In 1829 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote voluminous evolutionary ideas, was buried, virtually penniless, in a rented grave. There was no rest for the weary or the dead when decades later August Weismann cut off the tails of twenty-two generations of mice, discrediting Lamarck's idea of acquired characteristics and driving yet another nail into the poor man's coffin. (For more about Lamarck's life and ideas see J. B. Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984 and the insightful comments by Richard W. Burkhardt and David Hull therein).
As Lamarck was interred, his daughter remarked that the future would avenge him. It appears that time has come. Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb's Evolution in Four Dimensions provides an extraordinary explication and synthesis of hereditary mechanisms (genetic, epigenetic, behavioral and symbolic) that may be called Neo-Lamarckian - the set of ideas that extend heritable, adaptive changes beyond natural selection to include "...internal (evolved) systems that generate "intelligent guesses" in response to the conditions of life." (p. 361). The mechanisms Jablonka and Lamb explore include, but go well beyond, the 20th century concepts that locked inheritance inside Mendel's merkmal or Crick's Central Dogma or Morgan's Drosophila chromosomes and observable traits. In so doing, the authors make an important contribution to the 21st century paradigm about heredity that is a-building. (Other contributions include: Mary Jane West-Eberhard's Developmental Plasticity and Evolution, Oxford Univ. Press, 2003; Massimo Pigliucci's Phenotypic Plasticity, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2001; Gilbert Gottlieb's Synthesizing Nature-Nurture, Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997).
Dr. Jablonka, Professor of Biology at the acclaimed Cohn Institute in Israel and Ms. Lamb, formerly Senior Lecturer, Birkbeck College, University of London, extend the ideas in their previous work (Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution, Oxford Univ. Press, 1995; The changing concept of epigenetics, New York Academy of Sciences, 2002, 981, 82-96.) The book is divided into three parts. In the first, the authors provide a fine summary of the modern development of evolutionary ideas, and the most detailed and extensive description of genetic mechanisms that I have found in a book aimed at a general readership. Almost certainly, anyone reading Chapter Two (From Genes to Characters) and Chapter Three (Genetic Variation: Blind, Directed, Interpretive?) will eschew conventional notions of "The gene for...." that are everyday fare in the media.
Chapter Four on epigenetics brings us back to those long-suffering mouse families whose tails were chopped off. As the experiments Jablonka and Lamb cite here indicate, had Herr Docktor Weismann manipulated a molecule during development, instead of a machete, he would have been able to alter the intergenerational transfer of characters. Chapter Five describes and analyzes behavioral inheritance systems particularly social learning and Chapter Six does the same for symbolic inheritance systems including cultural evolution and symbolic communication. Chapter Seven integrates genetic and epigenetic inheritance systems. Chapter Eight accomplishes the same for genes, behavior and language. Chapter Nine presents a Neo-Lamarckian perspective on heredity and evolutionary theory that might well have warmed Charles Darwin's heart because it is based on a closely reasoned collection of empirical data rather than the less well grounded speculations that are associated with Lamarck. Throughout, the authors take us on an intellectual journey from inside the cell up the abstraction ladder to the cultures we live in. For a related treatment cf. A.R. Cellura, The Genomic Environment and Niche-Experience, Cedar Springs Press, 2005.
There are two other features of Evolution in Four Dimensions that are particularly noteworthy. Implicit in most modern scientific theorizing is the notion of challenging hypotheses that Popper made idiomatic with his Conjectures and Refutations (Harper & Row, 1963). Consistent with this, Jablonka and Lamb aim at further insight through a dialogue at the end of each chapter between Ifcha Mistabra (Aramaic for opposite conjecture) and themselves. Also, it would be hugely neglectful not to mention the imp that got out of the ink bottle - the delightful drawings of Anna Zeligowski that illustrate key points in the text.
Evolution in Four Dimensions is a jewel readily accessible to educated readers with an interest in human adaptation over the short and the long haul.