With the emergence of the new field of evolutionary developmental biology, we are witnessing a renaissance of Darwin’s insights 150 years after his Origin of Species. Thus far, the exciting findings from ‘evo-devo’ have only been trickling into college courses and into the domain of nonspecialists. With its focus on the human organism, Quirks of Human Anatomy opens the floodgates by stating the arguments of evo-devo in plain English and by offering a cornucopia of interesting case-studies and examples. Its didactic value is enhanced by 24 schematic diagrams [see Figure 1.3 to left] that integrate a host of disparate observations, by its Socratic question-and-answer format, and by its unprecedented compilation of the literature. By framing the ‘hows’ of development in terms of the ‘whys’ of evolution it lets readers probe the deepest questions of biology. Readers will find the book not only educational but also enjoyable, as it revels in the fun of scientific exploration.
Ever since the Middle Ages, anatomy has been a clinical subject. Now, evo-devo is showing how body parts are encoded genetically and how they arose evolutionarily. It is using our genome as a Rosetta Stone to decipher our past. Quirks of Human Anatomy takes the reader back to a time when there were no males or females, no arms or legs as we know them, and only rudimentary eyes. From that perspective our anatomical flaws make sense as the quirky outcomes of our peculiar history.
Lewis I. Held, Jr. is Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Texas Tech University.