Monday, April 21, 2008

Bill Bryson on Darwin

It's Patriots' Day weekend here in Massachusetts, and also in Maine. (Apologies to readers in the UK!) As you can see, I'm using the occasion to offer some non-hospital-related items. (See below, as well.)

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors, and I am belatedly in the midst of reading A Short History of Nearly Everything (Broadway Books, New York 2003). As the title suggests, it covers a lot of ground. For those of us interested in the study of the human genome, there is a marvelous paragraph (on pages 3-4) about the random directedness of evolution. I think Darwin would have liked it:

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely -- make that miraculously -- fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older that the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.


Anonymous said...

Quite true -- But given modern science, that will not necessarily be true forever...

Chris H said...

I just LOVE Bill Bryson! Amazing how he's spot-on so very often!