Anthropologist Cameron M Smith has written an impressively clear, concise explanation of one of humanity’s most remarkable discoveries: that life evolves. He makes clear that evolution isn’t a ‘thing’, as he charmingly puts it, but a process that anyone can see all around them: more specifically, that it’s the consequence of living creatures having offspring (replication), that those children are not identical (variation) and that some of them reproduce more than others (selection).
Smith doesn’t busy himself with questions about the meaning of ‘theory’ or picking fights with creationists – sorry, ‘intelligent design advocates’ – but instead explains, with elegant simplicity, what evolution is, how it works and how it’s an unavoidable byproduct of life in a changing environment.
While the argument is simple and well expressed, he doesn’t skimp on detail. The book delves into questions of what DNA is, how genes work, the way that separated populations of one species develop into different species and the mechanisms at work shaping the myriad different forms of life on our verdant planet. Smith doesn’t get dogmatic (although the final chapter explains what he sees as being the misunderstandings at the heart of the evolution/design debate), but this is a beautifully written book. If you know your science, you’ll find this a deft overview and an elegant argument, and if you’re new to the subject The Fact of Evolution is an excellent primer.