VIDEO: Janet Browne on Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography (3 lectures)

Janet Browne spoke on Darwin for three lectures at Harvard earlier in November, all of which have been uploaded to YouTube. Enjoy!

Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Economist of Nature”

Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Stories of a Scientific Life”

Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Icon”

BOOK: Evolution: The Whole Story


Steve Parker, general ed., Evolution: The Whole Story (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2015), 576 pp. Foreward by Alice Roberts.

Publisher’s description What happened, how it happened, and when. Ten expert contributors tell the story.

Evolution: The Whole Story provides an in-depth and up-to-the-minute account of evolution, one of the ultimate keystone theories in modern science. Ten esteemed experts thoroughly survey how each of Earth’s major groups of living things diversified and evolved through time and using visual features that make the story comprehensible, the book gives readers, even those with no previous knowledge of the topic, a clear understanding of evolution and how it brought us to the present day. Each of seven chapters takes one of Earth’s major living groups and describes the evolution of its subgroups and how they diversified and evolved. The stories are fascinating. In some cases, a subgroup fell off the evolutionary chain, like the dinosaurs that were part of the Early Reptiles group, and which became extinct by the second extinction event. In other cases, a living subgroup may contain a life form virtually the same as its evolutionary ancestors, such as the horseshoe crab from the Invertebrates group, which is a “living fossil” closely related to prehistoric sea scorpions. Along with profiles of the most important scientists that have influenced evolutionary theory, the book reveals how these advances have added to and often changed the story. Evolution: The Whole Story makes the story of evolution comprehensible, straightforward and stimulating. The introduction provides an important overview.

This is a weighty tome, and perhaps one might worry about the binding remaining intact. While the text is small and might be difficult for some readers, this book is just packed with evolution goodness. It’s printed on quality paper with fill-color photographs and illustrations throughout. An introduction gives a condensed overview of the history of evolutionary thought, while the bulk of the book has the feel of a chronological encyclopedia of the history of life on Earth. Evolution: The Whole Story would be a great addition to the bookshelf of any fan of evolution; more especially it would make a nice gift for a young, burgeoning biologist or paleontologist. Here are some sample images from the book:

BOOK: Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation

Jim Baggott, Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 352 pp.

Publisher’s description What is the nature of the material world? How does it work? What is the universe and how was it formed? What is life? Where do we come from and how did we evolve? How and why do we think? What does it mean to be human? How do we know? There are many different versions of our creation story. This book tells the version according to modern science. It is a unique account, starting at the Big Bang and travelling right up to the emergence of humans as conscious intelligent beings, 13.8 billion years later. Chapter by chapter, it sets out the current state of scientific knowledge: the origins of space and time; energy, mass, and light; galaxies, stars, and our sun; the habitable earth, and complex life itself. Drawing together the physical and biological sciences, Baggott recounts what we currently know of our history, highlighting the questions science has yet to answer.

ARTICLE: Neptunism and Transformism: Robert Jameson and other Evolutionary Theorists in Early Nineteenth-Century Scotland

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology might be of interest to readers here:

Neptunism and Transformism: Robert Jameson and other Evolutionary Theorists in Early Nineteenth-Century Scotland

Bill Jenkins

Abstract This paper sheds new light on the prevalence of evolutionary ideas in Scotland in the early nineteenth century and establish what connections existed between the espousal of evolutionary theories and adherence to the directional history of the earth proposed by Abraham Gottlob Werner and his Scottish disciples. A possible connection between Wernerian geology and theories of the transmutation of species in Edinburgh in the period when Charles Darwin was a medical student in the city was suggested in an important 1991 paper by James Secord. This study aims to deepen our knowledge of this important episode in the history of evolutionary ideas and explore the relationship between these geological and evolutionary discourses. To do this it focuses on the circle of natural historians around Robert Jameson, Wernerian geologist and professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh from 1804 to 1854. From the evidence gathered here there emerges a clear confirmation that the Wernerian model of geohistory facilitated the acceptance of evolutionary explanations of the history of life in early nineteenth-century Scotland. As Edinburgh was at this time the most important center of medical education in the English-speaking world, this almost certainly influenced the reception and development of evolutionary ideas in the decades that followed.

BOOK: Making “Nature”: The History of a Scientific Journal

I look forward to reading this new book authored by a member of the Tyndall Correspondence Project (of which I am a co-editor for volume 6):

Melinda Baldwin, Making Nature: The History of a Scientific Journal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 328 pp.

Publisher’s description Making “Nature” is the first book to chronicle the foundation and development of Nature, one of the world’s most influential scientific institutions. Now nearing its hundred and fiftieth year of publication, Nature is the international benchmark for scientific publication. Its contributors include Charles Darwin, Ernest Rutherford, and Stephen Hawking, and it has published many of the most important discoveries in the history of science, including articles on the structure of DNA, the discovery of the neutron, the first cloning of a mammal, and the human genome. But how did Nature become such an essential institution? In Making “Nature,” Melinda Baldwin charts the rich history of this extraordinary publication from its foundation in 1869 to current debates about online publishing and open access. This pioneering study not only tells Nature‘s story but also sheds light on much larger quesqtions about the history of science publishing, changes in scientific communication, and shifting notions of “scientific community.” Nature, as Baldwin demonstrates, helped define what science is and what it means to be a scientist.

For those interested in Darwin, this book offers some interesting topics: Darwin moving from the Gardener’s Chronicle to Nature for his publication of choice; George Romanes fashioning himself as Darwin’s heir through the pages of Nature, much to the disagreement of other authors in the journal; and how the journal showed a sort of reverence for Darwin in the decades following his death, including both sides in the debate over the inheritance of acquired characteristics claiming Darwin for their side.

ARTICLE: Exploration and Exploitation of Victorian Science in Darwin’s Reading Notebooks

An open access article through

Exploration and Exploitation of Victorian Science in Darwin’s Reading Notebooks [PDF]

Jaimie Murdock, Colin Allen, Simon DeDeo

Abstract Search in an environment with an uncertain distribution of resources involves a trade-off between local exploitation and distant exploration. This extends to the problem of information foraging, where a knowledge-seeker shifts between reading in depth and studying new domains. To study this, we examine the reading choices made by one of the most celebrated scientists of the modern era: Charles Darwin. Darwin built his theory of natural selection in part by synthesizing disparate parts of Victorian science. When we analyze his extensively self-documented reading we find shifts, on multiple timescales, between choosing to remain with familiar topics and seeking cognitive surprise in novel fields. On the longest timescales, these shifts correlate with major intellectual epochs of his career, as detected by Bayesian epoch estimation. When we compare Darwin’s reading path with publication order of the same texts, we find Darwin more adventurous than the culture as a whole.

ARTICLE: Flattening the World: Natural Theology and the Ecology of Darwin’s Orchids

A new article in the journal Nineteenth-Century Contexts:

Flattening the World: Natural Theology and the Ecology of Darwin’s Orchids

Devin Griffiths

No abstract, First paragraph What do plants want? What do they think? What do they mean to do? Such questions raise problems of intent, of affect, of sentience, that seem inappropriate to vegetal life. Charles Darwin felt differently. He was captivated by what he termed the “contrivances” of orchids—his word for uncannily intelligent adaptations. “You cannot conceive how orchids have delighted me” wrote Darwin on July 27, 1861, to his friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker; he added the following month that “The Orchids are more play than real work” (Darwin, letters). He’d long been interested in the marvelous flowers that grew locally in the neighborhood of Down House, especially a nearby copse the family dubbed “Orchis Bank.” Relieved by the printing of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), Darwin’s interest in the strange and beautiful flowers quickly blossomed into something more. His letters from the period emphasize his intense attraction. “Orchids have interested me more than almost anything in my life,” he confessed in his July 27 letter to Hooker, after writing in June to another correspondent to explain that, “This subject is a passion with me” (Darwin, letters). By 1861 Darwin was totally absorbed in floral research. When he wrote to propose a new book on orchids, publisher John Murray (who had nurtured the Origin through its third printing in less than two years) quickly offered generous terms. A year later, it appeared as On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects (1862).

Full article in text or PDF.