolution has progressed for a general audience, Ward decided to hero-worship Lamarck so much and attacking several scientists but particularly Darwin that the first quarter-to-third of the book was slow grind until he finally focused on epigenetics and discussing evolution through that prism. However because of the amount of pages spent deifying Lamarck—Ward literally, though admittedly with sarcasm said Christians should worship Lamarck not God—and demonizing Darwin that Ward had to rush all over the place in explanations about how life evolved and developed while implying assertions without backing them up.

Lamarck’s Revenge while giving this reader a better knowledge about how the history of the world is seen through evolutionary theory, is nothing more than a book by an agenda driven author akin to current political pundits and lowest-class of pop historians. If fact because of Ward’s bias, I don’t even know if my new knowledge is actually accurate but in any case my new limited understanding of epigenetics would have been better served if he had decided to focus on that instead of wasting page space on the deification and demonizing of long-dead scientists. As a general reader I don’t recommend this to others.

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Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission

1937378721-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission by Don Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the beginning of the 20th-Century the state of Ohio has seemingly been on the forefront of manned flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong to the flight of an “All-Ohio” crew of STS-70 aboard the shuttle Discovery. Don Thomas in Orbit of Discovery relates the entire history of the mission from his assignment to the crew to the post-mission events as well as the event that is it best known for, the woodpecker attack that delayed the launch.

Thomas begins his book with the sudden halt in his pre-flight routine when a love sick woodpecker drilled holes in the foam of the external tank forcing weeks of delays that put him and the other four members of the crew spinning their wheels. This pause allows Thomas to give an account about how he personally got to this point through his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to his course of study in school to achieve that dream then his three time failures to join the program until finally succeeding on this fourth try. He then goes into his time in the program before his flight on the shuttle Columbia and quick turn assignment to Discovery soon after his return. Thomas then related the year long process of training and preparation for the mission until the sudden halt in the process when a woodpecker used the external tank to attract a mate. After NASA was able to repair the foam, the mission returns to normal save for the humor inclusions of Woody Woodpecker throughout the flight in space and the numerous post-mission events that Thomas relates in detail.

The uniqueness of the mission’s delay as well as the fact that the crew was entirely made up of astronauts from one state—well one was given honorable citizenship—made for a good hook for any general reader who might have an interest in the space program. Thomas with the assistance of Mike Bartell gives a very reader friendly look into what it was like to be an astronaut and the course of shuttle missions from assignment to post-flight events without becoming bogged down in technobabble. At the end of the book is included an appendix for profiles for all the astronauts that came from Ohio which is in the spirit of the book and adds a nice bit of history for those interested.

Overall, Orbit of Discovery is a well-written and easy to read book that gives a first-hand account of everything that went into a space shuttle flight. Don Thomas’ own story of his journey to finally getting to the program adds to the account in allowing the read to see how much dedication goes into becoming an astronaut. For those interested in any way in the space program, this is a highly recommended book.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient MysteriesAncient Mysteries by Rupert Furneaux
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The enigmas of history have spawned theories, either scientifically based or plain conjecture. In Ancient Mysteries, Rupert Furneaux attempted to answer timeless questions covering the world through the use of science.

Furneaux covered over 30 “mysteries” that covered such subjects as Atlantis, several monumental architectural structures around the world, Biblical mysteries, several ethnic groups and cultures, mysteries centered in Britain and the Americas, hoaxes, and “soon-to-be” 21st-century enigmas. Through all of them Furneaux attempts to give a description of why the topic in question is a mystery and then over the history of theories before giving as “definite” answer as possible.

Unfortunately for this book, Furneaux used scientific conclusions 20 years old by the time the book was published which are even more out-of-date today. Yet, not all of his answers were based on science through they were not far out theories which he pretty much attempted to dismiss as much as possible. For several topics, Furneaux attempted to straddle the line between “scientific consensus” and far-out theories, so mixed success at best and just plain bad at worst.

The background information Furneaux gives for each of the topics he writes about, though definitely not up-to-date, is the best part of the book. However, the out-of-date science, the occasional stretch of the science that Furneaux, and sometimes condescending tone the author uses in some topics makes he want to caution people away from this unless they are really well read in history.

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Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations

Voices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient CivilizationsVoices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations by Robert M. Schoch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The question on how to view the physical changes of the Earth as well as how and if it effects civilization, dominates the discussion in Dr. Robert M. Schoch’s Voices of the Rocks. Looking through the geological record as well as numerous other sciences, Dr. Schoch puts forwards a different way to look at the history of the Earth and how mankind is affected.

The primary purpose of Dr. Schoch’s book is to propose a different way of viewing how natural laws and processes operate in the universe from the (then) dominate Uniformitarianism and the opposing Catastrophism. The result is a synthesis of the two viewpoints, uniformitarianism with periodic catastrophes which how now become dominate in scientific thinking, however Schoch attaches this synthesis with the Gaia hypothesis that at the time was still be debated but is now being included in larger scientific thought. Although this scientific terminology might seem daunting Schoch writes for the layman who might remember things for high school or college, but isn’t an expert.

Although Schoch’s main emphasis is scientific thought, the subtitle of his book “A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes & Ancient Civilizations” points to the fact that Schoch takes a look at human history as well. Schoch came to fame when he released his geological study on the Great Sphinx that dated it to 7000-5000BCE, much older than the 2500BCE that Egyptologists have dated it. Schoch defends his findings in the case of the Sphinx in terms for a layman but doesn’t go in-depth in detail and terminology as that is not his main purpose in the book. However, Schoch uses his study and the ensuing debate about the progress of civilization and societies to highlight how the rise and collapse of many cultures over time and around the world have been impacted by catastrophic factors both on Earth and from outside of Earth.

While Schoch admits that many of the theories about civilizations and events in Earth’s past are based on his interruption of the evidence proposed either by himself or others who’s work he agrees with, they are an invaluable read whether one agrees with Schoch or not. Yet Schoch also aims at debunking many, some would call them outlandish, theories proposed by von Daniken, Hancock, Stitchin, and many others by the same process of looking at the evidence. Overall while Schoch does incorporate a study of ancient civilizations and societies while looking at his overarching scientific premise, it is more a supporting role.

Overall Schoch’s handles the science very well, his handle on history and societal elements he brings up is unfortunately not so good with many glaring mistakes that even a causal reader will catch. Schoch’s writing style is very fluid and keeps the reader engaged throughout the text, even when his mishandles either history or ancient cultural references. I came to this book with an eye towards the ‘ancient civilization’ in the subtitle in researching for a story I’ve been planning to write for over a decade and while I didn’t get exactly what I was expecting, the scientific information and Schoch relating of his own theories or the theories of other established scientists more than made up for that. Yet I can neither recommend nor warn people way from this book because my purpose for reading is something different from the norm.

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