BOOK: Darwin’s Orchids: Then and Now

An academic volume has resulted from a a day-long symposium held within the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. The research in the book serves as a comparison of Darwin’s work and books on orchids (2012 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Fertilisation of Orchids) in the mid-nineteenth century to research conducted by scientists since then.

Image from

Retha Edens-Meier and Peter Bernhardt, eds. Darwin’s Orchids: Then and Now (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 384 pp.

Publisher’s description For biologists, 2009 was an epochal year: the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of a book now known simply as The Origin of Species. But for many botanists, Darwin’s true legacy starts with the 1862 publication of another volume: On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing, or Fertilisation of Orchids. This slim but detailed book with the improbably long title was the first in a series of plant studies by Darwin that continues to serve as a global exemplar in the field of evolutionary botany. In Darwin’s Orchids, an international group of orchid biologists unites to celebrate and explore the continuum that stretches from Darwin’s groundbreaking orchid research to that of today. Mirroring the structure of Fertilisation of Orchids, Darwin’s Orchids investigates flowers from Darwin’s home in England, through the southern hemisphere, and on to North America and China as it seeks to address a set of questions first put forward by Darwin himself: What pollinates this particular type of orchid? How does its pollination mechanism work? Will an orchid self-pollinate or is an insect or other animal vector required? And how has this orchid’s lineage changed over time? Diverse in their colors, forms, aromas, and pollination schemes, orchids have long been considered ideal models for the study of plant evolution and conservation. Looking to the past, present, and future of botany, Darwin’s Orchids will be a vital addition to this tradition.

The table of contents can be viewed here.

BOOK: The Age of Scientific Naturalism: Tyndall and His Contemporaries

Pickering & Chatto has published as part of their Science and Culture in the Nineteenth Century series a collection of papers about the nineteenth-century Irish physicist John Tyndall, who wrote and lectured for the public, was a member of the X Club and Darwin supporter, and vocal critic of religion. Most of the papers are from a conference, held in Big Sky, Montana in June 2012, that brought together historians and students working on the John Tyndall Correspondence Project to present their research. I attended, and presented my MA paper. Unfortunately, for the publication, I did not have the resources necessary to do continued research for my paper. But I am happy to see the publication out, and delighted to see my paper in the book’s very first footnote. If anyone wishes to see my paper – “The ‘efficient defender of a fellow-scientific man': John Tyndall, Darwin, and Preaching Pure Science in Nineteenth-Century America” – let me know, and I can send you a copy.

Here’s the publisher’s information about the book:

Bernard Lightman and Michael S. Reidy, eds. The Age of Scientific Naturalism: Tyndall and His Contemporaries (Brookfield, VT: Pickering & Chatto, 2014), 272 pp.

Publisher’s description Physicist John Tyndall and his contemporaries were at the forefront of developing the cosmology of scientific naturalism during the Victorian period. They rejected all but physical laws as having any impact on the operations of human life and the universe. Contributors focus on the way Tyndall and his correspondents developed their ideas through letters, periodicals and scientific journals and challenge previously held assumptions about who gained authority, and how they attained and defended their position within the scientific community.

You can view the contents of the volume here, read the introduction here, and read James Ungureanu’s blog post about the volume here. Also, the first two volumes (of at least sixteen) of the The Correspondence of John Tyndall will be published by Pickering & Chatto in 2015.

BOOK: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye

Bill Nye speaks at Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR, October 25, 2014                       (Photo: Lewis & Clark College)

Last month, my wife and son were fortunate to see Bill Nye the Science Guy give a talk at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland, OR. This was exciting for my wife, having watched many episodes of his show growing up, and great for my son to hear from one of our leading advocates for science. His talk was wide ranging, from his own life story to climate change and his experience debating creationist Ken Ham last February.

That debate led Bill Nye to write a book all about evolution:

Bill Nye, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014), 320 pp.

Publisher’s description Sparked by a controversial debate in February 2014, Bill Nye has set off on an energetic campaign to spread awareness of evolution and the powerful way it shapes our lives. In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, he explains why race does not really exist; evaluates the true promise and peril of genetically modified food; reveals how new species are born, in a dog kennel and in a London subway; takes a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time; and explores the new search for alien life, including aliens right here on Earth. With infectious enthusiasm, Bill Nye shows that evolution is much more than a rebuttal to creationism; it is an essential way to understand how nature works—and to change the world. It might also help you get a date on a Saturday night.

I look forward to the copy of Undeniable that is on its way to me now! You can find the book through various vendors from the publisher’s page, here.

In the meantime, check out this post on Brain Pickings: Bill Nye Reads a Brilliant, Creationism-Busting Passage from His New Book on Evolution

BOOK: Extinction and Evolution: What Fossils Reveal About the History of Life

This is a new, second edition of Eldrege’s 1991 book, Fossils: The Evolution and Extinction of Species.


Niles Eldredge, Extinction and Evolution: What Fossils Reveal About the History of Life (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2014), 256 pp

Publisher’s Description Extinction and Evolution recounts the work and discoveries of Niles Eldredge, one of the world’s most renowned paleontologists, whose research overturned Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as a slow and inevitable process, as published in On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin had concluded that evolutionary changes happened very slowly over millions of years. Eldredge’s work, however, convinced him that Darwin was wrong and that major evolution of life forms does not happen to any significant degree until after a mass extinction event, thus disproving the traditional view of evolution. Eldredge’s groundbreaking work is now accepted as the definitive statement of how life as we know it evolved on Earth. This book chronicles how Eldredge made his discoveries and traces the history of life through the lenses of paleontology, geology, ecology, anthropology, biology, genetics, zoology, mammalogy, herpetology, entomology and botany. While rigorously accurate, the text is accessible, engaging and free of jargon. Extinction and Evolution features 160 beautiful color plates that bridge the gap between science and art, and show more than 200 different fossil specimens, including photographs of some of the most significant fossil discoveries of recent years. This is a book with appeal to a broad general audience, including natural history readers and students.

An excerpt provided by the NCSE:–eldredge.pdf

BOOK: Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science and Natural History in the Twentieth Century

Karen A. Rader and Victoria E.M. Cain, Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science & Natural History in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 456 pp

Publisher’s Description Rich with archival detail and compelling characters, Life on Display uses the history of biological exhibitions to analyze museums’ shifting roles in twentieth-century American science and society. Karen A. Rader and Victoria E. M. Cain chronicle profound changes in these exhibitions—and the institutions that housed them—between 1910 and 1990, ultimately offering new perspectives on the history of museums, science, and science education. Rader and Cain explain why science and natural history museums began to welcome new audiences between the 1900s and the 1920s and chronicle the turmoil that resulted from the introduction of new kinds of biological displays. They describe how these displays of life changed dramatically once again in the 1930s and 1940s, as museums negotiated changing, often conflicting interests of scientists, educators, and visitors. The authors then reveal how museum staffs, facing intense public and scientific scrutiny, experimented with wildly different definitions of life science and life science education from the 1950s through the 1980s. The book concludes with a discussion of the influence that corporate sponsorship and blockbuster economics wielded over science and natural history museums in the century’s last decades. A vivid, entertaining study of the ways science and natural history museums shaped and were shaped by understandings of science and public education in the twentieth-century United States, Life on Display will appeal to historians, sociologists, and ethnographers of American science and culture, as well as museum practitioners and general readers.

BOOK: Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin

Darwin's Dice

Curtis Johnson, Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 288 pp

Publisher’s Description For evolutionary biologists, the concept of chance has always played a significant role in the formation of evolutionary theory. As far back as Greek antiquity, chance and “luck” were understood to be key factors in the evolution of the natural world. Emphasizing chance is an entire way of thinking about nature, and it is also one of the key ideas that separates Charles Darwin from other systematic biologists of his time. Studying the concept of chance in Darwin’s writing reveals core ideas in his theory of evolution, as well as his reflections on design, purpose, and randomness in nature’s progression over the course of history. In Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin, Curtis Johnson does exactly that. He examines the work of Darwin in terms of his views on randomness and chance, and how the views changed as his work progressed. Randomness was a focal point for Darwin, and pursuing it as a theme helped significantly transform his research. Darwin’s Dice shows us how Darwin defined “chance,” and explores Darwin’s influential architect metaphor in relation to the idea. Through the lens of randomness, Johnson reveals how Darwin’s treatment of free will becomes more complex. This approach can shed light on many other quirks and points of interest in Darwin’s work, including the curiously shifting presence of giraffes in subsequent drafts of On the Origin of Species. Johnson also reexamines Darwin’s “Metaphysical Notebooks,” and discusses the role Darwin felt that chance plays in morality and religion. Darwin’s Dice presents a new way to look at Darwinist thought and the writings on Charles Darwin.