New Internationalist

Book review: Metamorphosis

July 2011

By Frank Ryan

Subtitled ‘Unmasking the Mystery of How Life Transforms’, this important and illuminating book reveals how the study of metamorphosis – one of nature’s most dazzling conjuring tricks – is shedding new light on evolutionary theory. Ryan begins with the groundbreaking early naturalists who focused on the process by which a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, or a tadpole into a frog or toad. He then walks us through the development of modern entomology and brings the story right up to date with a detailed account of marine biologist Don Williamson’s controversial ‘evolution through hybridization’ theories. Williamson’s argument, still something of a hot topic in the scientific community, is that various otherwise inexplicable anomalies in evolution can be explained by the principle of cross-species fertilization, involving the sperm of one creature and the egg of another.

Frank Ryan writes with verve and conviction, skilfully marshalling his facts and painting vivid pen-portraits of his central characters – not least the engaging and self-deprecating Don Williamson, now 89, retired and relishing the debate his theory has sparked. Metamorphosis is aimed squarely at the general reader rather than the scientific cognoscenti and it is a lively and thoroughly entertaining read; one of the best scientific books of recent years.

Buy from Amazon UK

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 444 This column was published in the July 2011 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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  1. #1 JeanetteHay 13 Sep 12

    I hope the book review explored more of the contents of the book, so that it will give readers a better idea of what are the themes explored. This looks like a really good book to read, and even if we may not agree on the theory of cross hybridisation, we can still broaden our horizon with this extra knowledge.

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Book review: Metamorphosis Fact File
Product information Oneworld, ISBN 9781851688463
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This article was originally published in issue 444

New Internationalist Magazine issue 444
Issue 444

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