Books  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution 

Understanding Evolution

  • Presents the conceptual obstacles preventing the understanding of evolution, easing the reader into the analysis of these concepts
  • Contains numerous illustrations to help the reader understand research conclusions, processes and concepts
  • Combines conclusions and insights from research in history of science, philosophy of science and cognitive science

By: Kostas Kampourakis(Author)

253 pages, b/w illustrations, tables

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Apr 2014 | #208157 | ISBN-13: 9781107610200
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £24.99 $33/€28 approx
Hardback | Apr 2014 | #208156 | ISBN-13: 9781107034914
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £66.99 $88/€75 approx

About this book

Current books on evolutionary theory all seem to take for granted the fact that students find evolution easy to understand when actually, from a psychological perspective, it is a rather counterintuitive idea. Evolutionary theory, like all scientific theories, is a means to understanding the natural world. Understanding Evolution is intended for undergraduate students in the life sciences, biology teachers or anyone wanting a basic introduction to evolutionary theory. Covering core concepts and the structure of evolutionary explanations, it clarifies both what evolution is about and why so many people find it difficult to grasp. The book provides an introduction to the major concepts and conceptual obstacles to understanding evolution, including the development of Darwin's theory, and a detailed presentation of the most important evolutionary concepts. Bridging the gap between the concepts and conceptual obstacles, Understanding Evolution presents evolutionary theory with a clarity and vision students will quickly appreciate.

"This is not just another book about why an evolutionary perspective on life is scientific whereas a Creationist perspective is not. In this well-articulated and thought-provoking book, Kostas Kampourakis asks why so many people reject evolution, despite the evidence for it and its enormous explanatory power. Kampourakis addresses the question of the acceptance of evolution from a psychological point of view, convincingly demonstrating that it is a rather counter-intuitive idea: conceptual obstacles to understanding, and thus accepting, evolution are rooted in widespread intuitions related to teleology and essentialism, which generate unwarranted preconceptions about the nature of world and life. Kampourakis' final suggestion is that one should try to understand evolutionary theory without worrying about its religious, metaphysical, or other implications."
– Alessandro Minelli, University of Padova

"A tour-de-force, beautifully reasoned and written. This masterful tome will be essential reading for anyone interested in the genesis and broader relevance of evolutionary thought."
– John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine, and author of Evolutionary Pathways in Nature (Cambridge, 2006)

"It is terrific, well written, thoughtful, balanced, and very didactic."
– Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine

"Understanding Evolution by Kostas Kampourakis deserves a wide readership. It is a sensitive introduction to evolutionary thinking, showing the very great importance of the father of the subject, Charles Darwin, setting the disputes with religion in context, showing that the evidence is overwhelming but that no reader need feel threatened. It is fair and comprehensive, lively without being heavy-handed, and judicious in its judgments. Read it yourself and get a copy for your family, your friends, and your students!"
– Michael Ruse, Florida State University, and editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought (Cambridge, 2013)

"Understanding Evolution is a major accomplishment. It combines historical and philosophical perspectives with substantive biological examples to succinctly explain evolutionary concepts. Kampourakis provides us with a superb point of entry into the subject matter that is written with an eye to reader comprehension and effective pedagogy. This is especially on display in the illuminating discussions of conceptual change and different obstacles to understanding evolution. It should be required reading, and not only for students."
– Alan C. Love, University of Minnesota

"One might ask whether yet another book on evolution is needed. In the case of the present book, the answer is yes [...] [It] provides one of the clearest, most well-reasoned sets of arguments for why evolution is and must be approached from the evidence and not from any prior religious or other position [...] The writing is superb, with apparently simple examples that explain essential aspects of evolution."
– B. K. Hall, Choice

"[...] an excellent introduction to the basic concepts of evolutionary theory, and one that also has an unusual (and welcome) philosophical angle. The clear and accessible discussions of biological examples, augmented by a large number of helpful diagrams and a well-constructed glossary of technical terms, would make this book a good choice for introductory courses on evolution [...] Understanding Evolution is both useful and innovative: an introductory volume that also explores what happens when science clashes with intuition."
– Derek D. Turner, University of Minnesota, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"[...] well written, as well as scientifically accurate [...] The breadth of the author's knowledge, and the examples used in his book, are impressive [...] as a reviewer it is hard to find fault with the book. I have never been even slightly tempted to write a book about evolution, general of otherwise, but if I ever did then I would be happy if it turned out as well as this one."
– David A. Morrison, Systematic Biology

"[...] a wonderful resource for students of all kinds [...] This is an excellent, and long-needed book. The education of evolution in schools is now so poor in many countries, that this can act as both a primer and as an invitation to think further, and I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone who wants to know what evolution really is and means [...] Buy a copy."
– John Wilkins, The Panda's Thumb Blog

"[...] [does] an excellent job presenting evolutionary theory and summarizing the evidence for it [...] [Kampourakis] argues that in spite of powerful emotional and instinctual forces arrayed against it, we have much to gain by allowing the evolutionary picture to enrich our understanding of the world [...] a balanced, readable, and accessible introduction [...] Kampourakis deserves praise for pulling together numerous, and sometimes difficult, lines of research and inquiry into a decisive contribution to our understanding of the historical, psychological, and social dimensions of evolution [...] an indispensable reference for those working in science, and even social scientists [...] provides us with lasting insights of great importance."
– August W. M. Martin, Acta Biotheoretica

"Even if one is not convinced that evolutionary biology presents uniquely difficult conceptual difficulties, Kampourakis's work, revealing those difficulties that it does in fact present and showing how to ameliorate them, is of real value."
– Jonathan Kaplan, Metascience

"Scientific theories are dynamic, ever changing, perpetually incomplete and open to revision [...] The more the public at large understands this, the better off we will be, and books like Kampourakis' certainly make a valuable contribution to nudging us into that desirable direction."
– Massimo Pigliucci, Science and Education

"[...] a timely and thoughtful introduction to evolutionary biology [...] Understanding Evolution does an excellent job at enumerating the conceptual problems evolution poses for students [...] filled with clear examples and well-presented illustrations supporting them [...] a strong contribution to our repertoire for improving evolution education."
– David E. Long, Science Education

"[...] informed by up-to-date biology as well as by state-of-the-art historical, philosophical, and psychological scholarship relevant to the teaching of evolution, which Kampourakis masterfully summarizes [...] Ambitiously planned and carefully argued, Understanding Evolution is a tour de force [...] a thorough and thoughtful treatment of its topics [...] It deserves to become a standard text in biology educators' education."
– Glenn Branch, The American Biology Teacher

"This intriguing book seeks to explore why evolutionary theory is so difficult for some people to accept [...] Although predominantly for graduates and undergraduates, the book has clear explanations, is well illustrated and would be accessible to any scientifically literate person [...] Understanding Evolution isn't another 'evolution book' in the long tradition, as it comes at the discussion from another viewpoint, tackling the causes of misunderstanding instead."
– Andy Squires, The Biologist



1. An evolving world
2. Religious resistance to accepting evolution
3. Conceptual obstacles to understanding evolution
4. Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species: a historical case study of conceptual change
5. Common ancestry
6. Evolutionary change

Concluding remarks

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Kostas Kampourakis is a researcher at the University of Geneva, where he is presently working on projects relevant to the teaching and the public understanding of genetics. His main areas of interest are evolution and genetics education, as well as the teaching of science concepts and nature of science in the context of the history and philosophy of science.

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