K. Kampourakis (2018) Turning Points: How Critical Events Have Driven Human Evolution, Life and Development.. Amherst NY, Prometheus Books.
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"Philosophers, scientists, and historians have long debated the relative importance of chance versus destiny. In this insightful analysis, Kostas Kampourakis sides convincingly with Stephen Jay Gould, demonstrating the importance of unpredictable events in shaping both our lives and the course of evolution."
Jonathan Losos, William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor and director of Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University, and author of Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution
"Kampourakis explains how the course of time runs on a knife-edge, how history is full of apparent coincidences on which the greater story turns. The result is a refreshing look at how events unfold, from the grandeur of evolution to the moment-by-moment progress of our own stories."
Henry Gee, author of The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution
"In this extremely original, incisive, and informative treatise concerning human evolution, Kampourakis asserts that the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens, was determined by a number of contingent events, or ‘turning points,’ starting perhaps with the fusion of two chromosomes in one of our hominin ancestors two to four million years ago. Contingent events are also turning points that determine what we are as individuals. No biological expertise is needed—all should read Turning Points. Whether or not you are persuaded by Kampourakis’s arguments, you’ll enjoy his originality and the multitude of his illuminating examples. I very much enjoyed the book."
Francisco J. Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, University of California–Irvine
"Kampourakis presents a strong argument for understanding life processes—including human behaviors—as the result of numerous contingencies that are not determined in a linear, causal sequence. Particularly effective is the argument against genetic determinism, which is presented, like the rest of the book, in very clear prose."
Garland E. Allen, Professor of Biology Emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis
"In this lucid and readable book, Kampourakis makes a compelling philosophical and historical case for the contingency of evolution, the absence of intelligent design, and much more. It should appeal to wide range of readers."
Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine Emeritus, University of Wisconsin–Madison
"A new and exciting way of looking at life’s past, including our own evolution. You may not always agree, but you will be led to rethink many old beliefs and prejudices."
Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University
"Many people still believe that their lives are governed by fate; others have replaced the latter with the genetic plan in the DNA of our cells. Many, while not explicitly denying evolution, nevertheless accept that the emergence of humankind is the outcome of Intelligent Design. Kampourakis convincingly shows that all of these ideas are wrong. I am confident that by reading this book many readers will experience a healthy turning point in their worldview."
Alessandro Minelli, professor of zoology (ret.), University of Padova, and editor in chief, Frontiers in Evolutionary Developmental Biology
The Top 75 Community College Titles K. Kampourakis (2017) Making Sense of Genes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
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Here is a book trailer for Making Sense of Genes, prepared by Cambridge University Press:
Read also the endorsements of the book, as well as excerpts from book reviews:
- by Tobias Uller in Frontiers in Genetics : "...a wonderfully engaging and pedagogical explanation of difficult concepts in biology … Kampourakis has an incredible feeling for how to strike the balance between biological material and conceptual analysis. … If you are teaching life sciences or engaging in any form of public outreach, this book is a must-read."
- by George P. Patrinos in OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology : "...this book addresses the crucial educational and translational science bottlenecks of postgenomics, and delivers on its promise to the readers to move beyond the gene sequence to broader sense making for human genetics and genomics."
- by Charalambos P. Kyriacou in BioEssays : "Kampourakis describes concisely how the late 20th century saw a revision in our view of what a gene really is. … [He] comes down hard on the hype surrounding 'decoding the book of life', as well as [those] who did not understand the relationship between DNA sequences and complex characters. … [the book] provides a useful companion to biology undergraduates and the interested layperson will find it informative in its critique of naïve genetic determinism. I would certainly recommend it."
- by R.K. Harris in Choice : "As researchers make ever more rapid advances in molecular genetics, there is a corresponding effort to explain these advances in understandable terms to the public. However, in the process, concepts are often diluted or altered in ways that compromise their original meaning. … Counteracting and clarifying these misunderstandings is Kampourakis’s primary goal in this book. Along the way, he pays special attention to the terminology and philosophy of genetics, providing a thorough primer in the fundamentals of modern genetics. The extremely lucid discussions in this book are grounded in the experimental history of genetics, and a variety of line drawings and historical images of pioneers in genetics provides just the right level of information to accompany topics"
- by Erica Gorenberg in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine : "Accessible but layered with nuanced detail, Making Sense of Genes not only breaks down the basic biochemistry behind complexities such as genetic mutation but also discusses the societal implications of genetic discoveries. … pinpoints common misconceptions associated with genetics in society and the way they affect culture. … Kampourakis points out the disconnect between the popular conception of what genes are and how they work, and how genes actually function in both good health and disease. … Overall, Making Sense of Genes presents familiar material in an unfamiliar light, keeping non-expert readers engaged without oversimplifying or relying on textbook narratives to explain genetic principles."
- by Oren Harman in Acta Biotheoretica : "The story is well rehearsed, and it is loyally recounted by … Kostas Kampourakis, in his new and impressively didactic book, Making Sense of Genes. … As Making Sense of Genes admirably clarifies, DNA is best thought of as a set of origami instructions for how to make an organism rather than a plan for what an organism will end up looking like. … Kampourakis offers a number of smart suggestions … No more talk of “genes for” as opposed to complex genetic systems interfacing with the environment. Genomes instead of genes now, “gene interaction” rather than 'gene action'
- by Loredana Guglielmi at BioNews : "From Mendel's peas to the Human Genome Project, this book is filled with practical examples that make even the most intricate scientific information accessible and clear … a must-read for educators, journalists, academics and anyone who wants to approach genetics in a systematic way. The author warns the reader of the potential pitfalls stemming from the 'gene for' discoveries we can find in mass media headlines, TV series and sometimes also in authoritative sources such as journals. He gives the audience all the tools necessary to correct the mismatch between popular myth and a real understanding of genetics, in a highly informative and provocative way. Kampourakis combines scientific rigour with philosophical reflection to accomplish the book's mission. He shifts the focus away from the deterministic concept of what genes are and do, and compels his audience to ask: 'How are genes implicated in the development of characters and diseases?' This is the only legitimate question we should really be thinking about when we are trying to make sense of genes."
"… a beautifully and lucidly written book of great insights … I have not seen in one volume such clear analysis of the nuanced view of the ‘gene’ … and justice [done] to understanding genetics in a non-reductive [manner] through a systems approach. The clarity, precision and insights are wonderful."
Sheldon Krimsky, Tufts University
"There is a vast and curious mismatch between what biological science has discovered … and the understanding of the central concept of the gene. Kampourakis’ book is an excellent attempt to correct the situation. By bringing impressive scholastic skills to tackle the problem, [Kampourakis] has in my view made a very major contribution. The book deserves very wide attention."
Denis Noble, University of Oxford
"… an extremely intellectual and erudite treatment of the history and meaning of genes and genomes. … half hard-core genetics and half provocative and fascinating philosophy of science … cogently written, highly informative, and genuinely thought-provoking."
John Avise, University of California
"… fills an important gap in the literature in terms of the balance it keeps between accessibility and scientific rigour. It calls for a change in the ways students and the public are told what genes are and what they do, and it does so with compelling persuasiveness. A must-read, packed with convincing empirical material, for educators, journalists and academics who are critical of the usual ‘gene for’ talk, but do not want to give up on the fascinating insights that the science of genetics provides."
Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter
"… very clearly written, very thoughtfully structured, and marvelously sensitive to the needs of the reader, [Kampourakis] consistently manages to help the reader dial down expectations when faced with hype about genetic tests and the latest ‘gene for’ discoveries."
Gregory Radick, University of Leeds
Wide Review Coverage
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2015 K. Kampourakis (2014) Understanding Evolution. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
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Understanding Evolution has now been translated into Greek.
Read also the endorsements of the book, as well as excerpts from book reviews:
- by Brian Hall in Choice : "One might ask whether yet another book on evolution is needed. In the case of the present book, the answer is yes. … [it] provides one of the clearest, most well-reasoned sets of arguments for why evolution is and must be approached from the evidence and not from any prior religious or other position. The writing is superb, with apparently simple examples that explain essential aspects of evolution."
- by Derek Turner in The Quarterly Review of Biology : "… an excellent introduction to the basic concepts of evolutionary theory, and one that also has an unusual (and welcome) philosophical angle. The clear and accessible discussions of biological examples, augmented by a large number of helpful diagrams and a well-constructed glossary of technical terms, would make this book a good choice for introductory courses on evolution. … Understanding Evolution is both useful and innovative: an introductory volume that also explores what happens when science clashes with intuition."
- by John Wilkins in Panda’s Thumb: "… a wonderful resource for students of all kinds … This is an excellent, and long-needed book. The education of evolution in schools is now so poor in many countries, that this can act as both a primer and as an invitation to think further, and I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone who wants to know what evolution really is and means … Buy a copy."
- by Jonathan Kaplan in Metascience: "Even if one is not convinced that evolutionary biology presents uniquely difficult conceptual difficulties, Kampourakis's work, revealing those difficulties that it does in fact present and showing how to ameliorate them, is of real value."
- by Glenn Branch in The American Biology Teacher: "… informed by up-to-date biology as well as by state-of-the-art historical, philosophical, and psychological scholarship relevant to the teaching of evolution, which Kampourakis masterfully summarizes … Ambitiously planned and carefully argued, Understanding Evolution is a tour de force … a thorough and thoughtful treatment of its topics … It deserves to become a standard text in biology educators' education."
- by Massimo Pigliucci in Science & Education: "Scientific theories are dynamic, ever changing, perpetually incomplete and open to revision … The more the public at large understands this, the better off we will be, and books like Kampourakis' certainly make a valuable contribution to nudging us into that desirable direction."
- by David Long in Science Education: "… a timely and thoughtful introduction to evolutionary biology … Understanding Evolution does an excellent job at enumerating the conceptual problems evolution poses for students … filled with clear examples and well-presented illustrations supporting them … a strong contribution to our repertoire for improving evolution education."
- by August Martin in Acta Biotheoretica: "… [does] an excellent job presenting evolutionary theory and summarizing the evidence for it … [Kampourakis] argues that in spite of powerful emotional and instinctual forces arrayed against it, we have much to gain by allowing the evolutionary picture to enrich our understanding of the world … a balanced, readable, and accessible introduction … Kampourakis deserves praise for pulling together numerous, and sometimes difficult, lines of research and inquiry into a decisive contribution to our understanding of the historical, psychological, and social dimensions of evolution … an indispensable reference for those working in science, and even social scientists … provides us with lasting insights of great importance."
- by David Morrison in Systematic Biology: "… well written, as well as scientifically accurate … The breadth of the author’s knowledge, and the examples used in his book, are impressive … as a reviewer it is hard to find fault with the book. I have never been even slightly tempted to write a book about evolution, general or otherwise, but if I ever did then I would be very happy if it turned out as well as this one.”
- by Andy Squires in Biologist: “This intriguing book seeks to explore why evolutionary theory is so difficult for some people to accept. … Although predominantly for graduates and undergraduates, the book has clear explanations, is well illustrated and would be accessible to any scientifically literate person. … Understanding Evolution isn't another 'evolution book' in the long tradition, as it comes at the discussion from another viewpoint, tackling the causes of misunderstanding instead.”
- by Gerhard Schlosser in Evolution & Development: “The book is written in a very accessible style and manages in a very short space to not only give a basic sketch of current evolutionary theory but also to provide interesting insights into the cognitive barriers that make evolutionary explanations so difficult to accept. Simple graphics and examples illustrate many of the important points. … an overall very rewarding and thought provoking book which will be an asset to everyone teaching evolution.”
- by Jan Baedke in Frontiers in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution: “Understanding Evolution is well written and reasoned, scientifically accurate, and very didactic. It situates original and contemporary biological research in historical and philosophical contexts in a balanced, engaging, and accessible manner. … Kampourakis’ book is a highly important contribution to contemporary education of evolution. Hopefully it will be used as a springboard by various students to approach epistemological, conceptual and historical dimensions of evolution at the border betweenknowledge and belief."
- by Lisa K. Elfring in CBE-Life Sciences Education: “The book provides a valuable resource to help teachers understand the reasons that evolution can be so difficult for students to understand, an area in which many teachers (myself included) struggle. ...The book’s unique focus brings together several important threads that teachers must consider in their own decision making about teaching evolution and provides some useful references and suggestions about the big ideas underlying evolutionary biology. The focus on common barriers to understanding evolution is useful for anyone who is teaching the topic in a formal or informal context."
- by Kevin Arbuckle in the newsletter of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology: "Understanding Evolution is a remarkably balanced book that takes a decidedly nonconfrontational approach with regard to religious (and other anti-evolution) groups and viewpoints, yet still maintains an unabashedly ‘pro-evolution’ stance. By doing so, it presents a platform that is far more likely to achieve the goal of increasing acceptance (or at least understanding) of evolutionary theory regardless of the reader’s background than many other books on the subject. This is one of the book’s two major advantages over similar efforts, the other being the extensive discussion of the barriers to understanding evolution …"
"This is not just another book about why an evolutionary perspective on life is scientific whereas a Creationist perspective is not. In this well-articulated and thought-provoking book, Kostas Kampourakis asks why so many people reject evolution, despite the evidence for it and its enormous explanatory power. Kampourakis addresses the question of the acceptance of evolution from a psychological point of view, convincingly demonstrating that it is a rather counter-intuitive idea: conceptual obstacles to understanding, and thus accepting, evolution are rooted in widespread intuitions related to teleology and essentialism, which generate unwarranted preconceptions about the nature of world and life. Kampourakis' final suggestion is that one should try to understand evolutionary theory without worrying about its religious, metaphysical, or other implications."
Alessandro Minelli, University of Padova
"A tour-de-force, beautifully reasoned and written. This masterful tome will be essential reading for anyone interested in the genesis and broader relevance of evolutionary thought."
John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine, and author of Evolutionary Pathways in Nature
"It is terrific, well written, thoughtful, balanced, and very didactic." Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine
"Understanding Evolution by Kostas Kampourakis deserves a wide readership. It is a sensitive introduction to evolutionary thinking, showing the very great importance of the father of the subject, Charles Darwin, setting the disputes with religion in context, showing that the evidence is overwhelming but that no reader need feel threatened. It is fair and comprehensive, lively without being heavy-handed, and judicious in its judgments. Read it yourself and get a copy for your family, your friends, and your students!" Michael Ruse, Florida State University, and editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought
"Understanding Evolution is a major accomplishment. It combines historical and philosophical perspectives with substantive biological examples to succinctly explain evolutionary concepts. Kampourakis provides us with a superb point of entry into the subject matter that is written with an eye to reader comprehension and effective pedagogy. This is especially on display in the illuminating discussions of conceptual change and different obstacles to understanding evolution. It should be required reading, and not only for students." Alan C. Love, University of Minnesota