What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly good The lecturer is very good. About 20% of the lectures are at the level of advanced high-school or introductory college from which I learned nothing. The other 80% are better. The title of the course is a bit misleading: it implies that Darwin missed something. But in reality, the course covers modern genetic and evolutionary issues that Darwin could not have known and serve to emphasize Darwin's scientific genius. Retitle the course: "Darwin knew more than he could have known."
Date published: 2020-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Stunning pausesComing from a scientific background, I had no problems with the technicalities, but I do agree with one reviewer that someone with no scientific expertise could find some lectures a little heavy weather. But then, the value of having the course on DVD allows a re-run. And there is always the Course booklet... The material is presented clearly and succinctly, and the only off-putting element is the Professor's oft-times lengthy pauses between sentences. I found it laudable that he often referred to Alfred Russel Wallace who concurrently developed the same ideas. I think my 'take home' message is that there is no perfect evolutionary solution, only one that is 'fit' for the time and environment. The idea of sexual selection overlaying 'survival of the fittest' is a fascinating additional complexity. All in all a thoroughly excellent Course. If only TTC would stop mounting the DVDs on a single pole, and go back to individual storage (the outer cover is the same size). I am about to embark on a 36-lecture Course, and I am sure I shall find the necessity to continually shuffle discs really annoying, along with the potential for damage.
Date published: 2019-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Gold Standard for any Course The Great Courses has, in my personal experience, always maintained the highest level of educational value and professional expertise. Professor Solomon's course is no exception. In fact, I would gladly award it SIX stars, if possible! Excellence is everywhere in this course --- content, manner of presentation, graphics, ... I valued the course so highly that I subsequently purchased the transcript, to ensure that I retained as much of the course content as would fit in my modest intellect! Not only the course itself but the carefully considered Questions & Answers for each chapter, the Timeline of Evolutionary Developments, the Glossary, and the Bibliography all demonstrate that Professor Solomon's objective was to communicate as completely and as effectively to every student as possible. Outstanding!
Date published: 2019-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent teaching An exhaustive series of lectures and a must read for anybody interested to learn about the modern understanding of Nature's techniques in evolution of species as well as the diversity in nature. It's remarkable to learn how fast we can see changes that could occur and how adaptable nature is to stress and disasters. Also the social evolution in ants and their organizational ability to do things in their huge ant-hills is a revelation!
Date published: 2019-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much I didn't know The course covered more information than I imagined.
Date published: 2019-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from cover a lot of subjects in biology it also cover's some historical events and lessons from history
Date published: 2019-10-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from No audio download is terrible Ordered my usual many courses, but they had NO audio downloads. I thought the video streaming would allow audio downloads. Nay, Nay. But, said the sales person, you can still download the video then listen to it on audio. EXCEPT THE VIDEO DOWNLOAD TAKES THREE MINUTES EACH AND USES A LOT OF MEMORY IN SMARTPHONE. So you have to wait around for 10-15 min for your course to download before you can go out hiking or driving and listen to it. Apparently Audible bought the audio downloads out. Great Courses went from 5 star great to mediocre poor.
Date published: 2019-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well told tale of evolution Dr. Solomon gives and appropriately lively discussion of the evolution of evolution since Darwin's day. He knows his material and presents it well.
Date published: 2019-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This a very important topic If one wants to know why students go to college. listen and watch The Modern Science of Evolution. Higher education opens windows to new ways of thinking, seeing, understanding our world, our planet and its biology at all levels. Doctor Solomon provides new concepts, new perspectives, new ways of seeing
Date published: 2019-08-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great catchy title Brings together evolution with many field of science.
Date published: 2019-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What Darwin Didn’t Know... This course is an excellent synopsis of evolution by natural selection.
Date published: 2019-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done This is a Great Courses masterpiece. Scott Solomon has a good speaking voice and a nice delivery. Some of the information overlaps with other Great Courses, and some of it is new. One topic that intrigued me was “Microbiomes.” I had heard about mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA from a genealogy conference, but I didn’t know why they exist. Prof. Solomon explained mitochondria in the lecture on “Microbiomes.” The studio he spoke from was perfect. It looked like his outer office or a conference room in his department. The decorations on the walls where right. At the beginning of each segment there is a little video clip of a man climbing the rigging a sailing ship, presumably the Beagle, with the rising sun in the background. The music which plays during the video clip sets the right mode for the lectures. My hat’s off to Great Courses and Scott Solomon for an informative set of lectures with nice aesthetic touches.
Date published: 2019-07-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from State of the art course I'm about one third through Prof. Solomon's course. Thus far I find it accessible and, importantly, up to date. The prof makes a good case for the synthesis of evolution and genetics with good examples. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evolution Evolved It's a subject that's fascinated me since childhood, and so much has been discovered and debated since that time, never mind since Darwin's! Scott Solomon presents an up-to-date overview of the field, covering a wide range of aspects, many more than a layperson like myself could keep up on by myself. Every lecture is interesting: Professor Solomon's style is matter-of -fact but never dull. And I'd love to know more about that mega-metropolis of ants!
Date published: 2019-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Intro to Evolution This is by far the best introduction to evolution that I have ever seen or heard including those offered by The Great Courses (TGC). It is excellent for anybody who wants to know what evolution is today, especially for those genuinely considering the scientific merit of critics of evolution. This course is about the “modern synthesis” of Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics with emphasis on the genetics. (Genetics came after Darwin. Hence “What Darwin didn’t know about the modern science of evolution.”) There is little hand-waving in this course. Instead, it emphasizes repeatable, verifiable experiments and their implications. Further, this course goes beyond natural selection and addresses other evolutionary mechanisms such as genetic flow (evolutionary implications of geographic dispersal of a population) and genetic drift (how mutations disperse in a population). I wish he could have addressed more directly how one species with a certain number of chromosomes could have evolved into another species with a different number of chromosomes. Dr. Solomon’s presentation is constantly academic and never polemical. He addresses issues that critique evolution (including some raised by Darwin himself). He takes those critiques seriously and respectfully. Although he does not use the term “irreducible complexity,” he does address the question of how the eye could have evolved. I used the video version. The visuals add little to the presentation while the video format is more expensive, requires more bandwidth to stream, and more memory to store. The Audiobook may have been a better option.
Date published: 2019-04-24
Date published: 2019-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting, engaging, and satisfying Early in my education I read Darwin's major publications and have followed the continuing research and advancement of his fundamental ideas ever since. This compendium of lectures by Professor Scott Solomon is a wholesome review of the progress that has been made in evolution science since its initiation by Darwin. That progress constitutes a perfect example of the scientific method in all it fits and starts, blind alleys, and sudden breakthroughs. I love listening to Professor Solomon as he moves around his studio setting and discusses the various aspects and examples of his subject. Each half hour lecture is a treat of relaxed listening, comprehending, and reviewing one of my favorite subjects. I highly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys learning about the joys and inspirations of science.
Date published: 2019-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Perfect Science Professor for the Generalist I have been a fan of evolution and Charles Darwin since I was a kid. And I enjoy authors like Richard Dawkins who writes for a general audience. I assert that Scott Solomon is in that same category. As a retired professor at a public Illinois University, I am happy to see that he got his education as well as his upbringing from the Land of Lincoln. His easy going and unpretentious presentation style easily connects with me. I have hundreds of Great Courses, and I would rank Scott Solomon and this course in the top 10! I also recommend the video version, since Professor Solomon uses many interesting and attractive graphics that you will miss if you only do the audio. But, if you only do the Great Courses from your car or exercising, you will still get a lot of great information in audio only as well.
Date published: 2019-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and Up to Date Lots has happened since I took "Evolution and Genetics" 50 years ago at the University of Colorado. Lots of content and the instructor has excellent platform skills.
Date published: 2019-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great addition to the evolution education series Very well done with excellent up to date information on evolution. It is at a higher level of information but yet is understandable. Not so crazy, though, about the new disk-stacking in the DVD holder rather than separate disks on separate "pages".
Date published: 2019-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking I have taken an evolution course before. Dr Solomon talks in very understandable language and makes it thought provoking. I strongly recommend it for anyone who has interest in the area
Date published: 2019-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biology With a Touch of Humor "What Darwin Didn't Know" is a wonderful explanation of how evolution works. I have the larger Great Courses biology course that covers a broader range of the subject of biology and it was good. This one however provides some new material and illustrates some of the concepts of evolution with some stunning photographs. What I most enjoyed were the touches of humor added. Professor Solomon's explanation of how a flower tricks a male bee into mating with it for pollination had me laughing for sometime. I highly recommend this course for multiple reasons.
Date published: 2019-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent -- just what I wanted! I purchased this a couple of weeks ago, so am still engaged in this course. And I do mean engaged! The lectures and book are interesting, technical enough, but not too technical. This is what I have learned to expect from The Great Courses!
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from clear and concise I am only through 6 of 24 lessons but really like the pace and logic of the presentation.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I know more than Darwin This is a must have course! I’ve Justi completed the final lecture and thought I should arbitrarily least give a quick review and five stars to the Darwin team. It’s the best evolution course to date.
Date published: 2019-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Badly Needed Modern Course on Evolition This is the most modern course on genetics, evolutionary theory and practice offered by the Teaching Company. Scott Solomon does a great job laying out the foundations of evolutionare theory and shows in each lecture how the subject has progressed from Darwin’s time. Indeed, it’s amazing that Charles Darwin could reach his revolutionary conclusions about life, given the paucity of information available compared to today. This is a wonderful course and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course on modern theory of evolution This a wonderful course which provides us with up to date knowledge of modern theory of evolution. The professor teaches extremely well. We enjoyed it greatly.
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Most Need-to-Know Courses I've Taken! This course is packed with information relevant to everyday modern life. I think everyone show know this info. It increased my understanding of genetics at least 10-fold, and led me to understand factors in evolution I had never before considered. The presentation was clear, engaging, and really, just blew me away. I loved this course!
Date published: 2019-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an execptional series on Darwin Ants, Birds, Plants...... I have such a better understanding of evolution and life on our planet. The Professor was obviously very passionate about his curriculum. His presentation was at times a bit choppy with long pauses but the images and elements made up for it. Thank you for another great course.
Date published: 2019-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Great Courses I enjoyed this course very much. Prof S is very knowledgable in his subject. More illustrations would have made this course even better, but the ones you do have are very good. I completed this course with a fuller understanding of evolution.
Date published: 2019-02-23
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What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution
Course Trailer
What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters
1: What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters

Retrace Darwin’s path to his theory of evolution by natural selection, which appeared in his masterpiece The Origin of Species, published in 1859. Encounter collector Alfred Russel Wallace’s astonishing, almost identical, key insight. Detail the types of evidence, not known to Darwin, that have accumulated in the century and a half since his time, deepening and extending his ideas to a remarkable degree.

32 min
Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link
2: Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link

Missing from On the Origin of Species is any account of how traits pass from one generation to the next. Explore the work on genetic inheritance by Gregor Mendel, whose pioneering rules of heredity remained essentially unknown for 35 years. Follow up with 20th-century pioneers including Thomas Hunt Morgan, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and others, who established the “modern synthesis” of evolutionary biology.

33 min
Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material
3: Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material

The arrival of genetics in the early 20th century addressed what Darwin did not know about inheritance, but there was more to uncover: how do genes function, and where do variations come from? Trace the discovery of DNA as the carrier of genetic information and the realization that mutations and other structural changes in DNA are a source of the modifications that underlie natural selection.

33 min
Gene Flow versus Natural Selection
4: Gene Flow versus Natural Selection

Natural selection is not the only mechanism driving evolution. In this lecture, discover how the movement of individuals leads to gene flow between populations. Travel to the Galapagos Islands and neighboring Cocos Island to see how finches evolved into multiple species in the Galapagos archipelago but stayed a distinct species on isolated Cocos. Consider the implications for human evolution.

31 min
Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life
5: Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life

Trace the importance of geology in Darwin’s thinking and his many observations that make sense only in light of the theory of plate tectonics, which was not developed until the 1960s. Chart the breakup, movement, and reassembly of continental plates that dispersed related flora and fauna all over the planet. Also look at the Wallace Line in Indonesia, which separates Asian from Australian species.

31 min
Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random
6: Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random

Explore how population bottlenecks and the founder effect lead to random changes in the frequency of genes, an independent mechanism of evolution known as as genetic drift. Darwin had an inkling of this process when he proposed that “spontaneous variations” play a role in evolution. But genetic drift has proved far more significant than he ever envisioned. For example, it has played a key role in human evolution.

32 min
Rapid Evolution within Species
7: Rapid Evolution within Species

Darwin thought evolution was an imperceptibly slow process, but it can happen remarkably quickly. Review Peter and Rosemary Grant’s famous studies of Galapagos finches, along with the work of other scientists on guppies in Trinidad, moths in England, and foxes in Siberia. These show evolution playing out in real-time as creatures adapt to changing conditions within a few generations.

29 min
Evolution in the Lab
8: Evolution in the Lab

One thing Darwin never anticipated was that evolution would be observed in the laboratory. In this lecture, analyze lab experiments that shed light on the minute details of evolution, helping to settle a long-standing debate: Is the outcome of evolution random or predictable? Also cover digital life simulations, which inspire new ideas that can be tested with living populations.

31 min
The Many Origins of Species
9: The Many Origins of Species

Despite its title, On the Origin of Species does not fully address how new species arise. Delve into this complex problem by investigating what a species is. Consider definitions based on morphological, biological, phylogenetic, and genomic distinctions. Then examine the reproductive barriers, both before conception and after, that can lead to the origin of new species.

32 min
Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction
10: Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction

Darwin was puzzled by the sudden appearance of complex, diverse flora and fauna in the fossil record roughly 540 million years ago, a period known as the Cambrian explosion. And Darwin had no idea that the history of life on Earth has included five big mass extinction events—including the demise of the dinosaurs—followed by accelerated periods of evolution that often took life in radically new directions.

32 min
Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA
11: Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA

Darwin envisioned the history of evolution as a great Tree of Life, in which all the branches are connected by ancestry. Explore the modern version of this idea, which has been revolutionized by DNA sequencing. Investigate the concept of phylogenetics and the surprisingly close link between single-celled microorganisms, plants, and animals. Also probe the phenomenon of “jumping” genes.

31 min
Human Evolution in All Directions
12: Human Evolution in All Directions

Zoom in on the branch of the Tree of Life that gave rise to our species. Fossil discoveries and insights from DNA have led researchers to abandon the iconic image of a linear progression from hunched apes to upright humans. In its place is a much more intertwined tree for humans and their closest living and extinct relatives, including Neanderthals and the recently discovered Denisovans.

32 min
Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes
13: Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes

Convergent evolution occurs when natural selection causes different species to evolve in similar ways. Does this mean that evolution follows a predetermined path? Focus on the recent debate between scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris. Gould perceived contingencies and unpredictability, but Conway Morris saw repetition and consistency. How do these views relate to human evolution?

30 min
The Evolution of Extreme Life
14: The Evolution of Extreme Life

Life is even more adaptable than Darwin could have known. In this lecture, investigate extremophiles—organisms that flourish in extreme conditions. These have made biologists rethink the limitations of life on Earth. From bacteria existing miles underground that divide once every 10,000 years to creatures thriving next to superheated undersea volcanoes, life is programmed to adapt and survive.

32 min
Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs
15: Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs

While Darwin knew of inefficient anatomical features of humans and other animals, he didn’t consider these a distinct category of evidence for natural selection. Explore ad hoc body designs—from our imperfect eyes and sexual anatomy, to the bizarre faces of flounders and the false thumbs of pandas. Each adaptation shows evolution devising a solution that is “good enough,” even if it is not ideal.

31 min
The Sterile Worker Paradox
16: The Sterile Worker Paradox

Why was Darwin afraid that ants might undermine his theory of natural selection? Delve into the sterile worker paradox: the puzzle of why ants and other “eusocial” species evolved to have large numbers of non-reproducing offspring. Since the ability to reproduce is central to natural selection, this feature, which is common among insects and also present in other animals, demands explanation.

33 min
Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races
17: Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races

Darwin saw that natural selection not only leads to species that evolve to their mutual advantage, but to enemies that wage an evolutionary arms race that ends up benefiting both sides. Study coevolutionary cases—from the yucca plant and its symbiotic partner, the yucca moth, to the fastest animal on Earth, the cheetah, and its prey the springbok antelope, which has evolved to be almost as fast.

32 min
Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners
18: Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners

On the Origin of Species failed to account for a major part of the Tree of Life, namely bacteria and other microorganisms. These represent the original forms of life, and they have played a central role in the evolution of every species since. Study the symbiotic role of microbes in the functioning of plants and animals, and consider the view that all organisms are, in part, microbial.

33 min
The Evolution of Brains and Behavior
19: The Evolution of Brains and Behavior

In Darwin’s lifetime, comparisons between the brains of different species were restricted to examinations of anatomy alone. Today, researchers use genetic tools to gain deep insights into how behaviors and sensory abilities evolve. Study behavior in creatures from fire ants to crows to humans, asking how did human brains get so large—and why are big brains so useful anyway?

31 min
The Evolution of Sex and Parenting
20: The Evolution of Sex and Parenting

Darwin devised his theory of sexual selection to explain many traits that can’t be understood through natural selection alone—from the peacock’s gaudy tail to the elaborate constructions of bowerbirds. Probe deeper to discover why sexual reproduction exists at all, what causes individuals to develop into males versus females, and why some males take on the role of raising the young.

32 min
The Evolution of Aging and Death
21: The Evolution of Aging and Death

Darwin’s writings seem to imply that evolution through natural selection should always favor longer lifespans. So why don’t we live forever (or at least for several centuries)? Consider ways that evolutionary processes account for aging and death. Weigh factors such as accumulated mutations, programmed cell death, and genes whose multiple effects are antagonistically at odds with one another.

32 min
Evolutionary Medicine
22: Evolutionary Medicine

Explore one of the ultimate applications of evolutionary principles: harnessing evolution to benefit human health. Study diseases such as malaria, AIDS, influenza, and cancer that evolve rapidly to outmaneuver the body’s changing defenses. Also contrast our modern lifestyle with the physiology we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, who evolved to compete in a far different world.

32 min
Gene Editing and Directed Evolution
23: Gene Editing and Directed Evolution

Darwin contrasted natural selection with artificial selection—the time-tested techniques for selective breeding that promote desired traits in plants and animals. See how far we’ve come with 21st-century tools such as CRISPR, which allows precise edits to the DNA sequence of any species. Evaluate the promise and perils of this technology, which lets us take evolution into our own hands.

32 min
The Future of Human Evolution
24: The Future of Human Evolution

What does the future hold? Will we evolve into new species? Or have we reached an optimum state that will see minimal evolutionary changes? Weigh the impact of our ever-more-sophisticated technology and consider what will happen to humans who leave Earth for another planet with new physiological challenges. As you learn in this course, evolution isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable.

38 min
Scott Solomon

We will consider all the things that Darwin did not know about evolution and what we have learned since.


University of Texas, Austin


Rice University

About Scott Solomon

Dr. Scott Solomon is an Associate Teaching Professor at Rice University, where he teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and scientific communication. He received his PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from The University of Texas at Austin, where his research explored the evolutionary origins of biodiversity in the Amazon basin. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, he has worked as a visiting researcher with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and with São Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil. Dr. Solomon’s research examines the interactions between native and nonnative ants, the impacts of extreme flooding on ant communities, and the evolution of ants and their symbiotic microorganisms. His experiences in the field include rafting the Nile, coming face-to-face with wild mountain gorillas, fishing for piranhas and venomous lionfish, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, swimming with hammerhead sharks, being sniffed by hyenas while camping in the Serengeti, and dining on roasted palm weevils and guinea pigs in Peru. Dr. Solomon’s writing and photography have appeared in such publications as Aeon, Nautilus, Slate, and WIRED. He is also the author of Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution. He regularly lectures on science topics to the general public, including giving presentations at museums, schools, churches, and TEDx events.

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