VIDEO: Joe Cain on “Darwin in London”

From March 2013: “Everyone knows Darwin lived in central London early in his career. In his inaugural lecture as Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology, Joe Cain will explore that period. We’ll pay close attention to daily life and its locations around town. What does local history add to the biography of a scientist? We’ll identify local Darwin landmarks and link some key Darwin stories to a bit of recently discovered material. Some of this proved quite unexpected.”

PODCASTS: Alfred Russel Wallace lectures from AMNH and Royal Society

The American Museum of Natural History has put up the audio from David Attenborough’s talk, “Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise,” on November 12 here.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough unveiling the statue of Alfred Wallace at the Natural History Museum London, photo by “Greta dark”

The Royal Society has also put up audio from several lectures given at a conference on October 21-22, “Alfred Russel Wallace and his legacy” (each link is direct to an mp3):

Dr George Beccaloni, Natural History Museum, UK
Wallace’s life

Dr John van Wyhe, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Wallace and Darwin: what really happened?

Professor Janet Browne, Harvard University, USA
Natural selection a la Wallace

Professor Steve Jones FRS, University College London, UK
Wallace and the Limits to Natural Selection

Professor Charles H. Smith, Western Kentucky University, USA
Early Humboldtian Influences on Alfred Russel Wallace’s Scheme of Nature

Professor Lynne Parenti, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA
The Modern Biogeographical Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace

Professor R.I. Vane-Wright, Natural History Musuem, UK
Wallace and Colouration

Professor Tim Caro, University of California, Davis, USA
Colouration today

Professor James Mallet, University College London and Harvard University, UK and USA
Wallace’s understanding of species and speciation

Professor Tim Birkhead FRS, University of Sheffield, UK
Wallace, Darwin and female choice

Professor Ted Benton, University of Essex, UK
Wallace and human evolution

Professor Chris Stringer FRS, Natural History Museum, UK
Old and new views on human evolution

Martin Rees FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
Wallace and the universe

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
The Vaccination Controversy

Dr David Stack, University of Reading, UK
Wallace, a social scientist’s perspective

Dr Andrew Berry, Harvard University, USA
The Wallace legacy

BOOK: Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Sara Levine, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2013), 32 pp. Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth.

What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.

Although this book does not discuss evolutionary relationships (homology, common descent), it is a fun introduction to comparative anatomy for elementary students!

VIDEOS: Alfred Russel Wallace talks from Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta

These videos are from a lecture series in October at the University of Alberta, “More than Natural Selection.”

The time travelers: Alfred Russel Wallace and Peter Kropotkin
Kathleen Lowrey – Associate Professor Anthropology University of Alberta

Alfred Russel Wallace, Mars, Extra-Terrestrials and the Nature of the Universe
Robert Smith, Professor, History and Classics University of Alberta

Alfred Russel Wallace, Collector
Andrew Berry, Lecturer on Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Harvard University

Wallace on Science and the Problems of Progress
Martin Fichman, Professor, Department of Humanities York University

Capstone Address – Other Worlds: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Cross-Cultures of Spiritualism
Christine Ferguson, Senior Lecturer, English Literature University of Glasgow

VIDEO: James Moore on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

“In his lecture at Oregon State University on October 29th, James Moore questioned the established view of Darwin as an objective scientist and showed how passionate opposition to slavery motivated his research and gave him courage to challenge the scientific and religious establishment of his day.”

BOOK: The Princeton Guide to Evolution

Jonathan B. Losos, editor in chief; David A. Baum, Douglas J. Futuyma, Hopi E. Hoekstra, Richard E. Lenski, Allen J. Moore, Catherine L. Peichel, Dolph Schluter & Michael C. Whitlock, editors, The Princeton Guide to Evolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 880 pp.

The Princeton Guide to Evolution is a comprehensive, concise, and authoritative reference to the major subjects and key concepts in evolutionary biology, from genes to mass extinctions. Edited by a distinguished team of evolutionary biologists, with contributions from leading researchers, the guide contains more than 100 clear, accurate, and up-to-date articles on the most important topics in seven major areas: phylogenetics and the history of life; selection and adaptation; evolutionary processes; genes, genomes, and phenotypes; speciation and macroevolution; evolution of behavior, society, and humans; and evolution and modern society. Complete with more than 100 illustrations (including eight pages in color), glossaries of key terms, suggestions for further reading on each topic, and an index, this is an essential volume for undergraduate and graduate students, scientists in related fields, and anyone else with a serious interest in evolution.

- Explains key topics in more than 100 concise and authoritative articles written by a team of leading evolutionary biologists
– Contains more than 100 illustrations, including eight pages in color
– Each article includes an outline, glossary, bibliography, and cross-references
– Covers phylogenetics and the history of life; selection and adaptation; evolutionary processes; genes, genomes, and phenotypes; speciation and macroevolution; evolution of behavior, society, and humans; and evolution and modern society

BOOK: Was Hitler a Darwinian?: Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory

Robert J. Richards, Was Hitler a Darwinian?: Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 280 pp.

In tracing the history of Darwin’s accomplishment and the trajectory of evolutionary theory during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most scholars agree that Darwin introduced blind mechanism into biology, thus banishing moral values from the understanding of nature. According to the standard interpretation, the principle of survival of the fittest has rendered human behavior, including moral behavior, ultimately selfish. Few doubt that Darwinian theory, especially as construed by the master’s German disciple, Ernst Haeckel, inspired Hitler and led to Nazi atrocities. In this collection of essays, Robert J. Richards argues that this orthodox view is wrongheaded. A close historical examination reveals that Darwin, in more traditional fashion, constructed nature with a moral spine and provided it with a goal: man as a moral creature. The book takes up many other topics—including the character of Darwin’s chief principles of natural selection and divergence, his dispute with Alfred Russel Wallace over man’s big brain, the role of language in human development, his relationship to Herbert Spencer, how much his views had in common with Haeckel’s, and the general problem of progress in evolution. Moreover, Richards takes a forceful stand on the timely issue of whether Darwin is to blame for Hitler’s atrocities. Was Hitler a Darwinian? is intellectual history at its boldest.

Historian of science Carla Nappi interviewed Richards about Was Hitler a Darwinian? for New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, saying that “the essays in Richards’ collection are wonderfully reflective considerations that reward the time and attention of both specialists in the history of biology and thoughtful general readers alike.”

BOOK: The Great Human Journey: Around the World in 22 Million Days

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, The Great Human Journey: Around the World in 22 Million Days (Piermont, NH: Bunker Hill Publishing, 2013), 48 pp. Illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne.

Wallace and Darwin, the Museum Mice from the Halls of the American Museum of Natural History, are off on another adventure! It’s amazing what you can find in a museum and how far you can travel in a small time machine made from a yoghurt cup! Have you ever wondered where we humans all came from and how there came to be so many of us? The answers, as our two mice will show you, lie everywhere including in our own DNA. So there is the Big Picture of The Great Human Journey from the middle of Africa to Australia, America and Asia and then there’s the Tiny (really tiny) Picture too of molecules and cells that we can trace inside ourselves and our Genome like long strings of letters that tell us where we came from and who our ancestors were, and where they were when and how they got there! In their 22 Million Day Journey our intrepid mice, Wallace and Darwin, trace the biggest genealogy of all and find that all humans are 85% African and only 15% from the rest of the world! That is if you start counting our Genes – all 25,000 of them give or take an overlap! We took all this with us on our long walks from East Africa to Australia and from Australia to Asia and Europe between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago. 35,000 years later it only took us a few thousand years more to get from Alaska to Chile! We took our sweet time creating cultures and civilizations as we went. And we did it without GPS! And we even know we wore clothes 170,000 years ago. How? Because Lice too have DNA. It is amazing what our genes can tell us and what the genes of other species tell us too! Mitochondrial DNA we inherit from our mothers tells us where they have been. And from the tiny threads of our Y chromosomes we inherit from our fathers we can tell where they have been too. And then there’s the Rats! They followed us in our canoes and boats and stayed on islands with us where we can trace their journeys too. Wallace and Darwin have appeared in two previous adventures: Bones, Brains and DNA: The Human Genome and Human Evolution [2007] and Brain: A 21st Century Look at a 400 Million Year Old Organ [2010]. Their creators Tattersall, DeSalle and Wynne have plans to send them on further excursions in The Tree of Life and The Anatomy of Evolution. Stay tuned!

BOOK: National Geographic Science of Everything: How Things Work in Our World

National Geographic Science of Everything: How Things Work in Our World (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2013), 400 pp.

National Geographic answers all the questions about how things work–the science, technology, biology, chemistry, physics, and mechanics–in an indispensible book that reveals the science behind virtually everything. How does the voice of a distant radio announcer make it through your alarm clock in the morning? How does your gas stove work? How does the remote control open your garage door? What happens when you turn the key in the ignition? What do antibiotics really do? Divided into four big realms–Mechanics, Natural Forces, Materials & Chemistry, Biology & Medicine–The Science of Everything takes readers on a fascinating tour, using plain talk, colorful photography, instructive diagrams, and everyday examples to explain the science behind all the things we take for granted in our modern world.

Also see: National Geographic Illustrated Guide to Nature: From Your Back Door to the Great Outdoors

BOOK: How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial

I think this illustrated look at science denial complements Donald Prothero’s Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (my review) very well:

Darryl Cunningham, How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial (New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2013), 176 pp.

Climate change, fracking, evolution, vaccinations, homeopathy, chiropractic, even the moon landing – all hut-button controversies to which author-artist Darryl Cunningham applies cool, critical analysis. Using comics, photographs, diagrams, and highly readable text, Cunningham lays out the why and wherefores to expose the myths of science denial. Timely and well researched, How to Fake a Moon Landing is a graphic milestone of investigative science journalism.

PODCAST: Charles Darwin and the practice of science

The Royal Society of London has posted the audio from an October lecture with Alison Pearn of the Darwin Correspondence Project, “‘We are arriving at very curious results’: Charles Darwin and the practice of science”:

He never wore a lab coat, and is famous principally for a theory, yet Charles Darwin’s contribution to scientific method is considerable and often overlooked. Working surrounded by his family in an ordinary Victorian country house he devised ingenious experiments on everything from human expression to insectivorous plants, worked out the taxonomy of barnacles, and observed unsuspected behaviours in organisms from ants to earthworms. In devising some of the most influential ideas ever formulated, he used everything that came to hand from the vegetables in the kitchen garden, to the drugs prescribed for his stomach complaints, and, along the way, he pioneered the use of the scientific questionnaire, and conducted perhaps the first ever recorded ‘single blind’ experiment.

Enjoy!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, by Sophie Wainwright

Alfred Russel Wallace, natural history collector, biogeographer, and co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of natural selection, died on November 7, 1913, one hundred years ago today.

Here’s how you can observe this occasion:

Visit the Wallace100 page from the Natural History Museum in London

Visit Charles Smith’s website, The Alfred Russel Wallace Page

Visit George Beccaloni’s page, The Alfred Russel Wallace Website (and like ARW on Facebook, and follow @ARWallace on Twitter)

Visit Beccaloni’s other page, The Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project

Visit John van Wyhe’s page, Wallace Online (you can access Wallace’s books here)

Watch The Animated Life of A.R. Wallace from The New York Times

Watch a 1983 docu-drama, The Forgotten Voyage

Read a book, here are some suggestions: An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life., Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology, The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace, In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History, Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon: Footsteps in the Forest, Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, Dispelling the Darkness: Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the Discovery of Evolution by Wallace and Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

Read this book review, and its comments

Read this blog post, and its comments

Here’s how you should NOT to observe this occasion:

Don’t watch this “documentary”: Darwin’s Heretic

Don’t read these books: Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Revised Edition), The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime, and A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace

Don’t read these posts from the Discovery Institute showing how ARW is their poster boy for intelligent design: Rewatching Darwin’s Heretic and For Telling the Truth About Alfred Russel Wallace, Historian Michael Flannery Is Slandered as a “Denialist”

Don’t read this piece from the Public Domain Review: Alfred Russel Wallace: A Heretic’s Heretic

BOOK: The War on Science Goes Batshit

Allen J. Woppert, The War on Science Goes Batshit (CreateSpace, 2013), 248 pp

Most students don’t challenge their teachers’ methods. But fourteen-year-old Timothy Thompson isn’t like most students. He’s a certified genius and science geek, and when Mrs. Barker, his biology teacher, tries to slip “intelligent design” into the curriculum and then refuses to teach evolution, Timothy simply won’t have it. What happens from there is an all-out Batshit war. Timothy attends Omar L. Batshit (pronounced baht-SHEET) High School in Batshit, Illinois, where, following his battle with Mrs. Barker, many perceive his actions as anti-Christian and consider him the antichrist. He is harassed and bullied by students and tormented by Mr. Braun, the gym teacher with more brawn than brain. Joined by an endearing crew of fellow science geeks—including Megan Chow, whom Timothy vows to make his girlfriend—Timothy plans a lecture series to teach the “real science” Mrs. Barker refuses to teach. While this causes almost everyone around Timothy to hate him all the more, the geek squad gets enough support from the school’s principal and librarian to pull the series together. As Timothy and his friends continue to plan the lectures, unsettling forces continue to work against them. He finds help from some unexpected sources, including Mike Petersson, the star of the school’s football team and self-described “dumb jock,” who takes on the role of Timothy’s bodyguard. Eventually, Timothy finds himself in a life-threatening situation, where not even his big, burly bodyguard can help him. Will Timothy survive? Or will he become a casualty of the war he started? A suspenseful, entertaining story, The War on Science Goes Batshit takes a fresh look at the war between religion and science from the perspective of a teenage geek, setting it up not only as a politically charged piece but also as a young adult, coming-of-age saga that tells a tale of ordinary and extraordinary teens experiencing their first year of high school, the bonds and insecurities of friendship, and first love.

BOOK: On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

I really enjoyed reading this new biography of Rachel Carson earlier this year. Souder touches on Carson’s evolutionary themes in some of her writing, as well as describing her work on an article in 1956, “Help Your Child to Wonder,” which later became the book, The Sense of Wonder which can be seen as a decades-prior-to-Last Child in the Woods effort to reconnect children to nature. I highly recommend Souder’s biography to anyone interested in nature and the environment, the history of science, or a well-told story about a significant figure of the twentieth century.

William Souder, On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2012), 512 pp.

She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

BOOK REVIEW: I Wonder

Scan book store and library shelves, and you’ll see scores of books for children about scientific topics – space, cool animals, field guides, science experiments, gross science, etc. Yet how many of those books stress the importance of wonder in thinking about science? A new book does just that, and does so beautifully.

I Wonder Cover

Annaka Harris, I Wonder (Four Elephants Press: 2013), 32 pp. Illustrated by John Rowe.

Eva takes a walk with her mother and encounters a range of mysteries: from gravity, to life cycles, to the vastness of the universe. She learns that it’s okay to say “I don’t know,” and she discovers that there are some things even adults don’t know—mysteries for everyone to wonder about together! I Wonder is a book that celebrates the feelings of awe and curiosity in children, as the foundation for all learning.

As a parent, I strive to introduce my children to the natural side of the world they live in. But doing so can sometimes turn into looking at what we know, and if we don’t know something, it feels like we aren’t succeeding. But science would not be a human endeavor if scientists had everything all figured out! The exciting thing is that we don’t know it all, and reading I Wonder helps in recognizing that perhaps most important attribute of living a life that embraces the importance of science: knowing that it is continuous and changing. What I love even more about this book is that in every illustration, Eva and her mother are outside: in the woods, at a beach, in the clouds, and in space (using their imaginations, of course). A first step to instilling an interest in science in a child is to step out the front door. A second step is to read and be read to, and a parent and a child cannot go wrong with getting comfortable under a tree and reading I Wonder together.

BOOK REVIEW: The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs

I’ve posted before about a some great books about prehistoric creatures. For adults, there’s The Complete Dinosaur and Pterosaurs (reviews here and here). For kids, I reviewed Ankylosaur Attack and Pterosaur Trouble (here). Add to these a new book:

Robert T. Bakker, The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs (New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books, 2013), 64 pp. Illustrated by Luis Rey.

Dinosaurs. No other creatures are more exciting – or mysterious. Some were as big as tow dozen elephants duct-taped together. Others were as tiny as kittens. Some had jaws so strong they could bite through a school bus. There were even dinosaurs that could fly. Join renowned paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker on a safari through time and watch the evolution of dinosaurs and the animals that lived beside them – including our own distant ancestors! With stops along the way to look at monster bugs, ferocious fin-backs, fluffy dinosaurs, sea monsters, and much more, this is a journey readers will never forget!

Many current paleontologists had as children the 1960 book, Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles (A Giant Golden Book), by Jane Werner Watson and illustrated by Rudolph Zallinger (whose mural of dinosaurs at the Yale Peabody Museum remains a classic piece of paleo art). But our understanding of the lives of dinosaurs has changed dramatically over the last half-century. So, this new edition is a remake, intended to update young readers on the science of dinosaur paleontology. Luis Rey posted on his blog a comparison of the covers, old and new:

BigGBofDinosB2

From swamp-dwelling to self-supporting sauropods to feathered theropods, this book covers the entire span of dinosaur time, from the rise of dinosaurs from their reptilian ancestors to their extinction. Toward the end of the book, a very neat tree of life shows where dinosaurs and humans both fit in the evolution of life, stressing that without the demise of dinosaurs, we would not have evolved. Pterosaurs and sea-going reptiles are included, too, as well as a section on the history of the discovery of dinosaurs and changes in the field over the last two centuries. Bakker’s text is active and appropraite for a younger audience, and Luis Rey’s artwork, a combination of traditional paintings and digital illustration, is vibrant, action-packed, and wonderfully brings to life these exciting and mysterious creatures. I highly recommend The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs not only for younger readers, but adults as well!

BOOK: Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World

William Leach, Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World (New York: Pantheon Books, 2013), 416 pp.

A product of William Leach’s lifelong love of butterflies, this engaging and elegantly illustrated history shows how Americans from all walks of life passionately pursued butterflies, and how through their discoveries and observations they transformed the character of natural history. Leach focuses on the correspondence and scientific writings of half a dozen pioneering lepidopterists who traveled across the country and throughout the world, collecting and studying unknown and exotic species. In a book as full of life as the subjects themselves and foregrounding a collecting culture now on the brink of vanishing, Leach reveals how the beauty of butterflies led Americans into a deeper understanding of the natural world. He shows, too, that the country’s enthusiasm for butterflies occurred at the very moment that another form of beauty—the technological and industrial objects being displayed at world’s fairs and commercial shows—was emerging, and that Americans’ attraction to this new beauty would eventually, and at great cost, take precedence over nature in general and butterflies in particular.

BOOK: Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin

Glyn Williams, Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 328 pp.

On the great Pacific discovery expeditions of the “long eighteenth century,” naturalists for the first time were commonly found aboard ships sailing forth from European ports. Lured by intoxicating opportunities to discover exotic and perhaps lucrative flora and fauna unknown at home, these men set out eagerly to collect and catalogue, study and document an uncharted natural world. This enthralling book is the first to describe the adventures and misadventures, discoveries and dangers of this devoted and sometimes eccentric band of explorer-scholars. Their individual experiences are uniquely their own, but together their stories offer a new perspective on the extraordinary era of Pacific exploration and the achievements of an audacious generation of naturalists. Historian Glyn Williams illuminates the naturalist’s lot aboard ship, where danger alternated with boredom and quarrels with the ship’s commander were the norm. Nor did the naturalist’s difficulties end upon returning home, where recognition for years of work often proved elusive. Peopled with wonderful characters and major figures of Enlightenment science—among them Louis Antoine de Bouganville, Joseph Banks, John Reinhold Forster, Captain Cook, and Charles Darwin—this book is a gripping account of a small group of scientific travelers whose voyages of discovery were to change perceptions of the natural world.

BOOK REVIEW: Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science

Christoph Irmscher, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), 448 pp.

There is no lack of books about the nineteenth-century naturalist Louis Agassiz. He had considerable influence in his scientific endeavors (most notably, the creation of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology). He studied glaciation, fossil fish, and jellyfish. He was a great public speaker. And he is perhaps best known for his anti-evolution stance and views about race. All of this is covered in previous biographies and treatments: Lurie’s Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science (1960), Winsor’s Reading the Shape of Nature: Comparative Zoology at the Agassiz Museum (1991), and Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001). So why the need for a new biography of Agassiz? Paleontologist Kevin Padian wrote a review of Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science for Nature in which he basically stated that there was no need for Irmscher to pen a new biography, for those others mentioned above give “a fuller perspective of the man and his influence.” For me, the book’s audience is perhaps a good reason why. Lurie’s book is over half a decade old, and while a standard in the field and useful to historians, it is dated for a popular treatment of Agassiz. Winsor’s book is very specific, and Menand’s, while including much about Agassiz, is not centered on him.

Irmscher’s offering, while being a great introduction to non-historians or others who want a good biography all in one place, also brings to the table interesting aspects of Agassiz’s life. He discusses gender and science issues, regarding the role of Agassiz’s wife Elizabeth in Agassiz’s publications. There are priority disputes and distinctions to be made between professional and amateur, for while Agassiz pursued collaborative science, he was greedy with having only his name attached to publications and research, while students of his would simply do the work. (Irmscher devotes considerable pages to the lives of several of Agassiz’s students/assistants; perhaps to some readers these sections will seem tangential and long-winded, but they allow a window into Agassiz’s thoughts and motivations from those who worked closely with him, as Agassiz himself did not record much in diaries or letters about his own feelings.) We go along with Agassiz on a trip to the Galapagos to examine God’s creation, a final attempt to counter Darwin. We get a fresh perspective on the “racist” Agassiz’s views on race and slavery. And, (my favorite chapter), we are treated to a wonderful examination of science and art through the illustrations made for Agassiz’s publications. Irmscher is not a historian, but a an English professor, and his detailed descriptions and analysis of Agassiz’s doings are a pleasure to read. Toward the beginning of the book I got the impression that Irmscher intended to remove Agassiz from the world of Darwin, but he fails to keep Darwin out of every turn, at many points comparing some aspect of Agassiz’s life or work to that of Darwin’s.

That Agassiz lost the battle (and Darwin won) and had unsettling views on race seems reason enough for Padian that Agassiz as a historical character is not much of interest. But to who? Why should any historical figure be of interest? Padian is presentist in his notions, and we must consider Agassiz in his time. We may consider him racist today, but he fell in line with a lot of Americans at the time, but was perhaps just more publicly vocal about his views. There is no doubt that he had the attention of many, in his personal life, his research, the museum, the scientific community, social circles. Padian writes in his review, “The biologist today who doesn’t read Agassiz misses some great treatments of glaciology, invertebrates and fishes. The biologist who doesn’t read On the Origin of Species knows nothing about how evolution works.”* Should the story of Agassiz be relegated to whether or not it is useful to only biologists? Surely not. But I think biologists, historians, and others with interest in science, nature, or history will find interest in Irmscher’s Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science.

* It is interesting that Padian lacks a sensitivity toward historical interest when reviewing a book about the lesser known creationist Agassiz, but wrote an essay for a facsimile edition of the also lesser known and creation-minded anatomist Richard Owen’s On the Nature of Limbs.

BOOK: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought

This is a spectacular volume; it should be in every public and university library.

Michael Ruse, ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 568 pp.

This volume is a comprehensive reference work on the life, labors, and influence of the great evolutionist Charles Darwin. With more than sixty essays written by an international group representing the leading scholars in the field, this is the definitive work on Darwin. It covers the background to Darwin’s discovery of the theory of evolution through natural selection, the work he produced and his contemporaries’ reactions to it, and evaluates his influence on science in the 150 years since the publication of Origin of Species. It also explores the implications of Darwin’s discoveries in religion, politics, gender, literature, culture, philosophy, and medicine, critically evaluating Darwin’s legacy. Fully illustrated and clearly written, it is suitable for scholars and students as well as the general reader. The wealth of information it provides about the history of evolutionary thought makes it a crucial resource for understanding the controversies that surround evolution today.

A perusal of the table of contents gives one an impression of the scope of the encyclopedia:

1. Ancient Greece Jeremy Kirby
2. Evolution before Darwin Michael Ruse
3. Darwin, geology David Norman
4. Paleontology, evidence Paul Brinkman
5. Darwin, the route to discovery Jon Hodge
6. Darwin and taxonomy Mary P. Winsor
7. Darwin and the barnacles Marsha Richmond
8. Artificial selection and natural selection Bert Theunissen
9. The Origin of Species Michael Ruse
10. Sexual selection Richard Richards
11. Darwin and species James Mallet
12. Darwin and heredity Robert Olby
13. Time Keith Bennett
14. Darwin and flowers Rich Bellon
15. Early mimicry and adaptation William Kimler and Michael Ruse
16. Chance John Beatty
17. Teleology Jim Lennox
18. Six editions of origin Thierry Hoquet
19. Alfred Russel Wallace John van Wyhe
20. Darwin and humans Greg Radick
21. Language Stephen G. Alter
22. Darwin and morality Eric Charmetant
23. Social Darwinism Naomi Beck
24. Darwin and the levels of selection Brian Hollis, Dan Deen and Chris Zarpentine
25. Darwin and religion Mark Pallen and Alison Pearn
26. Post-Darwin: United Kingdom Peter Bowler
27. Post-Darwin: America Mark Largent
28. Post-Darwin: Germany Bob Richards
29. Post-Darwin: France to 1900 Jean Gayon
30. Post-Darwin: China Haiyan Yang
31. Post-Darwin: South America Thomas F. Glick
32. Botany, early history Dawn Digrius
33. Population genetics Michael Ruse
34. Synthetic theory Joe Cain
35. Ecological genetics David Rudge
36. Post-Darwin: France post 1900 Jean Gayon
37. Botany, later history Betty Smocovitis
38. Origin of life Iris Fry
39. Testing Steve Orzack
40. Mimicry and camouflage Joe Travis
41. Tree of life Joel Velasco
42. Sociobiology Mark Borrello
43. Paleontology, interpretations David Sepkoski
44. Darwin and geography David Livingstone
45. Darwin and the finches Fritz Davis
46. Evo devo Manfred Laubichler and Jane Maienschein
47. Evolutionary ecology Jack Justus
48. Environment David Steffes
49. Darwin and molecular biology Francisco Ayala
50. Darwinian expansions David Depew and Bruce Weber
51. Paleoanthropology Jesse Richmond
52. Language today Barbara J. King
53. Cultural evolution Ken Reisman
54. Literature Gowan Dawson
55. Gender Georgina Montgomery
56. Philosophy-epistemology Tim Lewens
57. Philosophy-ethics Richard Joyce
58. Religion, Protestantism Diarmid Finnegan
59. Creationism history Ron Numbers
60. Religion, Catholicism John Haught
61. Religion, Jewish Marc Swetlitz
62. Religion, Islam Martin Riexinger
63. Medicine Tatjana Buklijas and Peter Gluckman.

BOOKS: Bang! & It’s Alive! (The Universe Verse, Books 1 and 2), and campaign for Book 3, Great Apes

James Lu Dunbar has created a rhyming graphic guide to the history of the universe and evolution on Earth called The Universe Verse. In three parts, an Einstein-like character is your guide to learning up-to-date science while enjoying a romp through time and space. The first two are already published and Dunbar hopes to publish the third as part of a larger hardcover edition including all three.

James Lu Dunbar, Bang!: The Universe Verse: Book 1 (CreateSpace, 2009), 44 pp. Book one in a three part series, “BANG!” explains the scientific theories regarding the origin of the universe using captivating illustrations and whimsical rhymes. From the beginning of existence to the birth of stars and galaxies, you’ll learn how matter was created, why stars shine and where black holes come from. This book is intended for all ages. If you don’t understand everything, don’t worry, no one does! That’s why I made it rhyme and added lots of pictures. Warning: This book contains graphic depictions of scientific knowledge which may lead to decreased ignorance and heightened sensations of awe and wonder.

James Lu Dunbar, It’s Alive!: The Universe Verse: Book 2 (CreatSpace, 2011), 42 pp. Book two in a three-part series, “It’s Alive!” explains the scientific theories regarding the origin of life on Earth with captivating illustrations and whimsical rhymes. From the formation of our solar system to the birth of bacteria, you’ll learn about the conditions that could have created life, the nature of organic existence and the beauty of evolution.

Here’s a link to Dunbar’s KickStarter page, that while already above his funding goal, is still active through September.

BOOK: Island Life by Alfred Russel Wallace

Released this year as a new edition for the centenary of Wallace’s death:

Alfred Russel Wallace, Island Life: Or, the Phenomena and Causes of Insular Faunas and Floras, Including a Revision and Attempted Solution of the Problem of Geological Climates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 608 pp.

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known as the codiscoverer, with Charles Darwin, of natural selection, but he was also history’s foremost tropical naturalist and the father of biogeography, the modern study of the geographical basis of biological diversity. Island Life has long been considered one of his most important works. In it he extends studies on the influence of the glacial epochs on organismal distribution patterns and the characteristics of island biogeography, a topic as vibrant and actively studied today as it was in 1880. The book includes history’s first theory of continental glaciation based on a combination of geographical and astronomical causes, a discussion of island classification, and a survey of worldwide island faunas and floras.

The year 2013 will mark the centennial of Wallace’s death and will see a host of symposia and reflections on Wallace’s contributions to evolution and natural history. This reissue of the first edition of Island Life, with a foreword by David Quammen and an extensive commentary by Lawrence R. Heaney, who has spent over three decades studying island biogeography in Southeast Asia, makes this essential and foundational reference available and accessible once again.

BOOK: Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin

Peter J. Bowler, Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 328 pp.

The ideas and terminology of Darwinism are so pervasive these days that it seems impossible to avoid them, let alone imagine a world without them. But in this remarkable rethinking of scientific history, Peter J. Bowler does just that. He asks: What if Charles Darwin had not returned from the voyage of the Beagle and thus did not write On the Origin of Species? Would someone else, such as Alfred Russel Wallace, have published the selection theory and initiated a similar transformation? Or would the absence of Darwin’s book have led to a different sequence of events, in which biology developed along a track that did not precipitate a great debate about the impact of evolutionism? Would there have been anything equivalent to social Darwinism, and if so would the alternatives have been less pernicious and misappropriated?

In Darwin Deleted, Bowler argues that no one else, not even Wallace, was in a position to duplicate Darwin’s complete theory of evolution by natural selection. Evolutionary biology would almost certainly have emerged, but through alternative theories, which were frequently promoted by scientists, religious thinkers, and moralists who feared the implications of natural selection. Because non-Darwinian elements of evolutionism flourished for a time in the real world, it is possible to plausibly imagine how they might have developed, particularly if the theory of natural selection had not emerged until decades after the acceptance of the basic idea of evolution. Bowler’s unique approach enables him to clearly explain the non-Darwinian tradition—and in doing so, he reveals how the reception of Darwinism was historically contingent. By taking Darwin out of the equation, Bowler is able to fully elucidate the ideas of other scientists, such as Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley, whose work has often been misunderstood because of their distinctive responses to Darwin.

Darwin Deleted boldly offers a new vision of scientific history. It is one where the sequence of discovery and development would have been very different and would have led to an alternative understanding of the relationship between evolution, heredity, and the environment—and, most significantly, a less contentious relationship between science and religion. Far from mere speculation, this fascinating and compelling book forces us to reexamine the preconceptions that underlie many of the current controversies about the impact of evolutionism. It shows how contingent circumstances surrounding the publication of On the Origin of Species polarized attitudes in ways that still shape the conversation today.

Some reviews:
Literary Review: The Evolution of a Theory
Publisher’s Weekly: Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin
CultureLab: Timing was everything when Darwin’s bombshell exploded