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See our interview with the author here.
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.
So are we humans, and all the plants and animals in the world today, inevitabilities or evolutionary freaks? What role does chance play in evolution? And what could it tell us about life on other planets?
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.
Jonathan B. Losos is the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution and the David Starr Jordan Prize from the American Society of Naturalists.
"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
"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
"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