Jagers op Akkerhuis, G., 2012. The pursuit of complexity: the utility of biodiversity from an evolutionary perspective.
KNNV Publishing, Zeist, The Netherlands, 115 pp.

A lecture note by Jean-François PONGE, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS UMR 7179, 4 avenue du Petit-Château, 91800 Brunoy, France

How and why to become complex? The question is central to both evolutionary biology and physics. In this very personal book Gerard Jagers, who is both a biologist and a physicist, develops innovative concepts in biodiversity and evolutionary biology, and their purposed use for improving the future of our little endangered planet. After a general overview of the present day concept of biodiversity, focusing on genes, species and ecosystems, the author asks the question of what biodiversity actually is and what is its ‘universal utility’, the key point being the simultaneous contribution of biodiversity to the degradation of gradients and the production of order. Meanwhile mankind as part of biodiversity operates at the edge of chaos. After this merry-go-round account of biodiversity he introduces a new definition of evolution, taking into account much more than biology did so far. This enlargement of the concept of evolution, based on the way self-organization emerged from the interplay of elementary particles to atoms, then to molecules, cells, organisms, and beyond, acquiring more and more degrees of freedom in the process, meanwhile paving the way to ‘universal Darwinism’. The reader is taken by the hand, through the jungle of concepts and theories commonly referred to in biology, up to the ‘operator hierarchy’, a novel theory which explains how complexity has been constructed as a ladder and is still in progress in the universe. The conviction of the author, which the most skeptic reader cannot reject longer at the end of the demonstration, is that life one day will embrace a much wider array of aspects than commonly admitted. As an afterword, the last chapter masterly deals with lessons for the future of biodiversity and of mankind.

The book is written in an accessible style. It offers valuable and integrating viewpoints that are relevant for students in biology, environmental sciences, sustainable development and related topics.

J.-F. Ponge