Abstract Alfred Russel Wallace is generally presented as a footnote in scientific and cultural history, a young man whose letter spurred Darwin to publish his epoch-making On the Origin of Species, but little else. A spate of recent scholarly interest in him has, however, worked to recover his important and multifaceted place in British cultural history. This essay examines his positioning of himself as the standard bearer of Darwinian thought toward the end of his life and after much of Darwin’s scientific circle had died. His 1889 Darwinism subversively rewrites Darwin’s ideas and promotes what this article terms Wallaceism, a version of Darwinian evolutionary theory in which he positions himself as Darwin’s champion but also alters some of Darwin’s arguments in light of his own 1886–87 lecture tour of America. Analyzing public discourse on Wallace’s cultural reception from Anglo-American periodicals using both quantitative and qualitative methods, this essay comes to consider his rise to cultural prominence in the United States at the turn of the century and his subsequent fall.
Abstract Most studies on the reception of Darwinism in France focus on the scientific community. This essay investigates the popular press. Widely discussed in French newspapers in 1878, Darwinism was connected with a sensational murder case in which two well-educated young men, Aimé Barré and Paul Lebiez, killed an elderly woman. Before his arrest, Lebiez had given a public lecture on the Darwinian “struggle for life.” Competing factions of the press explicitly linked the case with Darwinism to advance either conservative or republican political agendas, which brought Darwinism into the public eye. This essay argues that Charles Darwin’s instrumentalization was decisive in spreading his theory in French society. That same year, the Academy of Sciences elected Darwin to membership after six failed attempts.
Abstract This paper aims to establish the connection between the theoretical and practical aims of the Office of the Hydrographer of the British Admiralty and Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882) work on coral reefs from 1835 to 1842. I also emphasize the consistent zoological as well as geological reasoning contained in these texts. The Office’s influences have been previously overlooked, despite the Admiralty’s interest in using coral reefs as natural instruments. I elaborate on this by introducing the work of Alexander Dalrymple (1737–1808), the first hydrographer of the Admiralty and a figure who has flown under the radar of the history of coral reef theories. I show that Dalrymple introduced a unified account of coral reefs in which multiple features of the coral reefs, such as their shape, slope of the sides, ridges, channels, and elevation relative to the water, were all explained by the action of the winds and waves—and proposed that one could use these features to predict seafaring conditions around the islands. Then, I show that Darwin’s “Coral Islands” (1835) and his Coral Reefs monograph (1842) spoke to these hydrographical issues and did so, at times, by way of zoological reasoning. It was, for instance, the coral behavior and the related notion of a zoological or botanical station that ultimately proved the biggest blow to the Admiralty’s aim to use the coral reefs as instruments because it eroded many uniform predictions regarding the past or future of a coral reef. Connecting these themes leads us to a surprising conclusion: that Darwin’s theory of coral reefs, long a model instance of Darwin making uniform predictable inferences, was, in actuality, also his first formal encounter with something at times the entire opposite.
I wonder if Charles Darwin was fascinated by earthworms as a child. My children certainly were when they were little. On the left is my son’s hand with an earthworm when he was 4 (now 16!), and my daughter’s hand with one when she was also 4 (now 10). She remains enamored when we see them make their appearance after a rain or when digging around in the dirt.
Darwin likely interacted with worms when young, too, and their pull on his curiosity never waned. He later studied earthworms from shortly after the Beagle voyage in the mid-1830s and again toward the end of his life, publishing his very last book on the subject in October 1881, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits (London: John Murray). This work, more geological in nature than the many botanical subjects that took up Darwin’s later years, looked at the intelligence of earthworms (through experiment) and the effect that worms have on landscapes over long periods of time, writing at the very end of the book: “When we behold a wide, turf-covered expanse, we should remember that its smoothness, on which so much of its beauty depends, is mainly due to all the inequalities having been slowly levelled by worms. It is a marvellous reflection that the whole of the superficial mould over any such expanse has passed, and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms. The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of mans inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed by earth-worms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures” (p. 313).
Darwin’s son Horace built an apparatus (referred to by Darwin as a “wormoscope” and called a “wormograph” by another son, Francis) to measure the rate at which stones on the surface of the soil are buried by the action of earthworms. It was placed under a large Spanish chestnut tree in the garden at Down House. A replica of the wormstone (as it is now generally called) was built by Horace’s Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company some years later, and remains situated at Down House, where I saw it and took this picture in October 2009:
A Punch illustration from the same month of the book’s publication depicts Darwin seated outside, a finger to his lips, above him a large earthworm shaped into a question mark, a copy of his book, and in the background, what appears to be a casket with the words “worm bait” on the side of it—a speculation on Darwin’s interest in worms as he neared the end of his own life (he did indeed die not long after, in April 1882; see J. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (New York: Knopf, 2002), p. 479). The caption underneath reads: “IN HIS DESCENT OF MAN HE BROUGHT HIS OWN SPECIES DOWN AS LOW AS POSSIBLE—I. E., TO ‘A HAIRY QUADRUPED FURNISHED WITH A TAIL AND POINTED EARS, AND PROBABLY ARBOREAL IN ITS HABITS’—WHICH IS A REASON FOR THE VERY GENERAL INTEREST IN A ‘FAMILY TREE.’ HE HAS LATELY BEEN TURNING HIS ATTENTION TO THE ‘POLITIC WORM.’”
With the general curiosity that children have for worms and Darwin’s own curiosity leading to scientific research, it’s no surprise that now there is a children’s book on the subject, written by Polly Owen and charmingly illustrated by Gwen Millward: Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular (Wide Eyed Editions, 2023). What a great title!
Here’s the publisher’s description and a few images from the book, which is geared toward elementary/primary age children: “Charles Darwin is widely known for his Origin of Species book, yet Darwin had another great love, and that was for worms. Told for the first time for children, this is the silly and fascinating true story of how Charles Darwin came to discover that the humble earthworm is the most important species on our planet. Darwin suspected worms were special but his scientist friends laughed at him. In a quest to find out the worms’ special talent, Darwin played the bassoon to the worms to see if they could hear, laid out a picnic treasure hunt for them to see how well they could smell, among many other bizarre but entirely true experiments. But so far Darwin didn’t find anything extra special about worms. Until, one day he realised that worms do have a superpower. They POO! Without their life sustaining, nutrient rich poo, there would be no plants and no animals on earth. Darwin’s 40 years studying worms is still essential to our understanding of worms today, and ever since, scientists have taken him VERY seriously, and never again laughed at his love of worms.”
I wrote a paper on Darwin’s earthworm research when an undergraduate, in an Animal History course, and the subject has remained a favorite (along with Darwin’s seed germination experiments). I am delighted to add this new title to my shelf of children’s books about Darwin and evolution. The illustrations are charming, and the narrative humorous while conveying the process of scientific work. Darwin’s passion for the little things in nature certainly shines through these pages.
Darwin wrote to a friend in November 1880 that “My heart & soul care for worms & nothing else in this world just at present.” That we all may find a little time here and there to care for worms and nothing else.
With the holidays now on us, here are some gift-giving ideas for those Darwin lovers in your life (meaning, really, yourself!):
Darwin’s Love of Life: A Singular Case of Biophilia by Kay Harel (Columbia University Press/2022) | Publisher’s description: “Biophilia—the love of life—encompasses the drive to survive, a sense of kinship with all life-forms, and an instinct for beauty. In this unconventional book, Kay Harel uses biophilia as a lens to explore Charles Darwin’s life and thought in deeply original ways. In a set of interrelated essays, she considers how the love of life enabled him to see otherwise unseen evolutionary truths. Harel traces the influence of biophilia on Darwin’s views of dogs, facts, thought, emotion, and beauty, informed by little-known material from his private notebooks. She argues that much of what Darwin described, envisioned, and felt was biophilia in action. Closing the book is a profile of Darwin’s marriage to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin, a woman gifted in music and medicine who shared her husband’s love of life. Harel’s meditative, playful, and lyrical musings draw on the tools of varied disciplines—aesthetics, astronomy, biology, evolutionary theory, history of science, philosophy, psychiatry, and more—while remaining unbounded by any particular one. Taking unexpected paths to recast a figure we thought we knew, this book offers readers a different Darwin: a man full of love, joy, awe, humility, curiosity, and a zest for living.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
The Huxleys: An Intimate History of Evolution by Alison Bashford (University of Chicago Press/2022) | Publisher’s description: “This momentous biography tells the story of the Huxleys: the Victorian natural historian T. H. Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and his grandson, the scientist, conservationist, and zoologist Julian Huxley. Between them, they communicated to the world the great modern story of the theory of evolution by natural selection. In The Huxleys, celebrated historian Alison Bashford writes seamlessly about these omnivorous intellects together, almost as if they were a single man whose long, vital life bookended the colossal shifts in world history from the age of sail to the Space Age, and from colonial wars to world wars to the cold war. The Huxleys’ specialty was evolution in all its forms—at the grandest level of species, deep time, the Earth, and at the most personal and intimate. They illuminated the problems and wonders of the modern world and they fundamentally shaped how we see ourselves, as individuals and as a species. But perhaps their greatest subject was themselves. Bashford’s engaging, brilliantly ambitious book interweaves the Huxleys’ momentous public achievements with their private triumphs and tragedies. The result is the history of a family, but also a history of humanity grappling with its place in nature. This book shows how much we owe—for better or worse—to the unceasing curiosity, self-absorption, and enthusiasms of a small, strange group of men and women.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
After Darwin: Literature, Theory, and Criticism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Devin Griffiths & Deanna Kreisel (Cambridge University Press/2022) | Publisher’s description: “Creative storytelling is the beating heart of Darwin’s science. All of Darwin’s writings drew on information gleaned from a worldwide network of scientific research and correspondence, but they hinge on moments in which Darwin asks his reader to imagine how specific patterns came to be over time, spinning yarns filled with protagonists and antagonists, crises, triumphs, and tragedies. His fictions also forged striking new possibilities for the interpretation of human societies and their relation to natural environments. This volume gathers an international roster of scholars to ask what Darwin’s writing offers future of literary scholarship and critical theory, as well as allied fields like history, art history, philosophy, gender studies, disability studies, the history of race, aesthetics, and ethics. It speaks to anyone interested in the impact of Darwin on the humanities, including literary scholars, undergraduate and graduate students, and general readers interested in Darwin’s continuing influence.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
Illuminating Human Evolution: 150 Years after Darwin edited by Jaume Bertranpetit & Juli Peretó (Springer/2022) | Publisher’s description: “This book presents a series of perspectives showing the current knowledge about human evolution. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, in which he explicitly addresses the natural origin of the human species, this collective work reviews current and diverse aspects of human evolution: from psychology, linguistics, genomics, paleontology, artistic expression or sexual selection. It also offers a historical, social and ideological context of what is often considered to be Darwin’s second great work after The Origin of Species. Although current research is concentrated largely on fossils and genomes, this book also deals with the main points Darwin centered his attention on; comparative morphology and psychology, and sexual selection. It also covers other new aspects, such as the origin of art, social structure and social learning. With contributions from leading experts in their respective fields, the book guides readers to the study of the social context of Darwin and his time, and the state of the art of studies on human evolution and sexual selection, considering all aspects that Darwin examined, including those that emerged later and now are important disciplines in our understanding of our own evolution.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
Imagining the Darwinian Revolution: Historical Narratives of Evolution from the Nineteenth Century to the Present edited by Ian Hesketh (University of Pittsburgh Press/2022) | Publisher’s description: “This volume considers the relationship between the development of evolution and its historical representations by focusing on the so-called Darwinian Revolution. The very idea of the Darwinian Revolution is a historical construct devised to help explain the changing scientific and cultural landscape that was ushered in by Charles Darwin’s singular contribution to natural science. And yet, since at least the 1980s, science historians have moved away from traditional “great man” narratives to focus on the collective role that previously neglected figures have played in formative debates of evolutionary theory. Darwin, they argue, was not the driving force behind the popularization of evolution in the nineteenth century. This volume moves the conversation forward by bringing Darwin back into the frame, recognizing that while he was not the only important evolutionist, his name and image came to signify evolution itself, both in the popular imagination as well as in the work and writings of other evolutionists. Together, contributors explore how the history of evolution has been interpreted, deployed, and exploited to fashion the science behind our changing understandings of evolution from the nineteenth century to the present.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
Darwin’s Argument by Analogy: From Artificial to Natural Selection by Roger M. White, M. J. S. Hodge, and Gregory Radick (Cambridge University Press/2021) | Publisher’s description: “In On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin put forward his theory of natural selection. Conventionally, Darwin’s argument for this theory has been understood as based on an analogy with artificial selection. But there has been no consensus on how, exactly, this analogical argument is supposed to work – and some suspicion too that analogical arguments on the whole are embarrassingly weak. Drawing on new insights into the history of analogical argumentation from the ancient Greeks onward, as well as on in-depth studies of Darwin’s public and private writings, this book offers an original perspective on Darwin’s argument, restoring to view the intellectual traditions which Darwin took for granted in arguing as he did. From this perspective come new appreciations not only of Darwin’s argument but of the metaphors based on it, the range of wider traditions the argument touched upon, and its legacies for science after the Origin.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
Odyssey: Young Charles Darwin, The Beagle, and The Voyage that Changed the World by Tom Chaffin (Pegasus Books/2022) | Publisher’s description: “Charles Darwin—alongside Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein—ranks among the world’s most famous scientists. In popular imagination, he peers at us from behind a bushy white Old Testament beard. This image of Darwin the Sage, however, crowds out the vital younger man whose curiosities, risk-taking, and travels aboard HMS Beagle would shape his later theories and served as the foundation of his scientific breakthroughs. Though storied, the Beagle‘s voyage is frequently misunderstood, its mission and geographical breadth unacknowledged. The voyage’s activities associated with South America—particularly its stop in the Galapagos archipelago, off Ecuador’s coast—eclipse the fact that the Beagle, sailing in Atlantic, Pacific and Indian ocean waters, also circumnavigated the globe. Mere happenstance placed Darwin aboard the Beagle—an invitation to sail as a conversation companion on natural-history topics for the ship’s depression-prone captain. Darwin was only twenty-two years old, an unproven, unknown, aspiring geologist when the ship embarked on what stretched into its five-year voyage. Moreover, conducting marine surveys of distance ports and coasts, the Beagle‘s purposes were only inadvertently scientific. And with no formal shipboard duties or rank, Darwin, after arranging to meet the Beagle at another port, often left the ship to conduct overland excursions. Those outings, lasting weeks, even months, took him across mountains, pampas, rainforests, and deserts. An expert horseman and marksman, he won the admiration of gauchos he encountered along the way. Yet another rarely acknowledged aspect of Darwin’s Beagle travels, he also visited, often lingered in, cities—including Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago, Lima, Sydney, and Cape Town; and left colorful, often sharply opinionated, descriptions of them and his interactions with their residents. In the end, Darwin spent three-fifths of his five-year “voyage” on land—three years and three months on terra firma versus a total 533 days on water. Acclaimed historian Tom Chaffin reveals young Darwin in all his complexities—the brashness that came from his privileged background, the Faustian bargain he made with Argentina’s notorious caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, his abhorrence of slavery, and his ambition to carve himself a place amongst his era’s celebrated travelers and intellectual giants. Drawing on a rich array of sources— in a telling of an epic story that surpasses in breadth and intimacy the naturalist’s own Voyage of the Beagle—Chaffin brings Darwin’s odyssey to vivid life.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
The Evolution of Charles Darwin: The Epic Voyage of the Beagle That Forever Changed Our View of Life on Earth by Diana Preston (Atlantic Monthly Press/2022) | Publisher’s description: “When twenty-two-year-old aspiring geologist Charles Darwin boarded HMS Beagle in 1831 with his microscopes and specimen bottles—invited by ship’s captain Robert FitzRoy who wanted a travel companion at least as much as a ship’s naturalist — he hardly thought he was embarking on what would become the most important and epoch-changing voyage in scientific history. Nonetheless, over the course of the five-year journey around the globe in often hard and hazardous conditions, Darwin would make observations and gather samples that would form the basis of his revolutionary, evolutionary theories about the origin of species and natural selection. Drawing on a rich range of revealing letters, diary entries, recollections of those who encountered him, and Darwin’s and FitzRoy’s own accounts of what transpired, Diana Preston chronicles the epic voyage as it unfolded, tracing Darwin’s growth from untested young man to accomplished adventurer and natural scientist in his own right. Darwin often left the ship to climb mountains or ride hundreds of miles across pampas and through rainforests in search of further unique specimens. From the wilds of Patagonia to the Galapagos and other Atlantic and Pacific islands, as Preston vibrantly relates, he collected and contrasted giant fossils and volcanic rocks, observed the Argentinian rhea, Falklands fox, and Galapagos finch, through which he began to discern connections between deep past and present. Darwin never left Britain again after his return in 1836, though his mind journeyed far and wide to develop the theories that were first revealed, after great delay and with great trepidation, in 1859 with the publication of his epochal book On the Origin of Species. Offering a unique portrait of one of history’s most consequential figures, The Evolution of Charles Darwin is a vital contribution to our understanding of life on Earth.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
Evolution Talk: The Who, What, Why, and How behind the Oldest Story Ever Told by Rick Coste (Rowman & Littlefield/2022) | Publisher’s description: “Evolution helps us understand our humble place in the rich tapestry of life. But what do we know about the theory of evolution itself? In this captivating book based on his popular podcast, Rick Coste reveals how the theory of evolution came to be and how it explains the world around us. Before Charles Darwin, other luminaries planted the seeds of the theory that would one day make him famous. Evolution Talk begins by shining a spotlight on the writers, philosophers, and scientists who cultivated the concepts and speculations that blossomed into the theory of evolution by natural selection, from Aristotle’s big ideas to a young fossil hunter named Mary Anning, whose discovery of the first ichthyosaur skeleton changed everything. After exploring the contributions of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, Evolution Talk investigates the very beginnings of life itself. From its genesis in a primordial pond to the endless and beautiful forms which emerged to populate our once inhospitable and barren little planet. Along the way, adaptations such as altruism, sexual selection, and the development of brains further pushed life along its amazing path to where it is today. Finally, Coste concludes by taking a step back to ask questions about how we as humans fit in, such as “Are we unique?” and “Are we still evolving?” Breaking down complex concepts with easy-to-follow language and engaging examples, Evolution Talk will educate and entertain any reader looking to learn more about the greatest idea ever.” | Amazon • Powell’s • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Publisher
See also this earlier post about a children’s book about Darwin and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker that was published this year.
On 24th November 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published, selling out almost immediately. Describing the now well known theory that humans evolved through a process called natural selection, it became an instant classic and cemented Darwin as one of the greatest biologists of all time. However, he couldn’t have done it without the support, encouragement and advice from those who believed in him. None more so than Joseph Hooker, his friend, confidant and fellow collector, who supported and helped Darwin when he didn’t dare ask anyone else. Hooker, too, had his own adventures and made his own discoveries – many of which not only aided Darwin, but went on to change what the world knew about plants. Becoming head of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, he came to be one the world’s most influential botanists. Across many years, countless adventures and numerous letters, this captivating and wonderfully illustrated book tells the story of one of greatest friendships to happen to science. Publishing in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this book will show children how teamwork, curiosity, openness and trust can be the greatest tools a scientist will ever need. They might even help you change the world.
The following is a guest post from John Tweedie (@JTweedie), who recently partook in the Darwin in Edinburgh walking theater tour, which “retraces Darwin’s steps, exploring the locations & characters that influenced his own evolution in the city.” John sent along a summary of the tour to share here at The Dispersal of Darwin (all photos were taken by John).
Darwin in Edinburgh
Charles Darwin followed in his father’s footsteps by moving to Edinburgh in 1825 to study medicine. He shared a flat at 11 Lothian Street with his older brother Erasmus who was also studying medicine.
This flat, owned by Mrs Mackay, is unfortunately no longer there, replaced by the National Museum of Scotland. A plaque on the wall shows where the flat once was.
It was from here that I joined a walking tour as part of the Edinburgh Fringe: Darwin in Edinburgh. We started on Lothian Street, walked through the university and down Drummond Street, past the Salisbury Crags before finishing at Dynamic Earth, a science centre devoted to the Earth Sciences.
The show was written by Jane Westhead who also played the role of Mrs Mackay. Geologist Angus Miller led the walk and provided some of the scientific content to the audience. Angus runs Geowalks, leading geology field trips around Scotland.
This immersive, interactive theatre also featured Aaron McVeigh as Charles Darwin, Marshall Mandiangou as John Edmonstone and Jamie Scott Gordon as Robert Grant.
Through Mrs Mackay we hear Darwin’s father, a disapproving voice about how Darwin was not making an effort with his studies. In this performance, Mackay was almost a mother figure to the 16 year old Darwin, keeping an eye on him and encouraging him not to disappoint his father while motivating him that his wide interests in botany, zoology and geology means he’ll have a secure future whatever path he chooses.
We were introduced to Darwin in the Old College Quad, a building that, apart from the prominent dome, was completed in 1827 and would have been familiar to Darwin. It was originally designed by Robert Adam and finished by William Playfair, nephew of James Hutton’s champion John Playfair.
Darwin spoke about his miserable medical lectures with Dr Duncan. It’s fair to say that Darwin wasn’t impressed by Duncan and in the show he spoke a line that he had written in a letter to his sister Caroline in 1826 describing his lecturers: “Dr Duncan is so very learned that his wisdom has left no room for sense.”
We were then introduced to Robert Grant, one of Darwin’s mentors in natural history and who provided the spark that led to Darwin’s professional career. Grant graduated from Edinburgh with an M.D. in 1814 before further study in Paris and elsewhere. He returned to Edinburgh in 1820 and became a lecturer in invertebrate animals at John Barclay’s anatomy school.
Shortly after meeting Grant, we caught up with John Edmonstone. Edmonstone lived nearby and taught Darwin taxidermy, a skill that would prove invaluable when he was preparing specimens that he collected on the Beagle voyage. We heard Edmonstone speak about his time as a slave in Guyana and from Darwin on his family’s history as advocates for the abolition of slavery. There was even time for some funny adlibbing as Edmonstone spoke about how cold Edinburgh was while performing during a heatwave!
Edmonstone learned taxidermy himself from naturalist Charles Waterton, a regular visitor to the Demerara estate of Edmonstone’s owner Charles Edmonstone. Darwin would visit Waterton’s house, Walton Hall in Wakefield, West Yorkshire in 1845. Waterton would create the world’s first wildfowl and nature reserve on his estate.
Edmonstone had been working preserving specimens for Robert Jameson’s university museum by the time he met Darwin. Jameson was another of Darwin’s lecturers – could he have introduced Darwin to Edmonstone? Jameson’s lectures were described by Darwin as “incredibly dull” and produced in him the intention “never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any way to study the science”. Jameson was also a Neptunist of all things.
After leaving the university, we made our way through the throngs of festival-goers downhill towards Dynamic Earth. We stopped off briefly at the James Hutton Memorial Garden, on the site of Hutton’s house until his death in 1797. Angus, who had been playing the role of guide and commentator on the walk briefly pulled his acting socks on and transformed into Hutton to explain the importance of Hutton to the field of geology and to Darwin.
Hutton came long before Darwin was in Edinburgh, but as an advocate of Plutonism, the idea that rocks like granite formed within the Earth and not precipitated out of the oceans like the rival Neptunist idea, he left an impression on those who would later kindle Darwin’s reconnection with geology, such as Darwin’s mentor and friend, Charles Lyell. Darwin had taken the first volume of Lyell’s Principles of Geology with him on the Beagle, and Darwin and Lyell would later become friends. Hutton’s insight into deep time also provided Darwin with the timeframe needed for evolution to operate.
We stopped again for a short spell to listen to Grant speak about the Plinian Society, a student society founded in 1823 by three Baird brothers. Grant was once secretary and Darwin a member, indeed a council member and it was here that Darwin made his first contribution to science, talking about specimens collected in the Firth of Forth in 1827 alongside Grant. It was on one such trip to the Firth of Forth that Grant spoke about Lamarck. Darwin was already aware of Lamarck’s ideas as his grandfather Erasmus had written about this in Zoonomia but to hear about evolution spoken openly excited Darwin. Darwin and Grant also attended the Wernerian Society in 1827 to hear naturalist John James Audubon speak.
Darwin’s interest in medicine waned in his first year due to the poor quality teaching and because he couldn’t stomach the suffering people underwent in surgery in the days before anaesthetics. But his interests in natural history flourished under the tutorship of Grant, and in the show he spoke to Mackay of his dreams of becoming an explorer like his hero Humboldt.
We stopped briefly under Salisbury Crags where Hutton confirmed his theory about rock formation. This impressive sill, igneous rock that had made its way through horizontal weaknesses in existing rocks, overlooks Edinburgh. Darwin came here in 1838, post-Cambridge and post-Beagle, on his way north to Glen Roy, by which time he was a fully signed-up geologist of some standing. This is a far cry from the days when he would visit these rocks as a student with Jameson and hear the Neptunist explanation for their formation, nearly being put off the subject for life.
We finished the tour at Dynamic Earth with the lofty bulk of Salisbury Crags rising up behind. It was an enjoyable hour and a half. As a voracious reader of all things Darwin, there wasn’t much of anything I didn’t already know but the actors created a world I could briefly inhabit – the world Darwin knew when he was a teenager long before he became the explorer, scientist and author who changed the world.
His time in Edinburgh may have been brief, but the foundations were set for his future career. He was exposed to the geological and deep time ideas of Hutton, he gained valuable lessons from Grant in natural history observation and collecting and re-exposed to ideas about Lamarckian evolution, and Edmonstone’s lessons in taxidermy would serve him well on his five year voyage round the world on the Beagle.
Even though he never excelled academically in Edinburgh, he continued his amateur interest in natural history while training for the clergy at Cambridge. His interest in geology was rekindled by Adam Sedgwick and he would take all this learning with him as an accomplished naturalist on the Beagle before settling down to become a respected writer. Edinburgh was key to the Darwin the world came to know so well.
The Ghost in the Garden: In Search of Darwin’s Lost Garden by Jude Piesse | Publisher’s description: “Darwin never stopped thinking about the garden at his childhood home, The Mount, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It was here, under the tutelage of his green-fingered mother and sisters, that he first examined the reproductive life of flowers, collected birds’ eggs, and began the experiments that would lead to his theory of evolution. A century and a half later, with one small child in tow and another on the way, Jude Piesse finds herself living next door to this secret garden. Two acres of the original site remain, now resplendent with overgrown ashes, sycamores, and hollies. The carefully tended beds and circular flower garden are buried under suburban housing; the hothouses where the Darwins and their skillful gardeners grew pineapples are long gone. Walking the pathways with her new baby, Piesse starts to discover what impact the garden and the people who tended it had on Darwin’s work. Blending biography, nature writing, and memoir, The Ghost in the Garden traces the origins of the theory of evolution and uncovers the lost histories that inspired it, ultimately evoking the interconnectedness of all things.” | Amazon
Darwin and His Bears: How Darwin Bear and His GalápagosIslands Inspired a Scientific Revolution by Frank J. Sulloway | Publisher’s description: “When Charles Darwin first stepped off the HMS Beagle and into the harsh and formidable world of the Galápagos islands with their sun-baked lava, spiny cactus, and tangled brushwood, he encountered many birds and animals new to him. He marveled at the remarkable tameness of the birds and the striking dominance of reptiles in these islands, which made the archipelago seem like a journey back in time. On the shoreline were swarms of ‘hideous-looking’ marine iguanas — the world’s only oceangoing lizards. On land, Darwin and the Beagle crew encountered large land iguanas, closely allied to their marine cousin; several smaller lizards and snakes; and giant land tortoises, after which the islands are named. How, Darwin asked himself, had life first come to these islands? Most of the life forms, he noted, were aboriginal creations, found nowhere else. Of all the creatures he encountered, none were as surprising and important to his studies as the Galápagos bears. In Darwin and His Bears, scientist and Darwin scholar Frank J. Sulloway reveals a crucial — yet little known — link that led to Darwin’s development of the theory of evolution: sixteen brilliant bears residing on the sixteen archipelago islands. Charles Darwin had an undeniable knack for asking the right questions, and these remarkable blueberry-loving bears had all the answers he needed. With their invaluable assistance, Darwin was able to reassess his imperfect evidence, ultimately culminating in what we now celebrate as the Darwinian revolution. Delightful and deeply informative, Darwin and His Bears recounts the fabled adventure of Darwin’s groundbreaking visit to ‘a shore fit for Pandemonium,’ as Beagle Captain Robert FitzRoy described the Galápagos on their arrival in 1835. As Sulloway recounts this fascinating story, he also reveals the critical conceptual steps by which Darwin reached his theory of evolution by natural selection — and provides, according to philosopher Philip Kitcher, ‘a brilliant summary and explanation of large swaths of evolutionary theory.’ Ninety charming colorful drawings by the author introduce us to all sixteen whip-smart, magnanimous bears and help bring to life the true story of Darwin’s scientific triumph. Readers of Darwin and His Bears should greatly enjoy what paleontologist and MacArthur ‘genius award’ recipient Jack Horner has dubbed ‘the funnest science book I’ve ever read’.” | Amazon
Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem by Lauren Soloy | Publisher’s description: ” Etty loves make-believe. Her dad loves science. Etty believes in fairies. Her dad would need to see some proof that they exist. But they both love nature, conversation and each other. A gorgeous rumination on belief and imagination featuring Henrietta (Etty) Darwin and her famous father, Charles. Etty went on to become a valued and keen editor of Charles’s work and a thoughtful and intellectual being in her own right. This imagined conversation between Etty and Charles as they stroll around Charles’s real-life ‘thinking track’ explores their close relationship and shows that even science is nothing without an open mind and imagination.” | Amazon
Abstract Thomas Henry Huxley and Charles Darwin discovered in 1857 that they had a fundamental disagreement about biological classification. Darwin believed that the natural system should express genealogy while Huxley insisted that classification must stand on its own basis, independent of evolution. Darwin used human races as a model for his view. This private and long-forgotten dispute exposes important divisions within Victorian biology. Huxley, trained in physiology and anatomy, was a professional biologist while Darwin was a gentleman naturalist. Huxley agreed with John Stuart Mill’s rejection of William Whewell’s sympathy for Linnaeus. The naturalists William Sharp Macleay, Hugh Strickland, and George Waterhouse worked to distinguish two kinds of relationship, affinity and analogy. Darwin believed that his theory could explain the difference. Richard Owen introduced the distinction between homology and analogy to anatomists, but the word homology did not enter Darwin’s vocabulary until 1848, when he used the morphological concept of archetype in his work on Cirripedia. Huxley dropped the word archetype when Richard Owen linked it to Plato’s ideal forms, replacing it with common plan. When Darwin wrote in the Origin of Species that the word plan gives no explanation, he may have had Huxley in mind. Darwin’s preposterous story in the Origin about a bear giving birth to a kangaroo, which he dropped in the second edition, was in fact aimed at Huxley.
Darwin: A Companion by Paul van Helvert and John van Wyhe (World Scientific, 2021) ~ Publisher’s description: “This is the ultimate guide to the life and work of Charles Darwin. The result of decades of research through a vast and daunting literature which is hard for beginners and experts alike to navigate, it brings together widely scattered facts including very many unknown to even the most ardent Darwin aficionados. It includes hundreds of new discoveries and corrections to the existing literature. It provides the most complete summaries of his publications, manuscripts, lifetime itinerary, finances, personal library, friends and colleagues, opponents, visitors to his home, anniversaries, hundreds of flora, fauna, monuments and places named after him and a host of other topics. Also included are the most complete lists (iconographies) ever created of illustrations of the Beagle, over 1000 portraits of Darwin, his wife and home as well as all known Darwin photographs, stamps and caricatures. The book is richly illustrated with 350 images, most previously unknown.”
A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong about Human Evolution, edited by Jeremy DeSilva (Princeton University Press, 2021) ~ Publisher’s description: “In 1871, Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man, a companion to Origin of Species in which he attempted to explain human evolution, a topic he called ‘the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist.’ A Most Interesting Problem brings together twelve world-class scholars and science communicators to investigate what Darwin got right―and what he got wrong―about the origin, history, and biological variation of humans. Edited by Jeremy DeSilva and with an introduction by acclaimed Darwin biographer Janet Browne, A Most Interesting Problem draws on the latest discoveries in fields such as genetics, paleontology, bioarchaeology, anthropology, and primatology. This compelling and accessible book tackles the very subjects Darwin explores in Descent, including the evidence for human evolution, our place in the family tree, the origins of civilization, human races, and sex differences. A Most Interesting Problem is a testament to how scientific ideas are tested and how evidence helps to structure our narratives about human origins, showing how some of Darwin’s ideas have withstood more than a century of scrutiny while others have not.”
In the journal Notes and Records (from the Royal Society):
Abstract The decade from 1844 to 1854 in which Charles Darwin first published two books and then studied barnacles for the final eight years has long been a puzzling digression from the development of his theory of evolution. This essay proposes that it was a conjunction of two quite different activities: a three-year pause initiated to assess and hopefully finalize the editorial completion of his 1844 Essay for publication, followed by a step-change decision to redirect his primary research activity in late 1847. A disenchantment hypothesis is proposed; it presents the step-change decision as a consequence of weighing up the accumulated unencouraging prospects for species-theory development in competition with the emergence of promising projections associated with a broad study of marine invertebrates. Recognition of the triumph, as Darwin initially saw it, of his Essay, followed by years of hostile inputs, opens this new route to understanding this decade. Within it Joseph Hooker emerges as a significant causal force. Many of the customary ‘postponement’ explanations of this digression can be integrated with this pause-and-step-change explanation, whereas explanation of the interval as a gap due to a pre-planned activity cannot, and is revealed to be seriously faulty.
Abstract This paper engages with a specific image: Darwin’s tree of the primates. Although this diagram was sketched in ink on paper in 1868, it did not make it into the publication of The Descent of Man (1871). This may seem all the more in need of an explanation because, as Adrian Desmond and James Moore have shown, Darwin strongly relied on the notion of familial genealogy in the development of his theory of organismic evolution, or rather descent. However, Darwin expressed scepticism towards visualizations of phylogenies in correspondence with Ernst Haeckel and in fact also in Descent, considering such representations at once too speculative and too concrete. An abstraction such as a tree diagram left little room to ponder possibilities or demarcate hypotheses from evidence. I thus bring Darwin’s primate tree into communication with his view on primate and human phylogeny as formulated in Descent, including his rejection of polygenism. I argue that considering the tree’s inherent teleology, as well as its power to suggest species status of human populations and to reify ‘racial’ hierarchies, the absence of the diagram in The Descent of Man may be a significant statement.
In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A:
Abstract Darwin and Mendeleev revolutionized their respective disciplines by organizing diverse facts into simple, pictorial representations—a tree and a table. Each representation provides a foundation for a scientific theory for two reasons. First, a successful theory unites diverse phenomena under a single explanatory framework. Second, it does so in a way that defines paths for future inquiry that extends its reach and tests its limits. For Mendeleev, this meant creating a table that accommodated the current understanding of the elements but also contained blanks that predicted the discovery of previously unknown elements. More importantly, the structure of the table helped shape future research to define the structure of matter. For Darwin, envisioning life as a tree meant defining the rules that govern the origin of adaptations, species and shape the constantly shifting diversity of life. At the same time, his theory inspired research into the laws of inheritance and created diverse new areas of research, like behaviour, sexual selection and biogeography. The shared property of Darwin and Mendeleev’s contributions was to provide a unifying rational explanation for natural phenomena.
Abstract Traditionally, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) is largely identified with his analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions. Here, we contribute to a minority tradition in the Kuhn literature by interpreting the history of evolutionary biology through the prism of the entire historical developmental model of sciences that he elaborates in The Structure. This research not only reveals a certain match between this model and the history of evolutionary biology but, more importantly, also sheds new light on several episodes in that history, and particularly on the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), the construction of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the chronic discontent with it, and the latest expression of that discontent, called the extended evolutionary synthesis. Lastly, we also explain why this kind of analysis hasn’t been done before.
“Join The Leakey Foundation for a free virtual celebration of Darwin’s birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Descent of Man. A Most Interesting Problem [see above for the book] brings together seven world-class scholars and science communicators to explore what Darwin got right and what he got wrong about the origin, history, and biological variation of humans. A Most Interesting Problem features presentations by Janet Browne, Jeremy DeSilva, Holly Dunsworth, Agustín Fuentes, Ann Gibbons, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, and Brian Hare.”
“Charles Darwin as Apical Freethought Ancestor” with David Orenstein of the American Humanist Association:
“Charles Darwin and the Fossil Record” with paleontologist Thomas R. Holtz:
This is a great time of the year to gift science books to family and friends, or even yourself – axial tilt is the reason for the season, after all (or, in the case of some of these titles, a purchase request to your public or school library). Here are some recent books about Darwin, evolution, and related topics:
Darwins Historical Sketch: An Examination of the ‘Preface’ to the Origin of Species by Curtis N. Johnson (Oxford University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Charles Darwin’s ‘Historical Sketch’ has appeared as a preface to nearly every authorized edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species since the second English edition was published in 1860. The ‘Historical Sketch’ provides a brief history of opinion about the species question as a prelude to Darwin’s own independent contribution to the subject, but its provenance is somewhat obscure. While some previous thinkers anticipated portions of Darwin’s theory long before he did, none of them saw the complete picture as clearly as Darwin. As such, he was able to claim originality and priority for the idea that has transformed our understanding of nature. His ‘Historical Sketch’ was written as an attempt to address these issues. Some things are known about its production, such as when it first appeared and what changes were made to it between its first appearance in 1860 and its final form in 1866. Other questions remain unanswered. How did it evolve in Darwin’s mind? Why did he write it at all? What did he think he was accomplishing by prefacing it to Origin of Species? Curtis Johnson approaches these questions, offering some clarity on the originality of Darwin’s work. Darwin’s ‘Historical Sketch’ is the first comprehensive study of Darwin’s ‘Preface’ to Origin of Species. Johnson conveys the pressure Darwin felt from friends and other correspondents to showcase the originality of his theory, and he tackles questions of originality by carefully examining the 35 authors Darwin referenced in this monumental text.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels by Stephen B. Heard (Yale University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Ever since Carl Linnaeus’s binomial system of scientific names was adopted in the eighteenth century, scientists have been eponymously naming organisms in ways that both honor and vilify their namesakes. This charming, informative, and accessible history examines the fascinating stories behind taxonomic nomenclature, from Linnaeus himself naming a small and unpleasant weed after a rival botanist to the recent influx of scientific names based on pop-culture icons—including David Bowie’s spider, Frank Zappa’s jellyfish, and Beyoncé’s fly. Exploring the naming process as an opportunity for scientists to express themselves in creative ways, Stephen B. Heard’s fresh approach shows how scientific names function as a window into both the passions and foibles of the scientific community and as a more general indicator of the ways in which humans relate to, and impose order on, the natural world.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Darwin’s Corals: A New Model of Evolution and the Tradition of Natural History by Horst Bredekamp (De Gruyter, 2019). Publisher’s description: “To this day Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of the ‘survival of the fittest’ has been visualized with the universal model of a tree of life. But early on in Darwin’s thinking the coral provided a fascinating alternative to the tree as a depiction of the evolution of the species. Horst Bredekamp shows how Darwin, a coral enthusiast and collector, found in it a more adequate illustration of evolution through natural selection: It grows anarchically in all directions and no longer upholds mankind as the ‘crown of creation.’ Using this example Darwin is proving himself to be both a destroyer and consummator of traditional natural philosophy. Since antiquity the coral had been a symbol of nature as a whole.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
The Scientific Method: An Evolution of Thinking from Darwin to Dewey by Henry M. Cowles (Harvard University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “The idea of a single scientific method, shared across specialties and teachable to ten-year-olds, is just over a hundred years old. For centuries prior, science had meant a kind of knowledge, made from facts gathered through direct observation or deduced from first principles. But during the nineteenth century, science came to mean something else: a way of thinking. The Scientific Method tells the story of how this approach took hold in laboratories, the field, and eventually classrooms, where science was once taught as a natural process. Henry M. Cowles reveals the intertwined histories of evolution and experiment, from Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to John Dewey’s vision for science education. Darwin portrayed nature as akin to a man of science, experimenting through evolution, while his followers turned his theory onto the mind itself. Psychologists reimagined the scientific method as a problem-solving adaptation, a basic feature of cognition that had helped humans prosper. This was how Dewey and other educators taught science at the turn of the twentieth century—but their organic account was not to last. Soon, the scientific method was reimagined as a means of controlling nature, not a product of it. By shedding its roots in evolutionary theory, the scientific method came to seem far less natural, but far more powerful. This book reveals the origin of a fundamental modern concept. Once seen as a natural adaptation, the method soon became a symbol of science’s power over nature, a power that, until recently, has rarely been called into question.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene by David Sepkoski (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “We live in an age in which we are repeatedly reminded—by scientists, by the media, by popular culture—of the looming threat of mass extinction. We’re told that human activity is currently producing a sixth mass extinction, perhaps of even greater magnitude than the five previous geological catastrophes that drastically altered life on Earth. Indeed, there is a very real concern that the human species may itself be poised to go the way of the dinosaurs, victims of the most recent mass extinction some 65 million years ago. How we interpret the causes and consequences of extinction and their ensuing moral imperatives is deeply embedded in the cultural values of any given historical moment. And, as David Sepkoski reveals, the history of scientific ideas about extinction over the past two hundred years—as both a past and a current process—is implicated in major changes in the way Western society has approached biological and cultural diversity. It seems self-evident to most of us that diverse ecosystems and societies are intrinsically valuable, but the current fascination with diversity is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, the way we value diversity depends crucially on our sense that it is precarious—that it is something actively threatened, and that its loss could have profound consequences. In Catastrophic Thinking, Sepkoski uncovers how and why we learned to value diversity as a precious resource at the same time as we learned to think catastrophically about extinction. Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA by Neil Shubin (Pantheon, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Over billions of years, ancient fish evolved to walk on land, reptiles transformed into birds that fly, and apelike primates evolved into humans that walk on two legs, talk, and write. For more than a century, paleontologists have traveled the globe to find fossils that show how such changes have happened. We have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multibillion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention. In Some Assembly Required, Neil Shubin takes readers on a journey of discovery spanning centuries, as explorers and scientists seek to understand the origins of life’s immense diversity.” Review by Paul Braterman. Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries: The Evidence and the People Who Found It by Donald R. Prothero (Columbia UP, 2020). Publisher’s description: “In The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero explores the most fascinating breakthroughs in piecing together the evidence for evolution. In twenty-five vignettes, he recounts the dramatic stories of the people who made crucial discoveries, placing each moment in the context of what it represented for the progress of science. He tackles topics like what it means to see evolution in action and what the many transitional fossils show us about evolution, following figures from Darwin to lesser-known researchers as they unlock the mysteries of the fossil record, the earth, and the universe. The book also features the stories of animal species strange and familiar, including humans―and our ties to some of our closest relatives and more distant cousins. Prothero’s wide-ranging tales showcase awe-inspiring and bizarre aspects of nature and the powerful insights they give us into the way that life works.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel. 40th Anniversary Edition by Julia Voss and Rainer Willman (TASCHEN, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) was a German-born biologist, naturalist, evolutionist, artist, philosopher, and doctor who spent his life researching flora and fauna from the highest mountaintops to the deepest ocean. A vociferous supporter and developer of Darwin’s theories of evolution, he denounced religious dogma, authored philosophical treatises, gained a doctorate in zoology, and coined scientific terms which have passed into common usage, including ecology, phylum, and stem cell. At the heart of Haeckel’s colossal legacy was the motivation not only to discover but also to explain. To do this, he created hundreds of detailed drawings, watercolors, and sketches of his findings which he published in successive volumes, including several marine organism collections and the majestic Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature), which could serve as the cornerstone of Haeckel’s entire life project. Like a meticulous visual encyclopedia of living things, Haeckel’s work was as remarkable for its graphic precision and meticulous shading as for its understanding of organic evolution. From bats to the box jellyfish, lizards to lichen, and spider legs to sea anemones, Haeckel emphasized the essential symmetries and order of nature, and found biological beauty in even the most unlikely of creatures. In this book, we celebrate the scientific, artistic, and environmental importance of Haeckel’s work, with a collection of 300 of his finest prints from several of his most important tomes, including Die Radiolarien, Monographie der Medusen, Die Kalkschwämme, and Kunstformen der Natur. At a time when biodiversity is increasingly threatened by human activities, the book is at once a visual masterwork, an underwater exploration, and a vivid reminder of the precious variety of life. Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution’s Mysteries Solved by Kenneth Catania (Princeton UP, 2020). Publisher’s description: “From star-nosed moles that have super-sensing snouts to electric eels that paralyze their prey, animals possess unique and extraordinary abilities. In Great Adaptations, Kenneth Catania presents an entertaining and engaging look at some of nature’s most remarkable creatures. Telling the story of his biological detective work, Catania sheds light on the mysteries behind the behaviors of tentacled snakes, tiny shrews, zombie-making wasps, and more. He shows not only how studying these animals can provide deep insights into how life evolved, but also how scientific discovery can be filled with adventure and fun. Beginning with the star-nosed mole, Catania reveals what the creature’s nasal star is actually for, and what this tells us about how brains work. He explores how the deceptive hunting strategy of tentacled snakes leads prey straight to their mouths, how eels use electricity to control other animals, and why emerald jewel wasps make zombies out of cockroaches. He also solves the enigma of worm grunting—a traditional technique in which earthworms are enticed out of the ground—by teaming up with professional worm grunters. Catania demonstrates the merits of approaching science with an open mind, considers the role played by citizen scientists, and illustrates that most animals have incredible, hidden abilities that defy our imagination. Examining some strange and spectacular creatures, Great Adaptations offers a wondrous journey into nature’s grand designs.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You by Sean B. Carroll (Princeton UP, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Why is the world the way it is? How did we get here? Does everything happen for a reason or are some things left to chance? Philosophers and theologians have pondered these questions for millennia, but startling scientific discoveries over the past half century are revealing that we live in a world driven by chance. A Series of Fortunate Events tells the story of the awesome power of chance and how it is the surprising source of all the beauty and diversity in the living world. Like every other species, we humans are here by accident. But it is shocking just how many things—any of which might never have occurred—had to happen in certain ways for any of us to exist. From an extremely improbable asteroid impact, to the wild gyrations of the Ice Age, to invisible accidents in our parents’ gonads, we are all here through an astonishing series of fortunate events. And chance continues to reign every day over the razor-thin line between our life and death. This is a relatively small book about a really big idea. It is also a spirited tale. Drawing inspiration from Monty Python, Kurt Vonnegut, and other great thinkers, and crafted by one of today’s most accomplished science storytellers, A Series of Fortunate Events is an irresistibly entertaining and thought-provoking account of one of the most important but least appreciated facts of life.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Dinner with Darwin: Food, Drink, and Evolution by Jonathan Silvertown (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “What do eggs, flour, and milk have in common? They form the basis of waffles, of course, but these staples of breakfast bounty also share an evolutionary function: eggs, seeds (from which we derive flour by grinding), and milk have each evolved to nourish offspring. Indeed, ponder the genesis of your breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you’ll soon realize that everything we eat and drink has an evolutionary history. In Dinner with Darwin, join Jonathan Silvertown for a multicourse meal of evolutionary gastronomy, a tantalizing tour of human taste that helps us to understand the origins of our diets and the foods that have been central to them for millennia—from spices to spirits. A delectable concoction of coevolution and cookery, gut microbiomes and microherbs, and both the chicken and its egg, Dinner with Darwin reveals that our shopping lists, recipe cards, and restaurant menus don’t just contain the ingredients for culinary delight. They also tell a fascinating story about natural selection and its influence on our plates—and palates. Digging deeper, Silvertown’s repast includes entrées into GMOs and hybrids, and looks at the science of our sensory interactions with foods and cooking—the sights, aromas, and tastes we experience in our kitchens and dining rooms. As is the wont of any true chef, Silvertown packs his menu with eclectic components, dishing on everything from Charles Darwin’s intestinal maladies to taste bud anatomy and turducken. Our evolutionary relationship with food and drink stretches from the days of cooking cave dwellers to contemporary crêperies and beyond, and Dinner with Darwin serves up scintillating insight into the entire, awesome span. This feast of soup, science, and human society is one to savor. With a wit as dry as a fine pinot noir and a cache of evolutionary knowledge as vast as the most discerning connoisseur’s wine cellar, Silvertown whets our appetites—and leaves us hungry for more.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
L: 50 Objects, Stories & Discoveries from the Linnean Societyof London (Linnean Society, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Spanning centuries, the Linnean Society of London’s collections and library are home to many ‘firsts’, as well as numerous unique items of scientific importance, and a plethora of stunning illustrations, plates and original drawings. For the first time, a selection of these items are being showcased in our own book of ‘treasures’, L: 50 Objects, Stories and Discoveries from The Linnean Society of London. From the vasculum Charles Darwin used to collect plants during his voyage on the HMS Beagle…to the first ‘photographic’ book by Anna Atkins…to the world’s first spherical cultured pearls, there is much to explore in L: 50 Objects, Stories and Discoveries from The Linnean Society of London; some new discoveries were even made in the process of writing this book. From amongst our wonderful collections, curators, researchers, archivists, librarians and Fellows have chosen 50 iconic objects, stories and discoveries—items that tell the story of the study of natural history through the ages, and the intriguing story of the Society itself.” Order from the Linnean Society.
The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism by Stephen P. Weldon (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Recent polls show that a quarter of Americans claim to have no religious affiliation, identifying instead as atheists, agnostics, or ‘nothing in particular.’ A century ago, a small group of American intellectuals who dubbed themselves humanists tread this same path, turning to science as a major source of spiritual sustenance. In The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism, Stephen P. Weldon tells the fascinating story of this group as it developed over the twentieth century, following the fortunes of a few generations of radical ministers, academic philosophers, and prominent scientists who sought to replace traditional religion with a modern, liberal, scientific outlook. Weldon explores humanism through the networks of friendships and institutional relationships that underlay it, from philosophers preaching in synagogues and ministers editing articles of Nobel laureates to magicians invoking the scientific method. Examining the development of an increasingly antagonistic engagement between religious conservatives and the secular culture of the academy, Weldon explains how this conflict has shaped the discussion of science and religion in American culture. He also uncovers a less known—but equally influential—story about the conflict within humanism itself between two very different visions of science: an aspirational, democratic outlook held by the followers of John Dewey on the one hand, and a skeptical, combative view influenced by logical positivism on the other. Putting America’s distinctive science talk into historical perspective, Weldon shows how events such as the Pugwash movement for nuclear disarmament, the ongoing evolution controversies, the debunking of pseudo-science, and the selection of scientists and popularizers like Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov as humanist figureheads all fit a distinctly American ethos. Weldon maintains that this secular ethos gained much of its influence by tapping into the idealism found in the American radical religious tradition that includes the deism of Thomas Paine, nineteenth-century rationalism and free thought, Protestant modernism, and most important, Unitarianism. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and a thorough study of the main humanist publications, The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism reveals a new level of detail about the personal and institutional forces that have shaped major trends in American secular culture. Significantly, the book shows why special attention to American liberal religiosity remains critical to a clear understanding of the scientific spirit in American culture.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Creationism USA: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution by Adam Laats (Oxford University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Who are America’s creationists? What do they want? Do they truly believe Jesus rode around on dinosaurs, as sometimes depicted? Creationism USA reveals how common misconceptions about creationism have led Americans into a century of unnecessary culture-war histrionics about evolution education and creationism. Adam Laats argues that Americans do not have deep, fundamental disagreements about evolution – not about the actual science behind it and not in ways that truly matter to public policy. Laats asserts that Americans do, however, have significant disagreements about creationism. By describing the history of creationism and its many variations, Laats demonstrates that the real conflict about evolution is not between creationists and evolution. The true landscape of American creationism is far more complicated than headlines suggest. Creationism USA digs beyond those headlines to prove two fundamental facts about American creationism. First, almost all Americans can be classified as creationists of one type or another. Second, nearly all Americans (including self-identified creationists) want their children to learn mainstream evolutionary science. Taken together, these truths about American creationism point to a large and productive middle ground, a widely shared public vision of the proper relationship between schools, science, and religion. Creationism USA both explains the current state of America’s battles over creationism and offers a nuanced yet straight-forward prescription to solve them.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
History Within: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules by Marianne Sommer (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Personal genomics services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com now offer what once was science fiction: the ability to sequence and analyze an individual’s entire genetic code—promising, in some cases, facts about that individual’s ancestry that may have remained otherwise lost. Such services draw on and contribute to the science of human population genetics that attempts to reconstruct the history of humankind, including the origin and movement of specific populations. Is it true, though, that who we are and where we come from is written into the sequence of our genomes? Are genes better documents for determining our histories and identities than fossils or other historical sources? Our interpretation of gene sequences, like our interpretation of other historical evidence, inevitably tells a story laden with political and moral values. Focusing on the work of Henry Fairfield Osborn, Julian Sorell Huxley, and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and human population genetics, History Within asks how the sciences of human origins, whether through the museum, the zoo, or the genetics lab, have shaped our idea of what it means to be human. How have these biologically based histories influenced our ideas about nature, society, and culture? As Marianne Sommer shows, the stories we tell about bones, organisms, and molecules often change the world.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
The Genesis Quest: The Geniuses and Eccentrics on a Journey to Uncover the Origin of Life on Earth by Michael Marshall (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Pub;isher’s description: “How did life begin? Why are we here? These are some of the most profound questions we can ask. For almost a century, a small band of eccentric scientists has struggled to answer these questions and explain one of the greatest mysteries of all: how and why life began on Earth. There are many different proposals, and each idea has attracted passionate believers who promote it with an almost religious fervor, as well as detractors who reject it with equal passion. But the quest to unravel life’s genesis is not just a story of big ideas. It is also a compelling human story, rich in personalities, conflicts, and surprising twists and turns. Along the way the journey takes in some of the greatest discoveries in modern biology, from evolution and cells to DNA and life’s family tree. It is also a search whose end may finally be in sight. In The Genesis Quest, Michael Marshall shows how the quest to understand life’s beginning is also a journey to discover the true nature of life, and by extension our place in the universe.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Pragmatism’s Evolution: Organism and Environment in American Philosophy by Trevor Pearce (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “In Pragmatism’s Evolution, Trevor Pearce demonstrates that the philosophical tradition of pragmatism owes an enormous debt to specific biological debates in the late 1800s, especially those concerning the role of the environment in development and evolution. Many are familiar with John Dewey’s 1909 assertion that evolutionary ideas overturned two thousand years of philosophy—but what exactly happened in the fifty years prior to Dewey’s claim? What form did evolutionary ideas take? When and how were they received by American philosophers? Although the various thinkers associated with pragmatism—from Charles Sanders Peirce to Jane Addams and beyond—were towering figures in American intellectual life, few realize the full extent of their engagement with the life sciences. In his analysis, Pearce focuses on a series of debates in biology from 1860 to 1910—from the instincts of honeybees to the inheritance of acquired characteristics—in which the pragmatists were active participants. If we want to understand the pragmatists and their influence, Pearce argues, we need to understand the relationship between pragmatism and biology.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
When Darwin Sailed the Sea: Uncover How Darwin’s Revolutionary Ideas Helped Change the World by David Long and illustrated by Sam Kalda (Wide Eyed Editions, 2020, 80 pp.). Publisher’s description: “Published to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the launch of the HMS Beagle, this beautifully illustrated narrative nonfiction book tells the story of Charles Darwin, and shows how his revolutionary research changed the world forever. At the age of 22, Charles Darwin clambered up the steps of HMS Beagle armed with enough notepads to last him for several years and set sail on a journey of exploration that would change his life and how we view the entire world forever. ‘The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event of my life and has determined my whole career.’ From his fascination with the natural world that began at an early age, his love of collecting new specimens, and keen eye for observation to his groundbreaking theory of evolution, uncover the incredible life of Charles Darwin in this fascinating story of his life. At the back of the book, explore a selection of the amazing species he discovered, concise profiles of some of the incredible people who helped Darwin on his path to becoming a groundbreaking scientist, a glossary of terms, and a timeline of Darwin’s life and career. When Darwin Sailed the Sea is the perfect book for any child who has ever looked at the world and asked ‘why.'” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Darwin’s Rival: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Search for Evolution by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Harry Tennant (Candlewick Studio, 2020). Publisher’s description: “A beautifully illustrated volume follows a lesser-known Victorian naturalist and explorer on his global journeys — and reveals how he developed his own theory of evolution. Everyone knows Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist who proposed a theory of evolution. But not everyone knows the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin’s friend and rival who simultaneously discovered the process of natural selection. This sumptuously illustrated book tells Wallace’s story, from his humble beginnings to his adventures in the Amazon rain forest and Malay Archipelago, and demonstrates the great contribution he made to one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.” Video with author discussing Wallace and this book. Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Fossils for Kids: A Junior Scientist’s Guide to Dinosaur Bones, Ancient Animals, and Prehistoric Life on Earth by Ashley Hall (Rockridge Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Set off on an amazing adventure into the prehistoric past when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Fossils for Kids is filled with fascinating photographs and captivating facts that will teach junior fossil hunters how fossils form, where they are found, and tips on how to identify them. Start by learning more about some of your favorite dinosaurs―from Velociraptor to Tyrannosaurus rex―and where you can see the coolest dinosaur skeletons. Then discover the creatures that predate even the dinosaurs! You’ll meet famous birds, like the Archaeopteryx, explore tiny invertebrate trilobites, and learn which ancient plant is the source of a delicious drink―root beer! It’s time to unearth your scientific curiosity―there’s no telling what you’ll find using Fossils for Kids as your guide.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Did You See that Dinosaur?: Search the Page, Find the Dinosaur in a Fact-Filled Adventure by Riley Black and illustrated by Scott Koblish (Rockridge Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Have you ever wanted to see a real, live dinosaur? Kid paleontologists Ava and Mateo set their time machine to the Mesozoic Era―and they want you to come, too! Unearth the lost items in this search and find book for kids as you time travel through the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. From the lizard-munching Plateosaurus to the insect-eating Caelestiventus, learn everything about super cool and super huge dinosaurs and reptiles, as well as what the world was like millions of years ago. Solve the mysteries and make amazing discoveries in the wonderful age of dinosaurs.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Dinosaurs: How We Know What We Know by Mary Higby Schweitzer, Elena Rita Schroeter, and Charles Doug Czajka (CRC Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “This textbook introduces research on dinosaurs by describing the science behind how we know what we know about dinosaurs. A wide range of topics is covered, from fossils and taphonomy to dinosaur physiology, evolution, and extinction. In addition, sedimentology, paleo-tectonics, and non-dinosaurian Mesozoic life are discussed. There is a special opportunity to capitalize on the enthusiasm for dinosaurs that students bring to classrooms to foster a deeper engagement in all sciences. Students are encouraged to synthesize information, employ critical thinking, construct hypotheses, devise methods to test these hypotheses, and come to new defensible conclusions, just as paleontologists do.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s| Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing, 2020). Publisher’s description: “See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day — the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake — and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans by Sylvia Earle (Texas A&M University Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “In 1952, at age sixteen, Sylvia Earle—then a budding marine biologist—borrowed a friend’s copper diving helmet, compressor, and pump and slipped below the waters of a Florida river. It was her first underwater dive. Since then, Earle has descended to more than 3,000 feet in a submersible and, despite beginning at a time when few women were taken seriously as marine scientists, has led or participated in expeditions totaling more than 7,000 hours underwater, and counting. Equal parts memoir, adventure tale, and call to action, Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans has become a classic of environmental literature, at once the gripping adventure story of Earle’s three decades of undersea exploration, an insider’s introduction to the dynamic field of marine biology, and an urgent plea for the preservation of the world’s fragile and rapidly deteriorating ocean ecosystems. Featuring a gallery of color photographs and a new preface by Earle, this new edition of Sea Change arrives at a uniquely pivotal time when its message is needed more than ever before. She writes, ‘I want to share the exhilaration of discovery, and convey a sense of urgency about the need for all of us to use whatever talents and resources we have to continue to explore and understand the nature of this extraordinary ocean planet.’ Her message is clear: how we treat the oceans now will determine the future health of the planet—and our species.” Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation by Edward O. Wilson, adapted by Jim Ottaviani, and illustrated by C. M. Butzer (Island Press, 2020). Publisher’s description: “Regarded as one of the world’s preeminent biologists, Edward O. Wilson spent his boyhood exploring the forests and swamps of south Alabama and the Florida panhandle, collecting snakes, butterflies, and ants—the latter to become his lifelong specialty. His memoir Naturalist, called ‘one of the finest scientific memoirs ever written’ by the Los Angeles Times, is an inspiring account of Wilson’s growth as a scientist and the evolution of the fields he helped define. This graphic edition, adapted by New York Times bestselling comics writer Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by C. M. Butzer, brings Wilson’s childhood and celebrated career to life through dynamic full-color illustrations and Wilson’s own lyric writing. In this adaptation of Naturalist, vivid illustrations draw readers in to Wilson’s lifelong quest to explore and protect the natural world. His success began not with an elite education but an insatiable curiosity about Earth’s wild creatures, and this new edition of Naturalist makes Wilson’s work accessible for anyone who shares his passion. On every page, striking art adds immediacy and highlights the warmth and sense of humor that sets Wilson’s writing apart. Naturalist was written as an invitation—a reminder that curiosity is vital and scientific exploration is open to all of us. Each dynamic frame of this graphic adaptation deepens Wilson’s message, renewing his call to discover and celebrate the little things of the world.” Video about the book (featuring Wilson). Order: Publisher | Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Also have a look at the these book posts from the last couple of years, here, here, here, here, and here.
[Please note that all links to Amazon are affiliate links]
Abstract This article examines the history and significance of Charles Darwin’s childhood garden at The Mount in Shrewsbury. Unlike the mature Darwin’s garden at Down House, Kent, his childhood garden at The Mount has only recently begun to be restored and it is not well known outside of local or specialist circles. The first part of the article aims to recover the story of the garden for a wider interdisciplinary readership. It builds upon research in the fields of garden history and biography to make a case for the garden’s importance to Darwin’s life and scientific work while also revealing the site’s afterlife as a lost garden and challenging restoration project. The second part of the article argues that the garden can be viewed as an enchanted space that enables us to connect more closely with a positive vision of a romantic, ecologically conscious Darwin who is of particular relevance to our times. I conclude by briefly outlining how these ideas were tested at the Darwin’s Childhood Garden Study Day, organized with Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 2016 following its purchase of part of the site in 2013.
Abstract This essay is an initial study of a larger project that seeks to produce a history of the term ‘Darwinism’. While it is generally well-known that Darwinism could refer to a variety of different things in the Victorian period, from a general evolutionary naturalism to the particular theory of natural selection, very little has been written about the history of the term or how it was contested at given times and places. Building on James Moore’s 1991 sketch of the history of Darwinism in the 1860s, this paper specifically seeks to situate Alfred Russel Wallace’s 1889 book Darwinism in the context of a larger struggle over Darwin’s legacy in the 1880s. It is argued that Wallace used his authority as one of the founders of evolution by natural selection to reimagine what he called ‘pure Darwinism’ as a teleological evolutionism, one that integrated the theory of natural selection with an interpretation of spirit phenomena thereby producing a more agreeable and holistic account of life than was previously associated with Darwinian evolution. By considering the reception of Wallace’s Darwinism in the periodical press it will be argued further that Wallace’s interpretation of Darwinism was generally well received, which suggests that our understanding of what Darwinism meant in the late Victorian period needs to be revisited.
Abstract The sole diagram in On the Origin of Species is generally considered to be merely an illustration of Darwin’s ideas, but such an interpretation ignores the fact that Darwin himself expressly stated that the diagram helped him to discover and express his ideas. This article demonstrates that developing the so-called “tree diagram” substantially aided Darwin’s heuristics. This demonstration is based on an interpretation of the diagram and of 17 sketches found in Darwin’s scientific papers. The key to this interpretation is the meaning that Darwin assigned to the graphic elements (points, lines, and spaces) he used to construct the preliminary sketches and the diagram. I argue that each of the sketches contributed to the shaping of Darwin’s ideas and that, in their succession, each added new elements that ultimately resulted in the fully developed published diagram.
Pedro de Lima Navarro & Cristina de Amorim Machado
Abstract In the first edition of the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin apologized for not correctly referencing all the works cited in his magnum opus. More than 150 years later we have catalogued these citations and analyzed the resultant data. Looking for a complete selection of collaborators, a flexible interpretation of the term citation was necessary; we define it as any reference made to a third party, independently of its form or function. Following the same idea, the sixth edition of the Origin, originally published in 1872 and reprinted with minor additions and corrections in 1876, was chosen for the research because it represents the end of a long debate between Darwin and his peers. It naturally is the edition with the greatest number of citations and collaborators. Through a diverse theoretical analysis, we aim to present a new perspective for the study of the Origin of Species: a bibliographic approach that provides the tools needed to understand the history of the book as a physical and cultural object. Bibliometrics provides a theory of citations as well as a quantitative analysis; science studies highlights the profound social aspects of science in the making. The analysis resulted in 639 citations to 298 collaborators and provided a new perspective of the rhetorical structure of the Origin, even though these results are only the tip of the iceberg of the potential of all the data gathered in this study.
Abstract Some of Darwin’s views on descent with modification were developed alongside his adoption of a number of concepts inspired by the domain that we would now call science and technology. Focusing on the period from Darwin’s circumnavigation journey to the publication of the Origin in 1859, this essay explores the rich manuscript and published documentation left by Darwin to trace in detail his exposure to contemporary technologies and notions of invention. It argues that the parallel Darwin established on several occasions between the history of life on earth and human inventions was more than a metaphor. According to Darwin’s radical evolutionary perspective, life and invention—including his own theory explaining descent with modification—belonged to the same domain. It further argues that Darwin’s technology of life approach allowed him to make room for a plurality of causes driving evolutionary change, while at the same time avoiding the question of the origin of life. This same approach helped him to mold his scientific persona, while marking his distance from a mixed population of naturalists that included materialists as well as exponents of speculative German natural philosophy, although these were all frequent sources of reflection during his most creative years.
This is a great time of the year to gift science books to family and friends, or even yourself – axial tilt is the reason for the season, after all. Here are some recent books about Darwin, evolution, and related topics:
FOR YOUNGER READERS
Darcy Pattison, Pollen: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction (Little Rock, AR: Mims House, 2019, 33 pp.; illustrated by Peter Willis) ~ This award-winning book looks at a very specific aspect of Darwin’s work: his predicting that a type of moth would be found that would be adapted to pollinating a specific orchid flower. The year is 1862, and Darwin receives a package with a specimen of a star orchid from Madagascar, with a 11.5 inch nectary. He predicts that a species of moth with a very long proboscis (a flexible, elongated part of an insect’s mouth) must exist in Madagascar that can pollinate such a flower. Darwin knew of no such species, and his fellow naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace thought about this problem too. Darwin died without such a species being found, but in 1903 a new species of hawk moth from Madagascar was described that indeed had such a proboscis. While many considered this moth and the star orchid to be a great match, still no one had witnessed the act of pollination between the two. Not until 1992, at least, when the German entomologist Lutz Thilo Wasserthal set up a camera in a tent where he placed some of these orchids, and while the moth is rare he was able to capture a photo of this species pollinating the star orchid. And thus, Darwin’s prediction 130 years before was shown as correct. This book does a great job in telling a scientific mystery story and introducing various biological concepts. The publisher also has children’s books about the physicist Michael Faraday, the physicist Ernst Chladni, and on how a 1919 eclipse tested Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Order Pollen: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (for those wishing to learn more about this topic, check out these three articles: 1/2/3).
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species adapted and illustrated by Sabina Radeva (New York: Penguin/Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019, 64 pp.; see some images here) This is a beautiful adaptation of Origin for elementary-aged children. The author, a graphic designer with a background in biology, begins by sharing a Biblical view of creation via illustration (without mention of the Bible or Christianity), followed by a brief overview of Buffon’s and Lamarck’s thoughts. Then comes Darwin, the Beagle voyage, and his return home to England and his long, hard work on his theory until he publishes Origin. The focus then turns from Darwin’s life to the theory itself: variation in nature is covered before discussing artificial selection, then the struggle for existence before introducing natural selection. The Tree of Life concept comes next, followed by discussions of the difficulties that Darwin anticipated about his theory and tackled in his book: the imperfection of the geological record, organs of extreme perfection, instinct, migration (geographical distribution), and the mutual affinities of organic beings. The book largely follows the organization of Origin, and toward the end the author shares a quote from Darwin – “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important research… Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” – next to an image of the familiar, but unfortunately erroneous, depiction of the evolution of man from apes as a linear process ending in Darwin himself (this type of illustration is known as the “March of Progress”). While I adore the rest of this book, I am bummed that this depiction of evolution crept in – it remains pervasive in people’s understanding of the subject. That said, the whole of the book is splendid, richly illustrated and peppered with many quotes from Origin, and includes much more information in an author’s note, a list of misconceptions about evolution, and an appendix bringing recent ideas in biology to bear on Darwin’s theory. Radeva has done a fine job of making Darwin’s theory comprehensible for younger readers. Order Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (Richard at The Friends of Charles Darwin also shared about this book, the UK version).
Blake Edgar, Smithsonian Dinosaurs and Other Amazing Creatures from Deep Time (New York: Penguin/Smithsonian Books, 2019, 64 pp.) ~ Earlier in 2019, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC reopened its long-awaited renovation of their fossil halls, called Deep Time. My spouse and son were fortunate to spend some time there recently on a quick DC trip over Thanksgiving break (I shared a short video my son took on Twitter). This is a companion book to the exhibit, and includes breathtaking artwork from paleoartist Julius Csotonyi (his paintings serve as murals throughout the exhibit). The publisher describes the book as “present[ing] some of Earth’s strangest and most unusual creatures from as early as 3.8 billion years ago. Beginning with the first evidence of life, it moves through periods of biodiversity and mass extinction and into a look at the first dinosaurs, mammals, pterosaurs, and other fauna and flora from the Archean to the Quarternary eras. It offers a rare look at some of the world’s most fascinating creatures from sauropods, the largest creatures to ever walk the land, to the top carnivorous predator Tyrannosaurus rex, as well as the mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, walrus-whales, and other beasts that seem outlandish to us now.” This is a book that children and adults can both enjoy. Order Smithsonian Dinosaurs and Other Amazing Creatures from Deep Time: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
FOR OLDER READERS
Bill Jenkins, Evolution Before Darwin: Theories of the Transmutation of Species in Edinburgh (New York: Edinburgh University Press, 2019, 232pp.) ~ Publisher’s description: “This book is the first major study of what was probably the most important centre of pre-Darwinian evolutionary thought in the British Isles. It sheds new light on the genesis and development of one of the most important scientific theories in the history of western thought. It was long believed that evolutionary theories received an almost universally cold reception in British natural history circles in the first half of the nineteenth century. However, a relatively recently serious doubt has been cast on this assumption. This book shows that Edinburgh in the late 1820s and early 1830s was witness to a ferment of radical new ideas on the natural world, including speculation on the origin and evolution of life, at just the time when Charles Darwin was a student in the city. Those who were students in Edinburgh at the time could have hardly avoided coming into contact with these new ideas.” Order Evolution Before Darwin: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (London: Natural History Museum, 2019, 520 pp.) ~ This is a small, and handsome facsimile edition of the second edition of Origin from 1860, with a green cover mimicking that of the original first edition from 1859 (the title page bears a stamp stating “British Museum Natural History”, so I assume this is taken from the Natural History Museum’s own collection). Darwin’s single diagram of a tree of life is included as the book’s endpapers, and while the text is that of the second, the “Historical Sketch” from the third edition is included. From the short introduction: “Reproduced here is the second edition… which is essentially the same as the first edition, with a few minor corrections, and so reflects Darwin’s original thoughts before the additional evidence and reviews emerged” (anyone wishing to learn in great detail the difference between the different editions of Origin and their publication histories should head here). While there are many current editions of Darwin’s Origin one could have on their shelf, this affordable and highly-pleasing edition would be a great way to go. Order On the Origin of Species: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
Ricardo Rozzi, Kurt Heidinger, and Francisca Massardo, Tracing Darwin’s Path in Cape Horn (Denton/Punta Arenas, Chile: University of North Texas Press/ Universidad de Magallanes, 2018, 288 pp.) ~ This is quite the book for any serious Darwin aficionado or armchair – or actual – traveler/naturalist. From the publisher: “Charles Darwin spent the majority of his 1831-1836 voyage around the world in southern South America, and his early experiences in the Cape Horn region seem to have triggered his first ideas on human evolution. Darwin was not only a field naturalist, but also a scholar of the observations of the European explorers who preceded him. This book illuminates the foundations of Cape Horn’s natural history that oriented Darwin’s own explorations and his ideas on evolution, which acquire the highest relevance for planetary sustainability and environmental ethics. Richly illustrated with maps and color photographs, this book offers a guide to the sites visited by Darwin, and a compass for present-day visitors who can follow Darwin’s path over the sea and land that today are protected by the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve.” Order Tracing Darwin’s Path in Cape Horn: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
Susannah Gibson, The Spirit of Inquiry: How One Extraordinary Society Shaped Modern Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, 400 pp.) ~ From the publisher: “Cambridge is now world-famous as a centre of science, but it wasn’t always so. Before the nineteenth century, the sciences were of little importance in the University of Cambridge. But that began to change in 1819 when two young Cambridge fellows took a geological fieldtrip to the Isle of Wight. Adam Sedgwick and John Stevens Henslow spent their days there exploring, unearthing dazzling fossils, dreaming up elaborate theories about the formation of the earth, and bemoaning the lack of serious science in their ancient university. As they threw themselves into the exciting new science of geology – conjuring millions of years of history from the evidence they found in the island’s rocks – they also began to dream of a new scientific society for Cambridge. This society would bring together like-minded young men who wished to learn of the latest science from overseas, and would encourage original research in Cambridge. It would be, they wrote, a society “to keep alive the spirit of inquiry”. Their vision was realised when they founded the Cambridge Philosophical Society later that same year. Its founders could not have imagined the impact the Cambridge Philosophical Society would have: it was responsible for the first publication of Charles Darwin’s scientific writings, and hosted some of the most heated debates about evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century; it saw the first announcement of x-ray diffraction by a young Lawrence Bragg – a technique that would revolutionise the physical, chemical and life sciences; it published the first paper by C.T.R. Wilson on his cloud chamber – a device that opened up a previously-unimaginable world of sub-atomic particles. 200 years on from the Society’s foundation, this book reflects on the achievements of Sedgwick, Henslow, their peers, and their successors. Susannah Gibson explains how Cambridge moved from what Sedgwick saw as a “death-like stagnation” (really little more than a provincial training school for Church of England clergy) to being a world-leader in the sciences. And she shows how science, once a peripheral activity undertaken for interest by a small number of wealthy gentlemen, has transformed into an enormously well-funded activity that can affect every aspect of our lives.” Order The Spirit of Inquiry: How One Extraordinary Society Shaped Modern Science: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (reviews can be found at Nature, Kirkus Reviews, The Biologist, The Geological Society, and Times Higher Education).
Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers who recorded the wonders of the natural world (London: Natural History Museum, 2019, 240 pp.) ~ Ten years ago I had the pleasure of spending a little time in the library at the Natural History Museum, London. I was offered a look at Alfred Russel Wallace material there. So many books on shelves and some on display on top of the shelves, one could have spent all day perusing the collection of historic natural history texts. Fortunately, the museum’s publishing division regularly puts out books that showcase what’s in their collection and beyond, such as Expeditions and Endeavours: Images of Nature, Women Artists: Images of Nature, Art of Nature: Three Centuries of Natural History Art from Around the World, Rare Treasures from the Library of the Natural History Museum, and The Art of British Natural History. The current book, Nature Explorer’s, consists of chapters on 23 explorers and naturalists with full color images of natural history illustrations, portraits, maps, or other drawings. For folks interested in Darwin, he’s here of course, as well as Wallace, botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, Wallace’s fellow explorer in the Amazon, Henry Walter Bates, ornithologist John Gould, and Conrad Martens, the artist on HMS Beagle from 1832-4. That’s only six chapters – there’s plenty to explore in the other seventeen, folks whose work “constituted what we might now look back on and recognise as a first broad survey of our planet, its life and its people” Order Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers who recorded the wonders of the natural world: Publisher, Amazon (UK), Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
Charles H. Smith, James T. Costa, and David Collard, eds., An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019, 416 pp.) ~ I will be reviewing this book in the near future for Reports of the National Center for Science Education, so for now will simply share the publisher’s description: “Although Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was one of the most famous scientists in the world at the time of his death at the age of ninety, today he is known to many as a kind of ‘almost-Darwin,’ a secondary figure relegated to the footnotes of Darwin’s prodigious insights. But this diminution could hardly be less justified. Research into the life of this brilliant naturalist and social critic continues to produce new insights into his significance to history and his role in helping to shape modern thought. Wallace declared his eight years of exploration in southeast Asia to be ‘the central and controlling incident’ of his life. As 2019 marks one hundred and fifty years since the publication of The Malay Archipelago, Wallace’s canonical work chronicling his epic voyage, this collaborative book gathers an interdisciplinary array of writers to celebrate Wallace’s remarkable life and diverse scholarly accomplishments. Wallace left school at the age of fourteen and was largely self-taught, a voracious curiosity and appetite for learning sustaining him throughout his long life. After years as a surveyor and builder, in 1848 he left Britain to become a professional natural history collector in the Amazon, where he spent four years. Then, in 1854, he departed for the Malay Archipelago. It was on this voyage that he constructed a theory of natural selection similar to the one Charles Darwin was developing, and the two copublished papers on the subject in 1858, some sixteen months before the release of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. But as the contributors to the Companion show, this much-discussed parallel evolution in thought was only one epoch in an extraordinary intellectual life. When Wallace returned to Britain in 1862, he commenced a career of writing on a huge range of subjects extending from evolutionary studies and biogeography to spiritualism and socialism. An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion provides something of a necessary reexamination of the full breadth of Wallace’s thought—an attempt to describe not only the history and present state of our understanding of his work, but also its implications for the future.” Order An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (see a review at Victorian Web).
Elizabeth Hennessy, On the Backs of Tortoises: Darwin, the Galapagos, and the Fate of an Evolutionary Eden (New Haven: Yale UNiversity Press, 2019, 336 pp.) ~ Publisher’s description: “The Galápagos archipelago is often viewed as a last foothold of pristine nature. For sixty years, conservationists have worked to restore this evolutionary Eden after centuries of exploitation at the hands of pirates, whalers, and island settlers. This book tells the story of the islands’ namesakes—the giant tortoises—as coveted food sources, objects of natural history, and famous icons of conservation and tourism. By doing so, it brings into stark relief the paradoxical, and impossible, goal of conserving species by trying to restore a past state of prehistoric evolution. The tortoises, Elizabeth Hennessy demonstrates, are not prehistoric, but rather microcosms whose stories show how deeply human and nonhuman life are entangled. In a world where evolution is thoroughly shaped by global history, Hennessy puts forward a vision for conservation based on reckoning with the past, rather than trying to erase it.” Order On the Backs of Tortoises: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound(see a review from NPR).
Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich, eds., Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018, 336 pp.) ~ This is the third in a series of books from the same editors providing short biographies of a wide variety of biologist and researchers in the life sciences: first with Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology (2009) and then Outsider Scientists: Routes to Innovation in Biology (2013). I’ve particularly enjoyed the biographies of Ernst Haeckel by Robert J. Richards and Rachel Carson by Janet Browne. Here’s the publisher’s description: “What are the conditions that foster true novelty and allow visionaries to set their eyes on unknown horizons? What have been the challenges that have spawned new innovations, and how have they shaped modern biology? In Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences, editors Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich explore these questions through the lives of eighteen exemplary biologists who had grand and often radical ideas that went far beyond the run-of-the-mill science of their peers. From the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who coined the word “biology” in the early nineteenth century, to the American James Lovelock, for whom the Earth is a living, breathing organism, these dreamers innovated in ways that forced their contemporaries to reexamine comfortable truths. With this collection readers will follow Jane Goodall into the hidden world of apes in African jungles and Francis Crick as he attacks the problem of consciousness. Join Mary Lasker on her campaign to conquer cancer and follow geneticist George Church as he dreams of bringing back woolly mammoths and Neanderthals. In these lives and the many others featured in these pages, we discover visions that were sometimes fantastical, quixotic, and even threatening and destabilizing, but always a challenge to the status quo.” Order Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (if you have access, here’s a review in the Journal of the History of Biology).
The Paleozoic, written and illustrated by Estrella Vega. This foldout presentation of prehistoric creatures is fantastic. Five books, one for each of the periods of the Paleozoic Era. Line them all up and it is 42 ft long! As Vega calls it, “Prehistory Unfolded.” For more information, visit estrellavega.com (or find each of the books here on Amazon). She has the Mesozoic Era is in the works…
M. J. S. Hodge, Before and After Darwin: Origins, Species, Cosmogonies, and Ontologies (Routledge, 2019, 362 pp.) ~ This is the first volume a paperback (i.e., much cheaper) edition of a previously published two-volume collection of Darwin or evolutionary thought articles by historian of science Hodge. From the publisher: “This is the first of a pair of volumes by Jonathan Hodge, collecting all his most innovative, revisionist and influential papers on Charles Darwin and on the longer run of theories about origins and species from ancient times to the present. The focus in this volume is on the diversity of theories among such pre-Darwinian authors as Lamarck and Whewell, and on developments in the theory of natural selection since Darwin. Plato’s Timaeus, the Biblical Genesis and any current textbook of evolutionary biology are all, it may well seem, on this same enduring topic: origins and species. However, even among classical authors, there were fundamental disagreements: the ontology and cosmogony of the Greek atomists were deeply opposed to Plato’s; and, in the millennia since, the ontological and cosmogonical contexts for theories about origins and species have never settled into any unifying consensus. While the structure of Darwinian theory may be today broadly what it was in Darwin’s own argumentation, controversy continues over the old issues about order, chance, necessity and purpose in the living world and the wider universe as a whole. The historical and philosophical papers collected in this volume, and in the companion volume devoted to Darwin’s theorising, seek to clarify the major continuities and discontinuities in the long run of thinking about origins and species.” A paperback edition of the second volume – Darwin Studies: A Theorist and his Theories in their Context – is forthcming. Order Before and After Darwin: Origins, Species, Cosmogonies, and Ontologies: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
Thierry Hoquet, Revisiting the ‘Origin of Species’: The Other Darwins (New York: Routledge, 2018, 252 pp.) ~ From the publisher: “Contemporary interest in Darwin rises from a general ideal of what Darwin’s books ought to contain: a theory of transformation of species by natural selection. However, a reader opening Darwin’s masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, today may be struck by the fact that this ‘selectionist’ view does not deliver the key to many aspects of the book. Without contesting the importance of natural selection to Darwinism, much less supposing that a fully-formed “Darwinism” stepped out of Darwin’s head in 1859, this innovative volume aims to return to the text of the Origin itself. Revisiting the ‘Origin of Species’ focuses on Darwin as theorising on the origin of variations; showing that Darwin himself was never a pan-selectionist (in contrast to some of his followers) but was concerned with “other means of modification” (which makes him an evolutionary pluralist). Furthermore, in contrast to common textbook presentations of “Darwinism”, Hoquet stresses the fact that On the Origin of Species can lend itself to several contradictory interpretations. Thus, this volume identifies where rival interpretations have taken root; to unearth the ambiguities readers of Darwin have latched onto as they have produced a myriad of Darwinian legacies, each more or less faithful enough to the originator’s thought. Emphasising the historical features, complexities and intricacies of Darwin’s argument, Revisiting the ‘Origin of Species’ can be used by any lay readers opening Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. This volume will also appeal to students and researchers interested in areas such as Evolution, Natural Selection, Scientific Translations and Origins of Life.” Order Revisiting the Origin of Species: The Other Darwins: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.
David Sloan Wilson, This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Pantheon/Penguin, 2019, 304 pp.) ~ From the publisher: “It is widely understood that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution completely revolutionized the study of biology. Yet, according to David Sloan Wilson, the Darwinian revolution won’t be truly complete until it is applied more broadly—to everything associated with the words “human,” “culture,” and “policy.” In a series of engaging and insightful examples—from the breeding of hens to the timing of cataract surgeries to the organization of an automobile plant—Wilson shows how an evolutionary worldview provides a practical tool kit for understanding not only genetic evolution but also the fast-paced changes that are having an impact on our world and ourselves. What emerges is an incredibly empowering argument: If we can become wise managers of evolutionary processes, we can solve the problems of our age at all scales—from the efficacy of our groups to our well-being as individuals to our stewardship of the planet Earth.” Order This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution: Publisher, Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound (read an excerpt here, and reviews at Nature, Psychology Today, Massive Science, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher’s Weekly).
Over the Thanksgiving break, my wife and son took a trip to Washington, DC. Among the many, many places they visited was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. There they got to see the museum’s new Deep Time fossil hall, and they sent me these photos of the Charles Darwin quote and young Darwin statue that fit so prominently in the exhibit. The quote is the last line of On the Origin of Species – “From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” – and the statue depicts Darwin writing in a notebook, showing his “I think” tree of life sketch.
A recently published book of possible interest to followers here is Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America by Erika Milam (Princeton University Press, 2019):
Publisher’s description After World War II, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. Creatures of Cain charts the rise and precipitous fall in Cold War America of a theory that attributed man’s evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials and in-depth interviews, Erika Lorraine Milam reveals how the scientists who advanced this “killer ape” theory capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity’s problems, even to answer the most fundamental questions of human identity. The killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Behind the scenes, however, scientists were sharply divided, their disagreements centering squarely on questions of race and gender. Then, in the 1970s, the theory unraveled altogether when primatologists discovered that chimpanzees also kill members of their own species. While the discovery brought an end to definitions of human exceptionalism delineated by violence, Milam shows how some evolutionists began to argue for a shared chimpanzee-human history of aggression even as other scientists discredited such theories as sloppy popularizations. A wide-ranging account of a compelling episode in American science, Creatures of Cain argues that the legacy of the killer ape persists today in the conviction that science can resolve the essential dilemmas of human nature.
On the left you have the 1996 volume Cultures of Natural History (edited by N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, and E.C. Spary), a well-respected overview of the history of natural history. Almost a quarter century later, Cambridge University Press has published a follow up volume, while adding a fourth editor: Worlds of Natural History on the right. I found the first volume very useful when an undergraduate student in history, and likewise from a perusal of the table of contents of the new volume will find much to enjoy and use. The press has made available for free PDFs of nine chapters from Cultures and two from Worlds. Click here for these downloads!
Here’s the publisher information for the new volume:
H.A. Curry, N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, and E.C. Spary, eds., Worlds of Natural History (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 682 pp.
Description From Aztec accounts of hibernating hummingbirds to contemporary television spectaculars, human encounters with nature have long sparked wonder, curiosity and delight. Written by leading scholars, this richly illustrated volume offers a lively introduction to the history of natural history, from the sixteenth century to the present day. Covering an extraordinary range of topics, from curiosity cabinets and travelling menageries to modern seed banks and radio-tracked wildlife, this volume draws together the work of historians of science, of environment and of art, museum curators and literary scholars. The essays are framed by an introduction charting recent trends in the field and an epilogue outlining the prospects for the future. Accessible to newcomers and established specialists alike, Worlds of Natural History provides a much-needed perspective on current discussions of biodiversity and an enticing overview of an increasingly vital aspect of human history.
Publisher’s description Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a five-year exploration of South America. Now Andrea Wulf partners with artist Lillian Melcher to bring this daring expedition to life, complete with excerpts from Humboldt’s own diaries, atlases, and publications. She gives us an intimate portrait of the man who predicted human-induced climate change, fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and influenced iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and John Muir. This gorgeous account of the expedition not only shows how Humboldt honed his groundbreaking understanding of the natural world but also illuminates the man and his passions.
Publisher’s description This sweeping, intelligent and immersive biographical graphic novel from award-winning creators, joins legendary scientist Charles Darwin as a young man, as he embarks on his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. ~ It is the year 1831. A gifted but distracted young man named Charles Darwin has been offered a place aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, in a chain of events that will change both his life and the course of modern science. Join him on an epic journey of thrilling discovery as he explores remote corners of the natural world and pieces together the very beginnings of his revolutionary theory of evolution.
Abstract In the mid-twentieth century, film studios sent their screenplays to the Hays Office, Hollywood’s official censorship body, and to the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency for approval and recommendations for revision. This essay examines how filmmakers crafted stories involving evolutionary biology and how religiously motivated movie censorship groups modified these cinematic narratives in order to depict what they considered to be more appropriate visions of humanity’s origins. I find that censorship groups were concerned about the perceived impact of science fiction cinema on the public’s belief systems and on the wider cultural meanings of evolution. By controlling the stories told about evolution in science fiction cinema, censorship organizations believed that they could regulate the broader cultural meanings of evolution itself. But this is not a straightforward story of “science” versus “religion.” There were significant differences among these groups as to how to censor evolution, as well as changes in their attitudes toward evolutionary content over time. As a result, I show how censorship groups adopted diverse perspectives, depending on their perception of what constituted a morally appropriate science fiction story about evolution.
Summary “It is true that Huxley was widely known as a defiant defender of Darwinism. But imagining that he was widely acknowledged as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ obscures some of the historical reality, such as the fact that he had his own (non-Darwinian) ideas about evolution and was long tentative about the efficacy of natural selection. Appreciating that he was not known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ should lead to a more nuanced recognition of who he was and what he really did. If one of the most widely known, enjoyed and unquestioned nicknames in the history of science is incorrect, what other undisputed facts might also be wrong?”
Summary This dissertation follows the history and intellectual development of Peter Kropotkin whose scientific theory of mutual aid showed how Darwinian evolution could explain cooperation and the origin of morality. By following his journey from prince to naturalist to political radical, it reveals that Kropotkin was part of a transnational network of scientific and political thinkers whose perspective can be defined as Socialist Darwinism. Those figures that would later be defined as representing Social Darwinism originated in their opposition to Socialist Darwinism and through an ongoing debate with them. This demonstrates that political and scientific ideas about evolutionary change were influenced by each other in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.