BOOK: Spare the Birds! George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society

As a lover of history and nature, my eye was immediately attracted to the cover of this new book of environmental history. Where was I when I saw it? In the nature store at the Audubon Society of Portland. Of course. I look forward to learning about Grinnell and the first Audubon Society.


Carolyn Merchant, Spare the Birds! George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 344 pp. 

Publisher’s description In 1887, a year after founding the Audubon Society, explorer and conservationist George Bird Grinnell launched Audubon Magazine. The magazine constituted one of the first efforts to preserve bird species decimated by the women’s hat trade, hunting, and loss of habitat. Within two years, however, for practical reasons, Grinnell dissolved both the magazine and the society. Remarkably, Grinnell’s mission was soon revived by women and men who believed in it, and the work continues today. In this, the only comprehensive history of the first Audubon Society (1886–1889), Carolyn Merchant presents the exceptional story of George Bird Grinnell and his writings and legacy. The book features Grinnell’s biographies of ornithologists John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson and his editorials and descriptions of Audubon’s bird paintings. This primary documentation combined with Carolyn Merchant’s insightful analysis casts new light on Grinnell, the origins of the first Audubon Society, and the conservation of avifauna.

BOOK: How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society

A couple of years ago, Princeton University Press published the huge volume, The Princeton Guide to Evolution (out in paperback in February 2017), which provides a large overview of evolutionary biology, as a science and its relationship to human society (you can read the introduction here). Now the press has condensed a variety of chapters that address evolution as it relates to human society into a shorter book.


Jonathan B. Losos and Richard E. Lenski, eds., How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 416 pp.

Publisher’s description It is easy to think of evolution as something that happened long ago, or that occurs only in “nature,” or that is so slow that its ongoing impact is virtually nonexistent when viewed from the perspective of a single human lifetime. But we now know that when natural selection is strong, evolutionary change can be very rapid. In this book, some of the world’s leading scientists explore the implications of this reality for human life and society. With some twenty-three essays, this volume provides authoritative yet accessible explorations of why understanding evolution is crucial to human life—from dealing with climate change and ensuring our food supply, health, and economic survival to developing a richer and more accurate comprehension of society, culture, and even what it means to be human itself. Combining new essays with essays revised and updated from the acclaimed Princeton Guide to Evolution, this collection addresses the role of evolution in aging, cognition, cooperation, religion, the media, engineering, computer science, and many other areas. The result is a compelling and important book about how evolution matters to humans today. The contributors are Dan I. Andersson, Francisco J. Ayala, Amy Cavanaugh, Cameron R. Currie, Dieter Ebert, Andrew D. Ellington, Elizabeth Hannon, John Hawks, Paul Keim, Richard E. Lenski, Tim Lewens, Jonathan B. Losos, Virpi Lummaa, Jacob A. Moorad, Craig Moritz, Martha M. Muñoz, Mark Pagel, Talima Pearson, Robert T. Pennock, Daniel E. L. Promislow, Erik M. Quandt, David C. Queller, Robert C. Richardson, Eugenie C. Scott, H. Bradley Shaffer, Joan E. Strassmann, Alan R. Templeton, Paul E. Turner, and Carl Zimmer.

You can read the first chapter here.

ARTICLE: The power of islands and of discipleship: Francisco de Arruda Furtado (1854–1887) and the making of a disciple of Darwin

A recent article from the journal History of Science:

The power of islands and of discipleship: Francisco de Arruda Furtado (1854–1887) and the making of a disciple of Darwin

David Felismino and Conceição Tavares

Abstract This paper focuses on the biography of the Portuguese naturalist Francisco de Arruda Furtado, born on São Miguel Island, in the Azorean archipelago, in 1854, who became part of an international network of naturalists. Despite his short life, he produced original research on malacology (the study of molluscs), and from his youth Furtado claimed to be a disciple of Darwin. Informed by recent literature reflecting on the resurgence of biography in the history of science, the narrative of Furtado’s life will take into consideration what it meant to be, and the implications of considering oneself, a disciple of Darwin in the nineteenth-century natural sciences. In the history of science, the concept of disciple has often been associated with research schools, but Darwin did not create one and never surrounded himself with young apprentices. In this paper we argue that in Furtado’s case, and in all probability in many others, in addition to being a scientific theory, evolution had the status of a doctrine. As such, Darwinian evolution had a strong ideological and political dimension. By propagating it among lay people it had the potential of changing attitudes individually and socially, while at the same time it provided the scientific foundations for social and political transformation. Consequently, in addition to scientific research based on Darwin’s theory, Furtado deeply engaged in proselytizing the natural sciences and Darwinian evolution, becoming representative of the importance of Darwin’s disciples in Furtado’s sense, in the reception and endorsement of evolution around the world, with repercussions beyond natural history.

BOOK: Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds: His Complete Ornithology

There’s no doubt that many fans of Charles Darwin are also lovers of birds. Nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt has previously written about seeing Darwin with fresh eyes by specifically looking at his writings about birds in Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent. This new book, which appears to truly have been a labor of love for ornithologist Clifford B. Frith, provides a comprehensive treatment of how Darwin studied birds, from a 200-page biography that looks at Darwin as an evolving ornithologist to an equal 200 pages of appendices offering three useful collections: Darwin’s published ornithology, a list of birds named after Darwin, and the birds collected by Darwin during the voyage of HMS Beagle. A section of color plates as well as the beautiful dust jacket makes for a very attractive book to peruse. Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds would be a welcome addition on the bookshelf of any Darwin fan or bird lover.


Clifford B. Firth, Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds: His Complete Ornithology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 520 pp.

Publisher’s description Much of Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking work as an evolutionary biologist stemmed from his study of birds. It is universally acknowledged that Darwin’s observation of bird groups and species like the Galapagos finches, mockingbirds, and rock doves was critical to the development of his theories on natural selection, evolution, and sexual selection. The significant number of diverse birds that Darwin covered in his published works represents a most substantial ornithological contribution. His major books alone contain reference to and consideration of almost 500 bird species, as well as interesting and pertinent discussion of over 100 ornithological topics. Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds is a comprehensive treatment of Darwin’s work as an ornithologist. Clifford Frith discusses every ornithological topic and bird species that Darwin researched, providing a complete historical survey of his published writing on birds. Through this, we learn how Darwin became an increasingly skilled and eventually exceptional ornithologist, and how his relationships grew with contemporary scientists like John Gould. It examines how Darwin was influenced by birds, and how the major themes of his research developed through his study of them.

BOOK:Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller

A new book from the late biologist David A. West at Virginia Tech promises to fill in a gap in Darwin scholarship – that of the role played by the German naturalist Fritz Müller in the history of evolutionary biology and his relationship with Darwin through correspondence. As West shares in his introduction, Darwin’s son Francis wrote in 1887, “My impression is that of all his unseen friends Fritz Müller was the one for whom he had the strongest regard” (p. 2). It seems then an account of their intellectual friendship as well as an appreciation for Müller’s discoveries is worth a full treatment. Müller, for which Müllerian mimicry is named, appears a couple of times in Desmond and Moore’s Darwin and Janet Browne’s Charles Darwin: The Power of Place; and Browne shares that Darwin wrote to Müller in 1864 in praise of his book Für Darwin: “What an admirable illustration it affords of my whole doctrine!” (p. 260). I thus look forward to learning more about “Darwin’s Man in Brazil.”


David A. West, Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller (Gainesville: University Press of Florida , 2016), 344 pp.

Publisher’s description Fritz Müller (1821-1897), though not as well known as his colleague Charles Darwin, belongs in the cohort of great nineteenth-century naturalists. Recovering Müller’s legacy, David A. West describes the close intellectual kinship between Müller and Darwin and details a lively correspondence that spanned seventeen years. The two scientists, despite living on separate continents, often discussed new research topics and exchanged groundbreaking ideas that unequivocally moved the field of evolutionary biology forward. Müller was unique among naturalists testing Darwin’s theory of natural selection because he investigated an enormous diversity of plants and animals, corresponded with prominent scientists, and published important articles in Germany, England, the United States, and Brazil. Darwin frequently praised Müller’s powers of observation and interpretation, counting him among those scientists whose opinions he valued most. Despite the importance and scope of his work, however, Müller is known for relatively few of his discoveries. West remedies this oversight, chronicling the life and work of this remarkable and overlooked man of science.