Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth by Juan Enriquez, Steve Gullans
Is humanity now driving the evolutionary bus? Are we bypassing the slow, scenic route and speeding it down the expressway? Do we know where we’re going? (Have I just overextended a metaphor?)
Seldom do I find a nonfiction book that I can’t put down. This is one. It is a fascinating account of the complex interplay of things beyond genes that affect how species evolve. I highly recommend it.
Not that I don’t have a gripe. It’s probably petty, but “unnatural selection”? Really? Unnatural? It’s not that the term is inaccurate…exactly. What the authors are emphasizing is that human actions rather than the unguided hand of natural selection is now directing how evolution proceeds. Got that, but the word “unnatural” has negative connotations, and the thrust of the book is that humanity guiding its own continued evolution isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may be essential to our survival. Also, the word implies that what humans do, and perhaps even humans themselves, aren’t natural. But it is and we are. We evolved through natural selection just like everything else, and human constructions are no less natural than termite mounds or beaver dams. All creatures affect their environment. We’re just a bit more…blatant about it. The term Darwin used for selective breeding was “artificial selection”, but I’m not crazy about that term either for pretty much the same reasons. How about something like “intentional selection” or even just “human selection”? Either of those, I think, would be a better choice.
Oh, and I caught one typo. It’s on page 226. The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction was not “about 6 million years ago.” It was about 65 million years ago. Somehow, the “5” got dropped in the edition I read (ISBN 978-1-61723-020-2).
Despite all that, this is still one of the best books I’ve read recently. It’s informative, thought provoking, and even hopeful (with all due cautionary qualifications, of course). If you’re interested in evolution or the future of humanity, this is a “must read”.