by John Tyler Bonner 

  • Overview
  • Review
  • Contents
  • Other books


John Tyler Bonner, one of our most distinguished and insightful biologists, here challenges a central tenet of evolutionary biology. In this concise, elegantly written book, he makes the bold and provocative claim that some biological diversity may be explained by something other than natural selection.

With his customary wit and accessible style, Bonner makes an argument for the underappreciated role that randomness–or chance–plays in evolution. Due to the tremendous and enduring influence of Darwin’s natural selection, the importance of randomness has been to some extent overshadowed. Bonner shows how the effects of randomness differ for organisms of different sizes, and how the smaller an organism is, the more likely it is that morphological differences will be random and selection may not be involved to any degree. He traces the increase in size and complexity of organisms over geological time, and looks at the varying significance of randomness at different size levels, from microorganisms to large mammals. Bonner also discusses how sexual cycles vary depending on size and complexity, and how the trend away from randomness in higher forms has even been reversed in some social organisms.

Certain to provoke lively discussion, Randomness in Evolution is a book that may fundamentally change our understanding of evolution and the history of life.

John Tyler Bonner is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. His books includeThe Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds and Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales (both Princeton).



“[I]ncredibly useful . . . refreshingly honest . . . witty and engaging.”–Tiffany Taylor, Times Higher Education

“[F]orthright, informal, and humorous. His reminder that not every trait has a biologically adaptive function is a welcome lesson, as is his self-deprecating description of his ideas as just another ‘just-so’ story. . . . [A] call to the biologists who take over from him to do more research to confirm or to refute the often surprising ideas here.”–Rob Hardy,Commercial Dispatch

“[Bonner] provides a well-written, well-documented collection of evidence suggesting randomness as a primary engine behind natural selection. . . . This is an excellent essay, valuable to a wide audience. Evolution is an important, timely topic, making Bonner’s work a worthy contribution.”Choice

“[T]he book provides a careful analysis of the relationship between randomness and size in evolution and makes a good case for neutral morphologies.”–James Bradley, Quarterly Review of Biology

“The main strength of this provocative book is that it undoubtedly provides a successful argument against the widespread tendency to give an adaptive explanation for any biological trait, and, above all, it opens the door to a fruitful way to reconsider the traditional view of evolution as mainly driven by natural selection.”–Francesca Merlin, Biol Theory


Illustrations vii
Preface ix
1 Life and the Riddle of Randomness 1
2 Time, Size, and Complexity 17
3 Small Organisms and Neutral Morphologies 40
4 The Evolution of the Decrease of Randomness 63
5 An Exception: Where Small Organisms Suppress Randomness 93
6 The Division of Labor: Two Cases of the Return of Randomness in Higher Forms 101
7 Envoi 118
Acknowledgments 121
Bibliography 125
Index 131

Other books

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by John Tyler Bonner:

  • The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection. [Paperback]
  • The Evolution of Culture in Animals. [Paperback]
  • First Signals: The Evolution of Multicellular Development. [Paperback]
  • Life Cycles: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist. [Paperback]
  • The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds. [Hardcover]
  • Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales. [Paperback]