Review: Evolution in a Toxic World, by Emily Monosson

Did you know that oxygen used to be toxic? That some species, like killifish, have already evolved resistance to some water pollutants? That it is mosquitoes’ ability to duplicate alleles that allows them to develop pesticide resistance?

If those sound like things you would be interested in learning more about, you might want to pick up Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats , by Emily Monosson. She details how various living creatures have evolved to survive–and even thrive–when faced with a constant onslaught of toxic substances, starting with the primordial origins of life and ending in the present day. In the process, we learn about the functions of various structures of our bodies as they adapt to changing conditions.

The third part of the book, which deals specifically with humans, was the most interesting to me. (This maaaay have something to do with the fact that my graduate studies revolve around environmental health and environmental justice impacts on humans…). It introduces current toxics, like PBCs and CFCs, and the sorts of effects they have had and continue to have our on bodies. It also seemed to be the most accessible section, with  the least dependence on highly scientific terminology. Monosson’s discussion of evolution itself, and the generational evolution we are able to observe in creatures like killifish and mosquitoes, was incredibly interesting and very well-put.

That being said, I don’t think this is a book for the general layperson, with no environmental health or toxicology previous experience. The first two sections of the book especially are difficult if you are not familiar with the functions of DNA, mitochondria and other cells, and basic toxicology. There were some sections that I found dense and confusing, myself, and I do have some familiarity with the subject. This is a book to take slowly and carefully, and where you may need to look up things if you don’t understand them on the first read. At the same time, it is highly informative and provides a broad range of environmental health issues under the umbrella of one subject: evolution. If you have some interest and experience with toxicology or cellular biology, be sure to check this read out!

I received this book free for review from the publisher through NetGalley. Evolution in a Toxic World was released on April 2nd, 2012, and is available now.

Bookwanderer Rating: Three stars

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