Tonight I headed downtown to Powell’s City of Books for a book talk. Christopher Wills, a biologist at UCSD and author of Children Of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace Of Human Evolution and The Spark Of Life: Darwin And The Primeval Soup, discussed his new book The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the World Through Evolutionary Eyes.
In The Darwinian Tourist, biologist Christopher Wills takes us on a series of adventures–exciting in their own right–that demonstrate how ecology and evolution have interacted to create the world we live in. Some of these adventures, like his SCUBA dives in the incredibly diverse Lembeh Strait in Indonesia or his encounter with a wild wolf cub in western Mongolia, might have been experienced by any reasonably intrepid traveller. Others, like his experience of being hammered by a severe earthquake off the island of Yap while sixty feet down in the ocean, filming manta rays, stand far outside the ordinary. With his own stunning color photographs of the wildlife he discovered on his travels, Wills not only takes us to these far-off places but, more important, draws out the evolutionary stories behind the wildlife and shows how our understanding of the living world can be deepened by a Darwinian perspective. In addition, the book offers an extensive and unusual view of human evolution, examining the entire sweep of our evolutionary story as it has taken place throughout the Old World. The reader comes away with a renewed sense of wonder about the world’s astounding diversity, along with a new appreciation of the long evolutionary history that has led to the wonders of the present-day. When we lose a species or an ecosystem, Wills shows us, we also lose many millions of years of history. Published to coincide with the International Year for Biodiversity, The Darwinian Tourist is packed with globe-trotting exploits, brilliant color photography, and eye-opening insights into the evolution of humanity and the natural world.
Wills energetically talked of Darwin and the earthquake he experienced in Chile, Wallace and his recognition of distinct flora and fauna to either side of the “Wallace line,” and Homo floriensis. At the end, he briefly mentioned that he wishes his book will help to turn the trend that the US lays at the bottom of the list of countries whose public accepts evolution. He referred to this graph:
The last lines of The Darwinian Tourist read “We must see the world through evolutionary eyes. If we let ignorance and the denial of evolution prevail, we are in danger of destroying the living fabric of the world that we treasure and that sustains us.” This book is full of the science of evolution, and Wills hopes that simply laying out the facts can help turn the tide. Someone in the audience asked that if at his book talks he encounters people hostile to evolution. Wills said rarely if at all. I turned to the gentleman sitting next to me and said, “Well, it’s likely that Wills does not encounter hostility to evolution because such people do not come to his book talks in the first place.” Likewise, if he hopes his book will get evolution deniers to change, they first have to read it. Will they pick it up in the bookstore or check it out from their library? I don’t know.
It’s a beautifully published book, though, and I look forward to perusing my signed copy.