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Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology

By: Michael Ruse(Author)

640 pages, 60 b/w photos, 35 b/w illustrations

Harvard University Press

Paperback | Mar 2009 | #178970 | ISBN-13: 9780674032484
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $26/€23 approx
Hardback | Dec 1997 | #56670 | ISBN: 0674582209
Out of Print Details

About this book

The idea of evolution: it fascinates some of us, disturbs others, and leaves only a very few people indifferent. In a major new interpretation of evolutionary theory, Michael Ruse pinpoints the common source of this attraction and discomfort. A renowned writer on evolutionary theory and its history, Ruse has long been sensitive to the fact that many people – and not simply religious enthusiasts – find something deeply troubling about much of what passes for science in evolutionary circles. What causes this tension, he finds in his search of evolutionism's 250-year history, is the intimate relationship between evolution and the secular ideology of progress.

Ubiquitous in Darwin's time, the idea of an unceasing improvement in life insinuated its way into evolutionary theory from the first. In interviews with today's major figures in evolutionary biology – including Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr, and John Maynard Smith – and in an intimate look at the discoveries and advances in the history and philosophy of science, Ruse finds this belief just as prevalent today – however it might be denied or obscured. His book traces the delicate line between those who argue that science is and must be objective and those who deem science a "social construction" in the fashion of religion or the rest of culture. It offers an unparalleled account of evolutionary theory, from popular books to museums to the most complex theorizing, at a time when its status as science is under greater scrutiny than ever before.

"What is your favourite model of biological evolution? Whether it is rungs on a ladder, the ever-branching tree, or even the more modern image of movement between peaks in a 'fitness landscape', chances are it treats time in just one way: later means better [...] The idea of evolution was the child of the hopes of progress, as Michael Ruse puts it in Monad to Man, his impressive 'philosophical history' of these notions [...] Ruse tracks down [this] tendency in the work of innumerable writers [...] All this makes [his] book a superb summary of the views of every major evolutionist. The result is unfailingly interesting. Ruse presents much to argue with, both for aficionados of evolution and for theorists of science."
– Jon Turney, New Scientist

"[A] fascinating, and often maddening book [...] [Ruse] traces the history of evolutionary thought from Aristotle to Stephen Jay Gould and E. O. Wilson [...] [Ruse's book] gives us much to think about: the concept of evolution and the evolution of concepts, progress in nature and the nature of progress."
– Lucy Horwitz, Boston Book Review

"Ruse provides a history of evolutionary biology from its inception to its belated maturity that is full of insight."
– David L. Hull, Nature

"Michael Ruse has written an important book on the status of evolutionism that will almost certainly become embroiled in controversy."
– Peter J. Bowler, American Scientist

"Based on comparisons of professional and popular literature and interviews with leading theoreticians, this book presents a thorough overview and synthesis of evolutionary biology. Of significant heuristic value in the debate of the Western predeliction for the concept of progress as it applies to evolutionary theory. Sensitive to concerns of many non-scientists for the science of evolutionary biology. Extensive literature cited section. Very detailed and interesting accounts of the many people who have contributed to science of evolutionary biology."
Northeastern Naturalist

"With verve, humor and much historical color, [Ruse] traces the conflict between the popular conception of evolution and the professionally legitimate version."
– Jeffrey Marsh, Washington Times

"What Ruse produces is a grand review, an interesting and informative survey."
– Arthur B. Cody, Toronto Globe & Mail

"Monad to Man will be controversial not because of its implications for social and ethical issues, but because of what it says about the scientific study of evolutionary biology [...] Ruse's writing style is bluff, unselfconscious, and opinionated [...] [It] does detract from the appearance of neutrality. But it adds immeasurably to the literary value of the book. Monad to Man combines the sweeping history of the science of evolution with intricate details about individual scientists' researches, prejudices, and personal lives [...] The result is a richly textured narrative [...] Ruse has certainly established that the ideas of evolution and progress have been closely linked. His thesis that the profession of biology has been shaped by scientists' embarrassment about this linkage will be the focus of further debate. In the meantime he has given us a rich and compelling narrative of the personalities and ideas that shaped the history of evolutionary biology."
– Ron Amundson, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

 "The historical and conceptual richness of Ruse's treatment makes it inspiring reading. The book is not intended as a definitive history of evolutionary science. Rather it is a kaleidoscope of events and reflections meant to suggest new questions and inspire further research."
– Nils Roll-Hansen, Nuncius [Italy]

 "From historical research to interviews with today's leading evolutionary biologists, Ruse's book mirrors the lively debates throughout the history of the field [...] This thought-provoking and readable book is highly recommended."
Library Journal

 "A book that will instruct, excite, and infuriate a large readership. It makes for compelling reading, even if at times you want to throw it across the room."
– Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago



1. Progress and Culture
2. The Birth of Evolutionism
3. The Nineteenth Century: From Cuvier to Owen
4. Charles Darwin and Progress
5. Evolution as World View
6. The Professional Biologist
7. Evolution Travels West
8. British Evolutionists and Mendelian Genetics
9. Discipline Building in Britain
10. The Genetics of Populations
11. The Synthesis
12. Professional Evolutionism
13. Contemporary Debates
14. Conclusion


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Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University. He is the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy, and has appeared on Quirks and Quarks and the Discovery Channel. His several books include The Evolution-Creation Struggle and Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?.

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