Sleeping Beauties The Mystery of Dormant Innovations in Nature and Culture, reviewed

We look at this thought provoking book by Andreas Wagner , with a great cover too. You can see more about the book here.

Sleeping Beauties The Mystery of Dormant Innovations in Nature and Culture, reviewed

This book is super interesting as it explores why there may already be innate solutions in the DNA of many organisms that offers potential solutions, cures or solutions to future, never as yet encountered problems. These potential solutions may sit dormant for millions upon millions of years too. Wagner explains these issues well and taps into  the wider stream of thought that nature has repeatedly come up with the same innovations across many different types of flora and fauna.

Two thirds of the book is devoted to how this has played out in nature, and this aspect is argued well and clearly presented. Then Wagner moves to culture, discussing, forgotten classics or artists who only achieved fame and recognition long after their demise. While there may be a case for this thesis, in some ways it felt a bit jarring, and shoe horned onto the previous discussion of innovation in nature.

It is certainly true that some literature and music only finds a wider audience after the creator themself has given up or died, I’m not completely sure if the factors for this have the same genesis as what the author has impressively described in nature and with DNA.

Either way it makes for a thought provoking book, and one that several associates have already asked to borrow. Worth checking out.

More about the book

Life innovates constantly, producing perfectly adapted species – but there’s a catch. 

Many animals and plants eke out seemingly unremarkable lives. Passive, constrained, modest, threatened. Then, in a blink of evolutionary time, they flourish spectacularly. Once we start to look, these ‘sleeping beauties’ crop up everywhere. But why?

Looking at the book of life, from apex predators to keystone crops, and informed by his own cutting-edge experiments, renowned scientist Andreas Wagner demonstrates that innovations can come frequently and cheaply to nature, well before they are needed. We have found prehistoric bacteria that harbour the remarkable ability to fight off 21st-century antibiotics. And human history fits the pattern too, as life-changing technologies are invented only to be forgotten, languishing in the shadows before they finally take off.

In probing the mysteries of these sleeping beauties, Wagner reveals a crucial part of nature’s rich and strange tapestry.

More about the author

Andreas Wagner is a professor and chairman at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich. He is the author of four books on evolutionary innovation, including Life Finds a Way, which is also published by Oneworld. He lives in Zurich.

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