BOOK: Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift

Readers here have surely heard of Alfred Wegener. If so, what they know of him is probably limited to “oh, he was the geologist who came up with continental draft, which later turned into plate tectonics,” and perhaps, “people didn’t accept his theory at the time, but we now know he was right.” A new biography aims to show that Alfred Wegener – not a geologist, in fact – was so much more than the originator of the theory of continental drift. Historian of science Mott Greene’s 600 page treatment of Wegener’s life, scientific work, and legacy has been a long project, and the result is a handsome and rich work that has its own book trailer:


Mott T. Greene, Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), 696 pp.

Publisher’s description Alfred Wegener aimed to create a revolution in science which would rank with those of Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin. After completing his doctoral studies in astronomy at the University of Berlin, Wegener found himself drawn not to observatory science but to rugged fieldwork, which allowed him to cross into a variety of disciplines. The author of the theory of continental drift—the direct ancestor of the modern theory of plate tectonics and one of the key scientific concepts of the past century—Wegener also made major contributions to geology, geophysics, astronomy, geodesy, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and glaciology. Remarkably, he completed this pathbreaking work while grappling variously with financial difficulty, war, economic depression, scientific isolation, illness, and injury. He ultimately died of overexertion on a journey to probe the Greenland icecap and calculate its rate of drift. This landmark biography—the only complete account of the scientist’s fascinating life and work—is the culmination of more than twenty years of intensive research. In Alfred Wegener, Mott T. Greene places Wegener’s upbringing and theoretical advances in earth science in the context of his brilliantly eclectic career, bringing Wegener to life by analyzing his published scientific work, delving into all of his surviving letters and journals, and tracing both his passionate commitment to science and his thrilling experiences as a polar explorer, a military officer during World War I, and a world-record–setting balloonist. In the course of writing this book, Greene traveled to every place that Alfred Wegener lived and worked—to Berlin, rural Brandenburg, Marburg, Hamburg, and Heidelberg in Germany; to Innsbruck and Graz in Austria; and onto the Greenland icecap. He also pored over archives in Copenhagen, Munich, Marburg, Graz, and Bremerhaven, where the majority of Wegener’s surviving papers are found. Written with great immediacy and descriptive power, Alfred Wegener is a powerful portrait of the scientist who pioneered the modern concept of unified Earth science. The book should be of interest not only to earth scientists, students of polar travel and exploration, and historians but to all readers who are fascinated by the great minds of science.

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK: On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

I really enjoyed reading this new biography of Rachel Carson earlier this year. Souder touches on Carson’s evolutionary themes in some of her writing, as well as describing her work on an article in 1956, “Help Your Child to Wonder,” which later became the book, The Sense of Wonder which can be seen as a decades-prior-to-Last Child in the Woods effort to reconnect children to nature. I highly recommend Souder’s biography to anyone interested in nature and the environment, the history of science, or a well-told story about a significant figure of the twentieth century.

William Souder, On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2012), 512 pp.

She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

Two articles about Darwin, evolution, and books by Bernard Lightman

In Notes & Records of the Royal Society:

The many lives of Charles Darwin: early biographies and the definitive evolutionist

Bernard Lightman

Abstract This article focuses on the early book-length biographies of Darwin published from his death in 1882 up to 1900. By making 1900 the cutoff point I can examine the biographies produced when the iconic figure was not yet set in stone, and before the rediscovery of Mendel’s work in the early twentieth century and the anniversary celebrations of 1909 changed the way in which Darwin was regarded. Darwin’s biographers dealt with three major themes. First, several biographers emphasized his scientific abilities, in particular his powers of observation and his prowess in conducting experiments. Second, many biographers discussed his character, a key issue in determining whether or not he could be trusted as a scientific guide. Finally, his scientific theories and religious beliefs, and how they related to the evolutionary controversy, formed a topic taken up by most biographers. By focusing on these three themes, the biographies published before 1900 were important in shaping the image of Darwin that was forming in American and British culture.

In Science & Education:

Evolution for Young Victorians

Bernard Lightman

Abstract Evolution was a difficult topic to tackle when writing books for the young in the wake of the controversies over Darwin’s Origin of Species. Authors who wrote about evolution for the young experimented with different ways of making the complex concepts of evolutionary theory accessible and less controversial. Many authors depicted presented evolution in a non-Darwinian form amenable to religious interpretation.

A.R. Wallace, RIP +97


Copyright Michael D. Barton. With permission of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. Thanks to George Beccaloni and Judith Magee for the opportunity to see the Wallace Collection. Do not reproduce this image.

Alfred Russel Wallace died 97 years ago today. George Beccaloni reminds us, and offers for remembrance access to an early biography of Wallace, A Great Hertfordian, here.

Chicago Darwin conference videos…

… have been made available here. The following are history and philosophy-specific, video links at the aforementioned link.

Ronald Numbers (University of Wisconsin): Anti-Evolutionism in America: Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

Pietro Corsi (Oxford): Is History Useful to Darwin Studies? Reflections at the End of a Year of Celebrations

Janet Browne (Harvard): Looking at Darwin: Making a Celebrity through Portaits and Images

Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design

John Hedley Brooke (Oxford): ‘God knows what the public will think’: Darwin and the Religious Response to the Origin of Species

Daniel Dennett (Tufts University): Darwin’s ‘Strange Inversion of Reasoning’: Confronting the Counterintuitive

Philip Kitcher (Columbia University): The Importance of Darwin for Philosophy

Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin): Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?

Lynn Nyhart (University of Wisconsin): Geographic Isolation from Wagner to Mayr

Richard Burkhardt (University of Illinois): Animal Behavior in Evolutionary Perspective: Two Centuries of Inquiry

Jane Maienschein (Arizona State University): Embryos and Evolution: A History of Courting and Separation

Michael Ruse (Florida State University): Is Darwinism Past Its ‘Sell-by’ Date? The Challenge of Evo-Devo

ARTICLE: Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: Erasmus and Charles Darwin on evolution

From the latest issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine [53, 2 (2010): 186-99]:

Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: Erasmus and Charles Darwin on evolution

C.U.M. Smith

Abstract Last year (2009) marked the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentenary of The Origin of Species. This article examines the influence of Erasmus Darwin on Charles’s evolutionary thought and shows how, in many ways, Erasmus anticipated his much better-known grandson. It discusses the similarity in the mindsets of the two Darwins, asks how far the younger Darwin was exposed to the elder’s evolutionary thought, examines the similarities and differences in their theories of evolution, and ends by showing the surprising similarity between their theories of inheritance. Erasmus’s influence on Charles is greater than customarily acknowledged, and now is an opportune time to bring the grandfather out from behind the glare of his stellar grandson.

Exhibit Review for “Darwin the Geologist” (Cambridge, UK)

Darwin the Geologist, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Darwin the Geologist

Last summer, when I was viewing an exhibit about Darwin and geology at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, England, I did not think I would be reviewing it for the Journal of the History of Biology. But I have, and it is now up online:

Exhibit Review: Darwin the Geologist, The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England. Opened July 2009, Permanent. Curator: Francis Neary. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Opened in 1904 in memory of the geologist Adam Sedgwick, and containing the collections Sedgwick and John Woodward had previously accumulated, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences houses a vast collection of geological and paleontological specimens, including some collected by Darwin himself during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. The Sedgwick acts as a fitting locale, then, for an exhibit exploring Darwin and his geological work. Darwin the Geologist, a permanent exhibit opened in July 2009 to coincide with Cambridge’s Darwin anniversary celebrations, evolved from a temporary exhibit at the museum that had been titled Charles Darwin – Becoming a Geologist and had been on display from September 2008 to June 2009.

Darwin the Geologist tells the story of Darwin’s career as a geologist, displaying not only some of the 1,500 of Darwin’s actual specimens that the Sedgwick holds, but also books, geological tools, maps, and even a pistol carried by Darwin on the Beagle. The exhibit is an exploration of the development of Darwin’s ideas about the Earth and how they related to the development of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin is more commonly labeled as a naturalist, or biologist, because of his work on evolution, but as Sandra Herbert has convincingly shown in Charles Darwin, Geologist (Cornell University Press, 2005), he was a self-proclaimed geologist and pursued his interests in geology in many ways from the Beagle voyage (1831–1836) leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Geology, as an exhibit label attests, dominated Darwin’s early scientific career, and his ‘‘reputation as a scientist was built on his training as a geologist.’’

Situated among the beautiful and tall glass and wooden display cases, Darwin the Geologist fills one end of the museum’s two-winged gallery, replacing what used to be displays about the Holocene epoch. The exhibit displays are organized chronologically, beginning with Darwin’s childhood fascination with collecting and into his education at Edinburgh, where Darwin was introduced to geology, and Cambridge, where Darwin met John Stevens Henslow and gained collecting and field-work experience on a geological field excursion to Wales with Adam Sedgwick. More displays are devoted to the Beagle voyage, as this afforded Darwin more opportunities to practice geology and to think about the forces that created the landscapes he visited. We learn about a raised coastline at Sa˜o Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands and the numerous fossils Darwin discovered, including the famous Megatherium; of the geology of the Andes and the formation of igneous rocks at the Galapagos Islands; and the growth of coral reefs in the Pacific. We learn about Syms Covington, Darwin’s assistant during and after the voyage, and the many specialists to whom Darwin farmed out his geological specimens for identification: William Miller for minerals, Robert Brown for fossil plants, Alcide D’Orbigny for fossil shells, Richard Owen for fossil mammals, and William Clift for the fossil teeth of Megatherium. We are shown how Darwin became a member and later secretary of the Geological Society of London as a result of his geological work on the Beagle.

A label reflecting on Archibald Geikie’s centenary celebration lecture in Cambridge (1909) [Charles Darwin as Geologist: The Rede Lecture, Given at the Darwin Centennial Commemoration on 24 June 1909 (Cambridge Library Collection – Life Sciences)] about Darwin’s geology—‘‘Since 1909 Darwin’s theory of evolution has played an increasingly important role in our understanding of life on Earth, while his geological theories have been largely forgotten’’—segues between Darwin’s own life and work and labels showing how more recent scientists have used Darwin’s collections and ideas in their geological work. For example, geologist Lyall Anderson studies rocks from the Beagle collection to consider Darwin’s collecting practices. Darwin received some specimens as gifts from other geologists, such as Andrew Smith. Through studying the rocks themselves, Anderson has been able to conclude that Darwin included in his collection specimens he did not collect himself. Similar research by Sally Gibson has helped to understand Darwin’s geological route on the island of Santiago in the Galapagos. While the Beagle collection is of importance to scientists, the specimens can help to answer questions important to historians of science as well. Darwin the Geologist stresses this point. Anderson is quoted in a label: ‘‘From a personal point of view I think my biggest surprise was that Darwin didn’t collect everything himself. Maybe that’s a misconception that the Darwin Industry has kept running.’’ While Darwin is surely an important figure, lesser-known figures in the work brought Darwin his scientific fame.

Smaller displays between the larger glass cases emphasize other aspects of Darwin’s geology. From the influences of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Lyell to the letter of introduction inviting Darwin to join the Beagle, these displays flesh out the story and provide contextual information. Several consider various practices associated with geology, such as how to collect appropriate specimens, the use of field notebooks, and the analysis and interpretation of specimens, and how this work for Darwin resulted in various publications. Some of the smaller displays discuss Darwin’s ‘‘scientific failure’’ in theorizing how the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy in Scotland were formed, how geology figured into On the Origin of Species, and how Darwin continued to study geological topics after the publication of Origin, most notably with earthworms and the formation of soil, the subject of his last book. Also included in the exhibit are a recreation of Darwin’s cabin on the Beagle and an interactive globe showing the places where Darwin collected particular specimens. A touchscreen allows visitors to go behind the scenes of the exhibit, which is essentially a collection of the posts from the blog that accompanies Darwin the Geologist and is accessible at

The exhibit does a fine job of placing Darwin’s work in the context of geological questions at the time. It does not address the ‘‘Genesis and geology’’ dispute in the nineteenth century beyond one label stating that ‘‘Heated debate and controversy over science and religion captured the public imagination,’’ nor is there a label stressing the importance of correspondence to scientific practice. These minor quibbles aside, Darwin the Geologist offers a wealth of interesting material in both the objects on display and the accompanying labels, and it does it in a rather small space. It is a well-organized exhibit, and includes a wonderful artistic tribute to Darwin. While a life-size bronze of a young Darwin, by Cambridge alum and zoologist-turned-artist Anthony Smith, now adorns a garden in Christ’s College at Cambridge, a bronze bust also by Smith oversees Darwin the Geologist as if to suggest that Darwin himself is either the epitome of humankind (for Darwin is situated at the most recent end of the geological and paleontological timescale that is the Sedgwick Museum) or a typical specimen of humankind. The former runs the risk of claims of hagiography. The latter is more likely, as the exhibit suggests that scientific discovery follows from curiosity, and Darwin the Geologist surely expresses throughout to its visitors the act of scientific discovery. If nothing else, the statues help to emphasize that for much of the work that made Darwin a reputable scientist, he was an energetic young man eager to explore the world around him, not always the long-bearded sage of Downe.

Michael D. Barton
Montana State University

The photos I took of the exhibit can be seen here.

BOOK: Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

In 2009, Darwin College at the University of Cambridge held a lecture series on Darwin. The lectures are accessible online (why so many ways to find these lectures?). The eight lectures are now available as a book in Darwin (Darwin College Lectures):

Charles Darwin can easily be considered one of the most influential scholars of his time. His thoughts, ideas, research and writings have had a far reaching impact and influence on modern thought in the arts, on society, and in science. With contributions from leading scholars, this collection of essays explores how Darwin’s work grew out of the ideas of his time, and how its influence spread to contemporary thinking about creationism, the limits of human evolution and the diversification of living species and their conservation. A full account of the legacy of Darwin in contemporary scholarship and thought. With contributions from Janet Browne, Jim Secord, Rebecca Stott, Paul Seabright, Steve Jones, Sean Carroll, Craig Moritz and John Dupré. This book derives from a highly successful series of public lectures, revised and illustrated for publication under the editorship of Professor William Brown and Professor Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge.

A multi-disciplinary overview of the influence of the legacy of Charles Darwin, with contributions from the history of science, economics, philosophy and English literature as well as the biological sciences, appealing to a number of interests • Contributors are internationally-famed leading authorities from their fields, providing the most current research findings • The authors write for the general reader from the standpoint of the leading researcher, making it thoroughly accessible to the non-specialist reader


1. Darwin’s intellectual development: biography, history, and commemoration, Janet Browne
2. Global Darwin, James A. Secord
3. Darwin in the literary world, Rebecca Stott
4. Darwin and human society, Paul Seabright
5. The evolution of utopia, Steve Jones
6. The making of the fittest: the DNA record of evolution, Sean B. Carroll
7. Evolutionary biogeography and conservation on a rapidly changing planet: building on Darwin’s vision, Craig Moritz and Ana Carolina Carnaval
8. Postgenomic Darwinism, John Dupré

This will be published in August.

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

ARTICLE: Making Darwin: Biography and the Changing Representations of Charles Darwin

Janet Browne

Janet Browne

In the Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Vol. 40, No. 3, Winter 2010, pp. 347-73 ):

Janet Browne

Making Darwin: Biography and the Changing Representations of Charles Darwin

Abstract Biographies of scientists are generating fresh interest as current movements in the historiography of science increasingly focus on the social aspects of science and on the criteria that most accurately describe a scientific life. Biography is the form through which the work of a scientist can be located in its fullest historical context. It can also reveal much about the construction of reputation and about the reception of ideas. The biographical tradition surrounding the naturalist Charles Darwin from 1882 to the present day has employed a variegated imagery, exemplifying how writings about scientific figures have adjusted to changing cultural and scientific norms.

We need more imagery of the young Darwin

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

That popular imagery of Darwin too often portrays him as old and bearded has been discussed much recently (and acted upon!), and there seems to be an effort to bring in the image of a young Charles Darwin to academic and popular audiences. A smattering of the young Darwin:

Blog posts: Tetrapod Zoology: Why I hate Darwin’s beardThe Ethical Palaeontologist: Darwin’s ImageBeagle Project Blog: An Open Letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please; “Darwin’s not a stuff-shirted Nigel Bruce”; Young Darwins in February: Bora 1, Greg 0; Got evolution?; Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptorDispersal of Darwin: Beagle-Bobble; Darwin Portrait by Carl Buell; This one’s for you, Karen; Pictures of the Young Darwin.

Recent books: The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson; Darwin in Cambridge by John van Wyhe; Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Ruth Ashby; The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver; The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer; One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathyrn Lasky; Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle; What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosayln Schanzer; Darwin by Alice B. McGinty; What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning; Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist; Charles Darwin, the Discoverer by Vargie Johnson; and The Darwin Story: A Lifetime of Curiosity, a Passion for Discovery by H.M. Ahn and T.S. Lee.

Performance: A Glimpse of the Young Darwin; biology instructor Greg Bole’s impersonation of a young(ish) Darwin.

Films: The Young Charles Darwin (trailer on YouTube; review at The Friends of Charles Darwin); Creation (forthcoming Darwin biopic featuring Paul Bettany as a young and middle-aged Darwin).

Art: Young Darwin’s evolution adventures; the logo for The HMS Beagle Project; Anthony Smith’s bronze sculpture of a young Darwin (hanging out with me! & a mini version of this sculpture makes its own voyage); Charles Darwin as a graduate student; Russian paintings of a young Darwin; a new Dover colouring book; Darwin and Galapagos; a young Charles Darwin; young Darwin image for The Great Plant Hunt; Young Charles Darwin (comic illustration); set of images from The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; statue of a young Darwin in Portugeuse exhibit.

Darwin was, for much of his life, unbearded and not an old man. He was only 22 when he embarked on HMS Beagle (he did, however, grow a beard during the voyage – Darwin wrote in his diary while in Tierra del Fuego: “They received us with less distrust & brought with them their timid children. — They noticed York Minster (who accompanied us) in the same manner as Jemmy, & told him he ought to shave, & yet he has not 20 hairs in his face, whilst we all wear our untrimmed beards”). Darwin was 50 when he published On the Origin of Species. So why is it that he is more often than not portrayed like this?

Old, bearded Darwin

Old, bearded Darwin

And not like this?

Young, adventurous Darwin

Young, adventurous Darwin

Probably because an image of an old man shows more respectability. And the beard shows his wisdom. But a young Darwin shows a curious mind, and, I think, can enable a younger generation to follow his story, as many of the recent books about Darwin for young readers seem to grasp on. What prompted this post, however, was coming across a book in a small Montana town toy store this past weekend. The book is part of the Who Was? series, telling the lives of notable historical figures (others include Einstein, Franklin, Magellan, King Tut, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare). Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) features illustrations by Nancy Harrison. Harrison also painted the image on the front of the slim book. This is it:

Time-traveling Darwin

Time-traveling Darwin


Here we have Darwin, writing in one of his notebooks on the Galapagos Islands, amongst the tortoises with HMS Beagle hanging out in the background. This image has to be in 1835, when the Beagle visited the islands. Yet pictured here is an anachronistic Darwin from the 1870s, iconic beard in hand, er, on chin. Please, illustrators for children’s Darwin books, be accurate. If we are to see Darwin as a person, then let’s see him as he was in a particular time.

The cover of this book was too good not to spend the five bucks on it. As for the text of it, overall a nice treatment of Darwin for children.

If you know of any other neat examples of young Darwin art, books, or blog posts, let me know so I can add them.

Boston University: Charles Darwin in Biography

From BU:

Charles Darwin in Biography: The Lives behind the Origin of Species

May 1, 2009

Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s Street (PHO Colloquium Room, 9th floor

Free and Open to the Public

Morning Session: 10 a.m.- Noon
Janet Browne, Harvard University, discusses “Is your Darwin, My Darwin?”

Andrew Berry, Harvard University, discusses “Industrious and Persevering Traveler: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Journey”

Afternoon Session: 2 p.m.– 5 p.m.
Richard Milner, American Museum of Natural History, discusses “Darwin, the Unknown”

David Kohn, American Museum of Natural History, discusses “Charles Darwin: to the Greenhouse Born Peter Parnell.”

Panel discussion, 5 p.m.– 6 p.m., entitled “Putting Darwin and Wallace Onstage: Creating ‘Trumpery.” Thomas F. Glick, CAS History, moderator. 

Peter Parnell’s play, “Trumpery,” about Darwin’s relationship with Alfred Russel Wallace, will be playing at BU Theatre, on Thursday April 30, Friday May 1, and Saturday May 2.

For more info:

Center for Philosophy & History of Science

T.J. Kalaitzidis 



Calif. Academy of Sciences: Occasional Paper #155. Darwin: A Reader’s Guide

The recent occasional paper from the California Academy of Sciences is devoted to Darwin:

Occasional Paper #155. Darwin: A Reader’s Guide

Author: Michael T. Ghiselin. 2009. 185 pages. Paperback ISSN 0068-5461

This book is a tribute to Dr. Ghiselin’s exhaustive studies on Darwin since the 1960s and is an invaluable resource not only for seasoned scholars but also those just beginning to delve into Darwin. Included is a thoughtful overview of Darwin’s life and literature – including a bibliography of his work, a secondary resource bibliography, a biographical timeline, as well as a biographical dictionary.

Includes the following chapters: Preface and Acknowledgments, Introduction, Darwin’s Life and Works, Secondary literature and other sources, Darwin Chronology, Biographical Dictionary, and a three-part bibliography.

You can order the paper ($16.00) here [PDF catalog], or download the PDF of it for free here.

NPR does Darwin

From NPR:

The Forces That Shaped A Young Charles Darwin

Listen Now [10 min 45 sec]

Weekend Edition Sunday, February 1, 2009 · To honor Charles Darwin — born 200 years ago this month — Weekend Edition Sunday and the NPR science desk are launching a series called “Darwin 200.” In the first installment, Keith Thomson, author of The Young Charles Darwin, talks about his early influences.

Via Pharyngula.

Attenborough’s “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life” on BBC

On February 1st, the BBC will air David Attenborough’s contribution to the Darwin bicentennial: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. Read “David Attenborough on Charles Darwin” at Times Online. Here’s just a part:

He has slowly mutated, too, into a more openly opinionated figure. He was once renowned for his diplomacy, carefully sidestepping controversy. It took him until recently to make his first programme about global warming, after finally becoming convinced of mankind’s role.

Today, however, sitting in the living room of his fine – but not grand – home on Richmond Hill, southwest London, surrounded by tribal art and piles of books, he is very happy to sound off. The subjects that chiefly exercise him are the way we are treating a planet that he knows better than probably anyone else who inhabits it, and what he sees as the “disgrace” of the rise in belief in creationism.

The Tree of Life is one of Sir David’s most personal programmes. It is the “fabuloso” story of how Darwin changed “the way we see the world and our place in it”. Sir David leads the viewer gently through Darwin’s journey to the Galápagos Islands and his observations in his garden at Down House in Kent that formed his theory of natural selection; that all life forms originated from a common simple beginning and evolved through mutations that created new species and led to the extinction of others over hundreds of millions of years.

Wall Street Journal: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle

From The Wall Street Journal (December 20, 2008):

Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle
Anniversary of ‘Origin of Species’ Nears; Rival Is Touted, Charges of Plagiarism

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — In January, Stanford University is conducting a $60,000-a-head journey around the world by private jet to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Taking in the Galapagos Islands and other sites of Mr. Darwin’s research, the trip is one of several big events planned world-wide to honor him as the father of evolutionary theory.

But a vocal group of revisionists — including a British cockroach expert, a former BBC journalist and a human-rights lawyer — say the spotlight should be on another man: Alfred Russel Wallace.

Mr. Wallace, a naturalist who spent many years collecting bird and insect specimens in the jungles of Indonesia, was famed in the Victorian era as the co-discoverer with Mr. Darwin of evolution by natural selection. But his reputation languished in the mid-20th century as scholars focused their attention on Mr. Darwin. More recently, several books have attempted to resuscitate Mr. Wallace’s name, and most mainstream scientists now regard him as the co-founder of modern evolutionary theory.

Hardcore Wallace backers say that isn’t good enough. In a new book, “The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime,” Roy Davies, a former producer of science programs for the BBC, accuses Mr. Darwin of stealing ideas about evolution from Mr. Wallace — who was corresponding with him from Indonesia — and passing them off as his own. “Once you change the focus from Darwin to Wallace, you start to realize what a genius Wallace was,” Mr. Davies says.

Read the rest of the article, which features George Beccaloni of the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund, here.

Asa Gray born, Edward Forbes died today

Asa Gray was born today in 1810. From Today in Science History:

Asa Gray, Born 18 Nov 1810; died 30 Jan 1888. America’s leading botanist in the mid-19th century, extensively studying North American flora, he did more work than any other botanist to unify the taxonomic knowledge of plants of this region. He was Darwin’s strongest early supporter in the U.S.; in 1857, he was the third scientist to be told of his theory (after Hooker and Lyell). He debated L. Agassiz between 1859 and 1861 on variation and geographic distribution. Gray’s discovery of close affinities between East Asian and North American floras was a key piece of evidence in favor of evolution. Though not fully comfortable with selection, he argued that evolution was compatible with religious belief and slid towards theistic evolutionism. Gray co-authored Flora of North America.

Asa Gray at Lefalophodon
Asa Gray Papers at Harvard University Herbaria
Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin by A. Hunter Dupree
“Charles Darwin and Asa Gray Discuss Teleology and Design” by Sara Joan Miles (American Scientific Affiliation)
Memoir of Asa Gray
Correspondence between Asa Gray and Charles Darwin
Re: Design, a play about the correspondence between Gray and Darwin

And naturalist Edward Forbes died on this day in 1854:

Edward Forbes (Died 18 Nov 1854; born 12 Feb 1815). British naturalist, pioneer in the field of biogeography, who analyzed the distribution of plant and animal life of the British Isles as related to certain geological changes. Forbes is considered by many to be the founder of the science of oceanography and marine biology. He studied the fauna of the Aegean Sea and did much to stimulate interest in marine biology. Unfortunately, he is best known for his “azoic theory” (1843), which stated that marine life did not exist on sea beds at depths over 300 fathoms (1800 feet). This was soon to be disproved, (but the desire to test this hypothesis has led to further exploration until, eventually, no depth has been completely unstudied). He became paleontologist to British Geological Survey in 1844.

Previous posts about Forbes here and here.

EXHIBIT: Darwin: Big Idea, Big Exhibition

The traveling Darwin exhibit which began at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (and passed through Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto), is set to open at the Natural History Museum in London in November as Darwin: Big Idea, Big Exhibition. Karen from the HMS Beagle Project is very excited. It will remain in London through the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth (2009/02/12), and I have heard it will head to San Diego afterwards. Now I will have a reason to go visit my family in southern California!

Actor/Actress chosen for Charles and Emma Darwin in one of 2 upcoming Darwin films

Paul Bettany (at left next to Russell Crowe) will play Charles Darwin and his wife/actress Jennifer Connelly will play Emma Darwin in Creation, the Darwin film I thought was to be named Origin. io9 has the scoop. I really liked Bettany as surgeon/naturalist/Darwin-esque Stephen Maturin (see picture) in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2004) based on books by Patrick O’Brian, so this is probably a role to look forward to.

A new Darwin book with facsimile memorabilia

This new book popped up in a Google Alert of mine this morning. No Amazon listing yet, but Sept. 1st is the publication date. John van Wyhe is the person behind Darwin Online. I noticed though that the title on the webpage and the title on the image of the book don’t match.

“Charles Darwin” reveals the famous scientist’s life in compelling detail as never before. From his early childhood experiments to his ground-breaking publications and including his expedition aboard the Beagle, this book examines Darwin’s own experiences to show how he created the theories for which he became known. It also features at least 30 illuminating items of facsimile memorabilia, including: diaries and letters; handwritten drafts of Darwin’s most famous works; and, sketches and maps.
Imprint; Contents and Introduction; The Abyss of Time; The Abundance of Nature; Charles Darwin – Born a naturalist: 1809-25; Edinburgh University: 1825-27; University of Cambridge: 1827-31; The Voyage of the Beagle: 1831-36; Eastern South America: 1831; Don Carlos, So Much of a Gaucho: 1832; Fossil Discoveries: 1832; Tierra del Fuego and the Shock of the Savage: 1832; Western South America: 1833-34; The Galapagos Islands – the True Story: 1835; Across the Pacific and Around the World: 1835-36; To Marry or not to Marry?: 1837-39; Journal of Researches: 1838-43; Zoology of the Beagle: 1838-43; Geology of the Beagle: 1838-43; At home with the Darwins: 1839-53; Putting the Puzzle Together: 1853-59; Barnacles: 1853; On the Origin of Species: 1859; The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: 1859-64; Orchids: 1862; Variation: 1868; The Powers of Plants: 1868; The Descent of Man and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals: 1871-1872; The Sage of Downe and the Study of Worms: 1881-82; Darwin’s Death and Legacy: 1882 – present; Index; Credits; Further Reading.

"What’s New" at Darwin Online

These were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online between July 25 and 30, 2008:

Huxley, Leonard. 1921. The home life of Charles Darwin. R.P.A. Annual [Rationalist Press Association] pp. 5-9. Text Image

Fabre, Henri. 1913. My relations with Darwin. The Fortnightly Review n.s. 94: 661-675. Text Image

Vignoles, O. J. 1893. The home of a naturalist. Good Words 34: 95-101. Text Image

Bowen, Elizabeth. 1934. The mulberry tree [Downe House]. In Greene, Graham ed., The old school: essays by divers hands. London: Jonathan Cape, pp. 45-59. Text Image

[Litchfield, Henrietta Emma.] 1910. Richard Buckley Litchfield: a memoir written for his friends by his wife. Cambridge: privately printed. [Darwin extracts only] Text Image

Anon. 1882. [Obituary] Charles Robert Darwin. Punch (29 April): 203. Text Image

Nash, Wallis. 1919. A lawyer’s life on two continents. Boston: Richard G. Badger, the Gorham Press. [Darwin reminiscences only] Text Image

[Duff, Ursula Grant ed.] 1924. The life-work of Lord Avebury (Sir John Lubbock) 1834-1913. London: Watts & Co. [Darwin recollections only] Text Image

[Shipley, Arthur Everett and James Crawford Simpson eds.] 1909. Darwin centenary: the portraits, prints and writings of Charles Robert Darwin, exhibited at Christ’s College, Cambridge 1909. [Cambridge: University Press]. Text Image

Webster, A. D. 1888. Darwin’s garden. Gardeners’ Chronicle (24 March): 359-360. Text Image

Darwin, C. R. ed. 1841. Birds Part 3 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. by John Gould. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. London: Smith Elder and Co. Text