The Voyage Of Charles Darwin: The Complete Series on DVD (Region 2)

Darwin aficionados have long wondered when the 1978 BBC television series The Voyage of Charles Darwin would be released on DVD. I had a post about this in 2009, here. Well, Simply Media is releasing it in the UK (Region 2) later this month: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Voyage-Of-Charles-Darwin/dp/B00MFWMPSG

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Here’s hoping for a Region 1 release soon!

BOOK: The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us

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Diane Ackerman, The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014), 352 pp.

Publisher’s description: Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.

Humans have “subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness.” We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a “frozen ark,” equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.

A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.

BOOK: Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England

Piers J. Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 464 pp.

Publisher’s description: Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwin’s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but also persisted throughout the Victorian period until World War I. Political Descent reveals that two evolutionary and political traditions developed in England in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live. Significantly, and in spite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that natural selection was “the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,” both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly “Darwinian.” By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

On his blog, also called Political Descent, Hale offers a more detailed summary of the book.

BOOK: The Mountain Mystery

Ron Miksha, The Mountain Mystery (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014), 330 pp.

Publisher’s description: Fifty years ago, no one could explain mountains. Arguments about their origin were spirited, to say the least. Progressive scientists were ridiculed for their ideas. Most geologists thought the Earth was shrinking. Contracting like a hot ball of iron, shrinking and exposing ridges that became mountains. Others were quite sure the planet was expanding. Growth widened sea basins and raised mountains. There was yet another idea, the theory that the world’s crust was broken into big plates that jostled around, drifting until they collided and jarred mountains into existence. That idea was invariably dismissed as pseudo-science. Or “utter damned rot” as one prominent scientist said. But the doubtful theory of plate tectonics prevailed. Mountains, earthquakes, ancient ice ages, even veins of gold and fields of oil are now seen as the offspring of moving tectonic plates. Just half a century ago, most geologists sternly rejected the idea of drifting continents. But a few intrepid champions of plate tectonics dared to differ. The Mountain Mystery tells their story.

BOOK: Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity

Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman, eds., Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 368pp.

Victorian Scientific Naturalism examines the secular creeds of the generation of intellectuals who, in the wake of The Origin of Species, wrested cultural authority from the old Anglican establishment while installing themselves as a new professional scientific elite. These scientific naturalists—led by biologists, physicists, and mathematicians such as William Kingdon Clifford, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley, and John Tyndall—sought to persuade both the state and the public that scientists, not theologians, should be granted cultural authority, since their expertise gave them special insight into society, politics, and even ethics.

In Victorian Scientific Naturalism, Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman bring together new essays by leading historians of science and literary critics that recall these scientific naturalists, in light of recent scholarship that has tended to sideline them, and that reevaluate their place in the broader landscape of nineteenth-century Britain. Ranging in topic from daring climbing expeditions in the Alps to the maintenance of aristocratic protocols of conduct at Kew Gardens, these essays offer a series of new perspectives on Victorian scientific naturalism—as well as its subsequent incarnations in the early twentieth century—that together provide an innovative understanding of the movement centering on the issues of community, identity, and continuity.

Summary of the editors’ introduction from James Ungureanu.

BOOK: America’s Darwin: Darwinian Theory and U.S. Literary Culture

Tina Gianquitto and Lydia Fisher, eds., America’s Darwin: Darwinian Theory and U. S. Literary Culture (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014), 401pp.

While much has been written about the impact of Darwin’s theories on U.S. culture, and countless scholarly collections have been devoted to the science of evolution, few have addressed the specific details of Darwin’s theories as a cultural force affecting U.S. writers. America’s Darwin fills this gap and features a range of critical approaches that examine U.S. textual responses to Darwin’s works.

The scholars in this collection represent a range of disciplines—literature, history of science, women’s studies, geology, biology, entomology, and anthropology. All pay close attention to the specific forms that Darwinian evolution took in the United States, engaging not only with Darwin’s most famous works, such as On the Origin of Species, but also with less familiar works, such as The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Each contributor considers distinctive social, cultural, and intellectual conditions that affected the reception and dissemination of evolutionary thought, from before the publication of On the Origin of Species to the early years of the twenty-first century. These essays engage with the specific details and language of a wide selection of Darwin’s texts, treating his writings as primary sources essential to comprehending the impact of Darwinian language on American writers and thinkers. This careful engagement with the texts of evolution enables us to see the broad points of its acceptance and adoption in the American scene; this approach also highlights the ways in which writers, reformers, and others reconfigured Darwinian language to suit their individual purposes.

America’s Darwin demonstrates the many ways in which writers and others fit themselves to a narrative of evolution whose dominant motifs are contingency and uncertainty. Collectively, the authors make the compelling case that the interpretation of evolutionary theory in the U.S. has always shifted in relation to prevailing cultural anxieties.

BOOK: A Garden of Marvels

Readers of this blog might find this new book of interest, as chapters 25 and 28 (they’re short chapters!) look at Darwin’s “botanophilia,” specifically his studies of orchids and plant reproduction, climbing plants, and carnivorous plants.

Ruth Kassinger, A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants (New York: William Morrow, 2014), 416pp.

In the tradition of The Botany of Desire and Wicked Plants, a witty and engaging history of the first botanists interwoven with stories of today’s extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.

In Paradise Under Glass, Ruth Kassinger recounted with grace and humor her journey from brown thumb to green, sharing lessons she learned from building a home conservatory in the wake of a devastating personal crisis.

In A Garden of Marvels, she extends the story. Frustrated by plants that fail to thrive, she sets out to understand the basics of botany in order to become a better gardener. She retraces the progress of the first botanists who banished myths and misunderstandings and discovered that flowers have sex, leaves eat air, roots choose their food, and hormones make morning glories climb fence posts. She also visits modern gardens, farms, and labs to discover the science behind extraordinary plants like one-ton pumpkins, a truly black petunia, a biofuel grass that grows twelve feet tall, and the world’s only photosynthesizing animal. Transferring her insights to her own garden, she nurtures a “cocktail” tree that bears five kinds of fruit, cures a Buddha’s Hand plant with beneficial fungi, and gets a tree to text her when it’s thirsty.

Intertwining personal anecdote, accessible science, and untold history, the ever-engaging author takes us on an eye-opening journey into her garden—and yours.

The author was interviewed about her book on the podcast Science for the People. Listen here!