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the Complete Review
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Shaping Life

John Maynard Smith

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To purchase Shaping Life

Title: Shaping Life
Author: John Maynard Smith
Genre: Essay
Written: 1998
Length: 45 pages
Availability: Shaping Life - US
Shaping Life - UK
Shaping Life - Canada
  • Genes, Embryos and Evolution
  • Part of the Darwinism Today series, from the Darwin@LSE Project. (See links for further information.)

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Our Assessment:

B : brief, interesting presentation of ideas about the development of species and individuals

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Discover B 10/1999 Corey S. Powell
Natural History A 11/1999 R. Brian Ferguson

  From the Reviews:
  • "The first half of the book is a fascinating insider's account (...). Then Smith strays into a highly abstract theoretical dispute that will lose many readers." - Corey S. Powell, Discover

  • "(An) enjoyable and instructive little book." - R. Brian Ferguson, Natural History

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Each title in the Darwin Today series aims to be, according to the editors, "an authoritative pocket introduction to the Darwinian ideas that are setting today's intellectual agenda." Short surveys, some 15,000 words in length, they cover a variety of subjects, from farming to sex to politics. Refer to the links for further information.

       John Maynard Smith's Shaping Life is a very brief account of some of the theories of the development of individual beings (from embryo to full-grown creatures) and the evolution of species. Smith draws on the parallels between these two forms of development, and suggests some of the steps that might be fruitful in better understanding them.
       He discusses both genetics and theories of complex systems, and suggests that it is necessary to examine the many open questions from both vantage points. He also sees the two main strands of current thinking on questions of developmental biology as holistic on the one hand, and reductionist on the other -- and believes it to be useful to consider both views in tackling the questions.
       A solid and interesting introduction to the basics of developmental biology, Smith's examples and explanations are fairly straightforward and often illuminating. The book is only a very cursory survey, but, as such, it is quite successful.

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Shaping Life: Reviews: John Maynard Smith: Darwin@LSE: Other books in the Darwin Today series under review: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       John Maynard Smith is Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex.

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