Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Song of the Dodo

I find the process of natural selection (evolution) fascinating. As such I really enjoyed most of The Song of the Dodo, where the author takes the reader through the history of what knowledge has been accumulated in that field, from the pre-Darwin years all the way to today.

What I found particularly interesting was Quammen's analysis of how certain islands became populated, and how its animals evolved to the states they are in today. The study of islands is a great way to better understand evolutionary processes, since they limit immigration/emigration and therefore allow us to observe what happened when various species were forced to go head-to-head to survive (as opposed to flee to greener pastures).

The parallels between evolution and the business world are many, to my mind. To survive, species and businesses need to adapt to niches. First mover advantage can play an important role in some cases. Environments can change, and so species and businesses need to be adaptable. In both realms, it's virtually impossible to predict who the winners will be in advance, but with hindsight we can derive some principles (that may of course be wrong).

My quibble with the latter part of the book is that it becomes less educational and more preachy, as the author has a clear bias towards taking actions that reduce the number of extinctions of certain groups of animals (e.g. pretty ones like birds, as well as primates, I suppose because they behave a lot like humans). But otherwise I found the book highly educational.

1 comment:

juan said...


I liked the Song of the Dodo too. Two other great books on evolution are Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True (his eponymous website is also great, but his posts are more focused on atheism than biology), and Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth.

There's also a new book by Matt Ridley called The Evolution of Everything, in which he likens biological evolution to the emergent ways in which markets, morality, technology and a bunch of other things evolve. Great read, which I suspect you'll like.