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.