Arrival of the Fittest: Book summary and reviews of Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner

Arrival of the Fittest

Solving Evolution's Greatest Puzzle

by Andreas Wagner

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner

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Book Summary

"Natural selection can preserve innovations, but it cannot create them. Nature's many innovations - some uncannily perfect - call for natural principles that accelerate life's ability to innovate."

Darwin's theory of natural selection explains how useful adaptations are preserved over time. But the biggest mystery about evolution eluded him. As genetics pioneer Hugo de Vries put it, "natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."

Can random mutations over a mere 3.8 billion years really be responsible for wings, eyeballs, knees, camouflage, lactose digestion, photosynthesis, and the rest of nature's creative marvels? And if the answer is no, what is the mechanism that explains evolution's speed and efficiency?

In Arrival of the Fittest, renowned evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner draws on over fifteen years of research to present the missing piece in Darwin's theory. Using experimental and computational technologies that were heretofore unimagined, he has found that adaptations are not just driven by chance, but by a set of laws that allow nature to discover new molecules and mechanisms in a fraction of the time that random variation would take.

Consider the Arctic cod, a fish that lives and thrives within six degrees of the North Pole, in waters that regularly fall below 0 degrees. At that temperature, the internal fluids of most organisms turn into ice crystals. And yet, the arctic cod survives by producing proteins that lower the freezing temperature of its body fluids, much like antifreeze does for a car's engine coolant. The invention of those proteins is an archetypal example of nature's enormous powers of creativity.

Meticulously researched, carefully argued, evocatively written, and full of fascinating examples from the animal kingdom, Arrival of the Fittest offers up the final puzzle piece in the mystery of life's rich diversity.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Wagner notes that 'we can predict innovability even if we cannot predict individual innovations,' and his work further undercuts any arguments for intelligent design. " - Publishers Weekly

"This well-written, clear analysis of current research will be of interest to those who want a better understanding of the mechanisms of evolution." - Library Journal

"Arrival of the Fittest contains brand-new scientific insights told in sparkling literary prose. It is a landmark book that combines original, perhaps revolutionary ideas elegantly explained. In particular, the concept of genotype networks—that there are thousands of ways to alter a metabolic pathway without stopping it from working—promises to solve the enduring puzzle of how natural selection can be such a force for innovation." - Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen

"Arrival of the Fittest reveals the astonishing hidden structure of evolution, long overlooked by biologists, which makes Darwin's grand idea viable after all. At the same time, it makes life seem even richer and more remarkable than you thought. Darwin would surely have loved this book; I think you will too." - Philip Ball, former editor at Nature; author of The Self-Made Tapestry

"Wagner's engaging and delightful book will open your eyes to the mysteries of innovation. His insights will entertain and astonish you and change the way you think." - Daniel E. Lieberman, Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences, Harvard University; author of The Story of the Human Body

"A radical departure from the mainstream perspective on Darwinian evolution. Wagner cuts to the core of innovation in living systems. Fundamental. Entertaining. Brilliant." - Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art of Thinking Clearly

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More Information

Andreas Wagner is a professor in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He lectures worldwide and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

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