The Evolution of Complexity: by Means of Selection was written by author John T. Bonner. Princeton University Press in Princeton New Jersey published the 260-word book in 1988. In this book, Bonner tries to answer the question of why there has been an increase in size and an increase in complexity over time, and what is the relation of genes, the environment, development, and behavior to the innovations that have occurred over the last three billion years. Also he states that from the very beginning of life on earth, to the larger and more complex animals and plants that live on its surface today, there has been a remarkable progression, and it is his purpose to seek a deeper understanding of that progression in his book. Bonner answers these questions using three explanations to our evolutionary progression that he labels development, ecology, and behavior. In this century, Bonner states that great advances in evolutionary biology made possible by the population geneticists completely ignored the role of development.
The reasons for this are largely because embryologists and evolutionary biologists were concerned with totally different questions. Therefore, the mainstream of evolutionary studies was concerned only with the evolution of adults, and development seemed to have little bearing on the central problem. Although the form the new interest in the relation of development to evolution has assumed is still indistinct. It has been generated by a number of new trends such as molecular genetics and paleontology. As a result the paleontologists and molecular geneticists have become allies in a new search for mechanisms of rapid evolutionary change. Another approach to evolution that has been actively pursued also had its origin in the last century is ecology, the natural setting of animals and plants.
Bonner states that there are a few general things about the relation of ecology to evolution. In the first place, the environment of any one plant or animal is made up in part by the physical elements and in part by the other animals and plants that surround it. Therefore the relation between organisms is one of the important factors, which affect the direction of selection. There is a fundamental distinction between genetic transmission of information and behavioral transmission. In the evolution of animals, behavior has played a significant role. By developing elaborate behavior patterns, animals can compete more successfully.
They have a greater variety of ways in which to cope with external demands. Although each case is special, Bonner states that the greater the flexibility of the response, the more effective can be the food catching or the predator avoiding. Therefore, increased reliance on behavior is one very successful way to arm in nature. In my opinion of the book, I feel Bonner dealt with the issues he confronted well. I also believe that he is very objective on his opinions and is not biased in any aspect.
The organization of this book was very well thought out, starting with a brief summary of Darwinian evolution and concluding with three insights on the complexity of evolution. The length was also very well planned, getting more than enough information on this controversial subject of evolution. In conclusion, I feel that this book is of current interest and I would highly recommend it to someone interested in the study of evolution and its many facets.