Twists and turns in our evolution

Biology - Life - Biology - Biology Today
November 18, 2005

Each member of this quartet of established tomes offers much to the reader, student or teacher, and is recommended strongly. Clarity of text, illustrated effectively with clear diagrams and photographs, is the hallmark of all of them. The first three follow a generally standard format and provide comprehensive coverage of animal, plant and microbial biology, with effective integration between these areas where appropriate. The distinctions between them are subtle and mainly involve the ways in which the reader is encouraged to delve more deeply into specific topics. They are suitable for advanced A-level students through to second-year undergraduates, and possibly beyond for selected topics.

The terminology and topic information have been updated extensively in the seventh edition of Biology, by Peter Raven, George Johnson, Jonathan Losos and Susan Singer. The chemical and biochemical aspects of the subject are addressed in the early chapters/sections. This is done clearly without unnecessary complexity as the processes described are put into a cellular context, so establishing a solid foundation for the introduction of more specific concepts, for example immunological responses. Each chapter ends with a concept review and a self-test section where the reader is encouraged to take advantage of additional web-based facilities. These can be accessed using a registration code provided with the book. A CD-Rom is not included with the text but teachers are encouraged to contact the publishers to obtain a CD-Rom that contains artwork and videos that can be downloaded.

A similar provision is made with the seventh edition of Life: The Science of Biology , where, in the absence of an optional bundled CD-Rom that can be ordered separately, the student is encouraged to access a dedicated website to participate in online interactive activities, including animated tutorials. In addition, instructors may obtain a CD-Rom and DVD media library, which includes PowerPoint-based presentations and video sequences, and a resource kit that can help with the development of teaching programmes based on the text. These facilities are a valuable supplement to the book, which offers a clear and comprehensive view of all aspects of biology. The initial emphasis is again on structure/ function at the molecular level, and these topics are reinforced in context throughout subsequent chapters. The end-of-chapter summaries that refer back to relevant figures and/or specific information on the web or CD-Rom are succinct and valuable. These, together with the self-assessment and points highlighted for discussion, give the reader an effective means to consolidate information.

In Biology by Eldra Solomon, Linda Berg and Diana Martin, also in its seventh edition, there has been a successful attempt to create a tome that reads as though it were designed initially as a teaching tool into which the subject matter was added. This book is the only one under review that comes with a CD-Rom. It requires internet interface and is a valuable supplement to the teaching package. Chapters and sections again have a standard format and progression, and are clear and uncomplicated. However, it is the addition of teaching aids and prompts that is impressive.

Diagrams and photographs are provided with succinct explanatory notes and can be used effectively as standalone revision reference points. In addition to the end-of-chapter sections that provide definitions of key terms and the self-tests, the "learning objectives" at the start of each topic are particularly valuable in providing an initial focus. The balance between the coverage of aspects of animal and the coverage of plant biology is worth noting.

Biology Today: An Issues Approach , now in its third edition, moves away from considerations of biological topics per se by introducing them in the context of issues. This results in the presentation of less straight but more focused factual information. Examples of this approach are the consideration of genetic testing, where the polymerase chain reaction is introduced, and the discussion of immunology, the concepts of which are introduced in a chapter devoted to HIV and Aids. The reader is encouraged to interlink information between individual chapters and to develop factual understanding through the practice questions at the end of each chapter, along with questions placed strategically within the text. There is also a dedicated website that offers more information. This very interesting book provides a thought-provoking broader view of biology and is not a standard reference text.

The provision of supplementary multimedia facilities with these books is particularly important for studies in biology, where there is a diminishing amount of time and provision for direct practical work.

Alan Pearson is principal, College of St Hild and St Bede, Durham University.


Author - Peter H. Raven, George B. Johnson, Jonathan B. Losos and Susan R. Singer
Publisher - McGraw-Hill
Pages - 1,250
Price - £35.99
ISBN - 0 07 111183 2

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