I finished Richard Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable, and I must say, it’s a very enjoyable book.
The central theme of the book is how evolution achieves heights of complexity by very gradually climbing up from simplicity. He never actually mentions the term “fitness landscapes“, but he takes the analogy there quite often.
Along the way, he also debunks some common creationist myths, including the “irreducible complexity” of the eye.
While this may sound pretty straightforward, and thus boring, to anyone who already understands these things, it’s still very much worth reading for the truckloads of trivia he includes.
He talks about the webs of spiders, the hives of bees, the mounds of termites, the wings of insects and birds and gliding squirrels and bats and fish, the eyes of spiders and insects and mammals and fish and molluscs, the shells of snails and shellfish, the construction of arthropods, the reproductive habits of fig wasps and figs, and many, many more things, and all in a way that’s easily understandable, often even to children. If you liked the National Geographic channel before every other show became a Quest for Noah’s Ark, you’ll enjoy these stories.
And the whole thing is very well-illustrated, both with drawings (mostly by his wife, Lalla Ward) and with inset glossy pictures. It’s a pity even the inset was in black-and-white, but perhaps that’s just because I have the pauper college student edition of the book. The lack of color didn’t really detract from the experience, anyway.
The biomorphs from The Blind Watchmaker make another cameo, and have been expanded to be able to deal with new issues, including rotational symmetry, and new versions of the program specifically simulate arthromorphs and mollusc shells.
It’s all very fascinating, and doesn’t even suffer from quaintness too much, since the book was written in 1996. Still a bit, though.
So yes. A very good book that’s very much worth reading. It’s not as painfully important a book as The Selfish Gene or even The Blind Watchmaker, but a good companion to them. I look forward to passing many of the stories in it on to my children.
I showed my mom some of the pictures (after a discussion about figs), and it convinced her to read A Devil’s Chaplain, because that’s the only Dawkins I have in Dutch (“Kapelaan van de Duivel”).
Next in line is Unweaving the Rainbow, also by Dawkins.