BOOK: God—or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age

For readers of the book I posted about this morning (Trying Biology), this one from a few years back might be of interest.

Constance Areson Clark, God – or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 312 pp.

As scholars debate the most appropriate way to teach evolutionary theory, Constance Areson Clark provides an intriguing reflection on similar debates in the not-too-distant past. Set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, God—or Gorilla explores the efforts of biologists to explain evolution to a confused and conflicted public during the 1920s.

Focusing on the use of images and popularization, Clark shows how scientists and anti-evolutionists deployed schematics, cartoons, photographs, sculptures, and paintings to win the battle for public acceptance. She uses representative illustrations and popular media accounts of the struggle to reveal how concepts of evolutionary theory changed as they were presented to, and absorbed into, popular culture.

Engagingly written and deftly argued, God—or Gorilla offers original insights into the role of images in communicating—and miscommunicating—scientific ideas to the lay public.

A review by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is on the website of the National Center for Science Education.

2 thoughts on “BOOK: God—or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age

  1. I agree, Clark is a good book but it can be read with profit next to Kevin Jackson’s ‘Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year One’, as I have just done. The two books overlap in time but little in focus — compare Jackson’s title with Clark’s chapter 3. Items of cultural significance overlap constantly, sometimes without touching. For example, Clark mentions a reference with ‘Babbitt’ in the title (p. 250, p. 260, in ref. 26 and 42 respectively. So, who’s Babbitt? See Jackson (p. 317), a novel written by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis also wrote Elmer Gantry (see Clark p. 34, Jackson, p. 319). Science is barely mentioned in Jackson (but you could check out the story on p. 144 concerning Bateson’s son) and other cultural matters are absent from Clark. My point is that both books are great but suffer from a kind of cultural isolation betraying a cause for some of today’s misunderstandings in both science and art.

  2. Thank you, David, for the information about a complimentary book to Clark’s.

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