BIOLOGY: Observations Of An Evolutionist

Ernst Mayr
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press;
Cambridge; 564 pages; $35

At 84, Ernst Mayr is as active, intellectually engaged, and committed to the vitality of evolutionary biology as he was in 1942, when he helped launch modern evolutionary theory with the publication of Systematics and the Origin of Species.

In a near half-century of writing essays since then, he has both reaffirmed his belief in current theory’s framework of evolutionary synthesis and provided an illuminating look into his own intellectual evolution.

Twenty-three of those essays and five new ones compose this collection, whose title is somewhat misleading, since “philosophical” subjects such as cause and effect in biology or the autonomy of biology appear as the leading themes of only eight essays. Most of the essays instead focus on biological themes (natural selection, speciation, punctuated equilibrium, classification) or historical...

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