• Improbable Destinies

  • Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution
  • By: Jonathan B. Losos
  • Narrated by: Marc Cashman
  • Length: 12 hrs
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (80 ratings)

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Improbable Destinies

By: Jonathan B. Losos
Narrated by: Marc Cashman
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Publisher's Summary

A major new work overturning our assumptions about how evolution works.

Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out 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. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary freaks? And what does that say about life on other planets?

Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be.

Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos' insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

©2017 Jonathan B. Losos (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"In a refreshingly accessible narrative, laced with piquant anecdotes, Losos underscores the human significance of science affecting not only how we interpret our own place on the planet but also how we envision life in distant galaxies. Wonderfully lucid; singularly engaging.” (Booklist starred review)

“A cheerful, delightfully lucid primer on evolution and the predictive possibilities within the field.” (Kirkus starred review)

Losos explains both the science and the underlying philosophy of the questions being asked in an accessible and engaging manner ... The book is as enjoyable as it is informative.” (Publishers Weekly

What listeners say about Improbable Destinies

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    3 out of 5 stars

Too much trivia.

The overall theme of this book is how individual events shape evolution. This is an interesting topic, but this book is too full of trivia to focus on the central idea. Long passages detail trips to islands to study the evolution of the local fauna, which should be interesting. Instead, we hear about who he met, what they wore and other trivia. I was unable to follow the biology because of all the extraneous details.

7 people found this helpful

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Comprehensive, probably, but a bit dry

It’s a fine book, not particularly enthralling. It reads a bit like a laundry list. We can be grateful for the narrator who really brought some life to this book. I’m a biologist, i understood the jargon, but if i weren’t, I would have been lost. Not a go to book about evolution for me. And In the end, there was no particularly profound insight.

3 people found this helpful

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This is a brilliantly told account of contingency and determinism, entertaining to both laypeople and evolutionary biologists!

In this book, the author explains complex biological phenomena in a way that is digestible to anyone, regardless of whether they are just interested in biology and evolution or whether they’re a professional evolutionary biologist. The author provides a comprehensive overview of the many breakthroughs that have occurred in evolutionary biology over the past half a century.

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Interesting read

Compelling and convincing argument for convergent evolution. The examples used are thought provoking and you will find yourself discussing them at cocktail parties. The book does get a little long toward the end, and while I did still want to hear about the experiments, I did not need to have the theme pointed out over and over.

Overall, I highly recommend this book and feel that as we continue to use DNA sequencing instead of phenotype to re-build phylogenetic trees, the theme of this book will become even more relevant.

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  • Eszter Pos
  • 12-19-18

extremely entertaining and intelligible

Amazing story of how evolutionary biology developed, illustrated with many well chosen examples and picturing the realtime challenges of scientists. Honestly, I couldn't put it down. It's hard to pick a single case study from the many, but the Trinidadian study on the fish and lizards, and the 3 decade long lab study of E.Coli is exciting and brings even the laic reader close to valuing the birth of a fresh and long-awaited scientific discipline.
Moreover, it's a great audiobook, with the narration being easy to understand, but I suggest it to be listened to with a slight speedup.