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  • Published: 20 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9780141981192
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $22.99

Improbable Destinies

How Predictable is Evolution?




A dazzling tour of evolution in action that sheds light on one of the greatest debates in science

The natural world is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. Convergence suggests that evolution is predictable, and if we could replay the tape of life, we would get the same outcome. But there are also many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change - a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze - caused evolution to take a completely different course.

In Improbable Destinies, renowned researcher Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. Evolution can occur far more rapidly than Darwin expected, which has opened the door to something that was previously thought impossible: experimental studies of evolution in nature. Drawing on his own work with anole lizards on the Caribbean islands, as well as studies of guppies, foxes, field mice and others being conducted around the world, Losos reveals just how rapid and predictable evolution can be.

By charting the discoveries of the scientists who are rewriting our understanding of evolutionary biology, Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution.

  • Published: 20 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9780141981192
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $22.99

Praise for Improbable Destinies

A rich, provocative, and very accessible book, Improbable Destinies is an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the ecological theater and evolutionary play of life, expertly guided one of its most insightful observers. Jonathan Losos has shone a light on a largely unheralded cast of fascinating creatures and ingenious scientists who are reshaping our view of why life is the way it is

Sean B. Carroll, author of 'The Serengeti Rules' and 'Brave Genius'

Improbable Destinies is one of the best books on evolutionary biology for a broad readership ever written. Its subjects - the unfolding of Earth's biological history, the precarious nature of human existence, and the likelihood of life on exoplanets - are presented in a detailed, exciting style expected from an authentic scientist and naturalist

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

This is a wonderfully serious book with a light-hearted voice. Is evolution predictable or contingent? Big question. Why do adaptations converge? Big question. Why is the platypus unique? Smaller question, but fun! Read, enjoy, think

David Quammen, author of 'The Song of the Dodo' and 'Spillover'

Is evolution a story foretold? Or is it little more than the rolls of DNA's dice? In Improbable Destinies, Jonathan Losos tackles these fascinating questions not with empty philosophizing, but with juicy tales from the front lines of scientific research. Drunk flies, fast-evolving lizards, mutating microbes, and hypothetical humanoid dinosaurs all grace the pages of this wonderfully thought-provoking book

Carl Zimmer, author of 'A Planet of Viruses' and 'The Tangled Bank'

Deep, broad, brilliant, and thought-provoking ... [Losos[ is one of the premier writers in biology today

Kevin Padian, Nature

[A] fascinating and beautifully written book

Tom Whipple, The Times

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