Freaks of Nature

Freaks of Nature : What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution

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Description

In most respects, Abigail and Brittany Hensel are normal American twins. Born and raised in a small town, they enjoy a close relationship, though each has her own tastes and personality. But the Hensels also share a body. Their two heads sit side-by-side on a single torso, with two arms and two legs. They have not only survived, but have developed into athletic, graceful young women. And that, writes Mark S. Blumberg, opens an extraordinary window onto human development and evolution. In Freaks of Nature, Blumberg turns a scientist's eye on the oddities of nature, showing how a subject once relegated to the sideshow can help explain some of the deepest complexities of biology. Why, for example, does a two-headed human so resemble a two-headed minnow? What we need to understand, Blumberg argues, is that anomalies are the natural products of development, and it is through developmental mechanisms that evolution works. Freaks of Nature induces a kind of intellectual vertigo as it upends our intuitive understanding of biology. What really is an anomaly? Why is a limbless human a "freak," but a limbless reptile-a snake-a successful variation? What we see as deformities, Blumberg writes, are merely alternative paths for development, which challenge both the creature itself and our ability to fit it into our familiar categories. Rather than mere dead-ends, many anomalies prove surprisingly survivable-as in the case of the goat without forelimbs that learned to walk upright. Blumberg explains how such variations occur, and points to the success of the Hensel sisters and the goat as examples of the extraordinary flexibility inherent in individual development. In taking seriously a subject that has often been shunned as discomfiting and embarrassing, Mark Blumberg sheds new light on how individuals-and entire species-develop, survive, and evolve.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 326 pages
  • 142.24 x 210.82 x 27.94mm | 476.27g
  • Oxford University Press, USA
  • Oxford, England, United States
  • English
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 0195322827
  • 9780195322828

Review quote

"Mark Blumberg's beautifully written book introduces some major problems in both developmental and evolutionary biology. Individuals can sometimes develop in astonishingly aberrant ways. These freaks of nature challenge the way we think about development and, over the years, have caused some biologists to wonder whether the formation of new species is always as continuous as orthodox theories of evolution purpose."--Sir Patrick Bateson, Emeritus Professor of Ethology, University of Cambridge "Mark Blumberg is a freak of literature--one of the very few scientist-writers (think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks) who can sweep us along as they try to figure out how the exceptions in the species can prove the rule of who we all are. In Freaks of Nature, the specimens are certainly riveting, but its also Blumberg's lucid, lyrical, profound insights into what it means to be human that will stay with the reader."--Richard Panek, author of Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens and The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes "Freaks of Nature examines various kinds of disfigurement that occur in both human beings and animals, includes diagrams and photographs, and questions our assumptions about the abnormally developed...Blumberg urges us to consider how our ideas of what is natural can and should expand to include the anomalies among us."--The Chronicle Review "When people come to the Mutter Museum 'to see the freaks' I cringe inwardly, smile outwardly and generally say nothing at all. I have found over the years that the inhabitants of this remarkable place say far more than I ever could. Whatever thereason for visiting the museum -- fascination, repulsion, even derision -- people tend to leave more informed and perhaps even more aware than when they arrive. And that is exactly how I felt after reading this book."--Anna N. Dhody, Curator of the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, in The Scientist "Timely and wide-ranging, Freaks of Nature shows that although we've passed some exciting landmarks on our journey, we're still some distance from that circled destination, and the route is still unclear."--New Scientist "If you're interested in the science behind the macabre, this book will thrill you. It's also a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about a cutting-edge area of evolutionary theory." --io9.com Neurotopia names Freaks of Nature one of the "Best Books of 2008"show more

About Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Psychology at the University of Iowa. He is the author of three books and one hundred journal articles and chapters on a wide variety of subjects, and is also a co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Behavioral Neuroscience. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Behavioral Neuroscience and was recently President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.show more

Rating details

136 ratings
3.58 out of 5 stars
5 17% (23)
4 40% (55)
3 31% (42)
2 7% (10)
1 4% (6)
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