BOOK REVIEW: Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution

I have long wondered if someone would put together a book of Darwin quotations. Given the volume of resources out there on Darwin, published and online, I figured that such a collection would be similar to the wonderful The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, compiled and edited by an Einstein expert (who worked on the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein), with sources for the quotes. Would Cambridge University Press, which has put out more than 20 volumes of Darwin’s correspondence, put together a Quotable Darwin? Or perhaps historian of science John van Wyhe, with so much Darwin material at his fingertips with Darwin Online?

No such luck, yet. Until then, our only offering is from a publisher that also put out quotation books on Jack London, John D. Rockefeller, Machiavelli, Mark Twain, and Abraham Lincoln.

When I first learned of Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, 144 pp.), my hopes were not set high upon seeing the quote given on the book’s cover: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” As has been noted by the Darwin Correspondence Project, among others, these words (or variations of them) do not come from Darwin at all (see: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did). And then, in the publisher’s description of the book on the inside of the dust jacket, there is “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” And, “Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.” Neither of these are from Darwin, either.

The contents of the book – at least that portion I read until I decided to not continue – include other non-Darwin quotes as well:

It is difficult to believe in the dreadful but quiet war lurking just below the serene facade of nature. – no source found, but not Darwin

Whilst Man, however well-behaved, at best is but a monkey shaved! – W.S. Gilbert (1884)

We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realized that they were inside us. – Jordyn Berner (poet)

While including quotes not from Darwin’s own pen make this collection problematic, it’s organization does injustice to the collection as well. Quotes are included from Darwin’s most well-known books and correspondence. But whether or not a particular quote is given its reference seems to have been completely at random. About half the quotes have a reference, while others have none despite being from the same works as others that are referenced. There is redundancy as well – one quote is even listed three times! Considering that all this was evident from my reading just the first third of the collection, I decided it was not worth my time to give the book a full reading. Surely no one put in the time to edit a worthy collection of quotes.

ARTICLE: More than a Mentor: Leonard Darwin’s Contribution to the Assimilation of Mendelism into Eugenics and Darwinism

An article of interest in the Journal of the History of Biology:

More than a Mentor: Leonard Darwin’s Contribution to the Assimilation of Mendelism into Eugenics and Darwinism

Norberto Serpente

Abstract This article discusses the contribution to evolutionary theory of Leonard Darwin (1850–1943), the eighth child of Charles Darwin. By analysing the correspondence Leonard Darwin maintained with Ronald Aylmer Fisher in conjunction with an assessment of his books and other written works between the 1910s and 1930s, this article argues for a more prominent role played by him than the previously recognised in the literature as an informal mentor of Fisher. The paper discusses Leonard’s efforts to amalgamate Mendelism with both Eugenics and Darwinism in order for the first to base their policies on new scientific developments and to help the second in finding a target for natural selection. Without a formal qualification in biological sciences and as such mistrusted by some “formal” scientists, Leonard Darwin engaged with key themes of Darwinism such as mimicry, the role of mutations on speciation and the process of genetic variability, arriving at important conclusions concerning the usefulness of Mendelian genetics for his father’s theory.

ARTICLE: Patterns of Infection and Patterns of Evolution: How a Malaria Parasite Brought “Monkeys and Man” Closer Together in the 1960s

A new online first article in the Journal of the History of Biology might interest readers here:

Patterns of Infection and Patterns of Evolution: How a Malaria Parasite Brought “Monkeys and Man” Closer Together in the 1960s

Rachel Mason Detinger

Abstract In 1960, American parasitologist Don Eyles was unexpectedly infected with a malariaparasite isolated from a macaque. He and his supervisor, G. Robert Coatney of the National Institutes of Health, had started this series of experiments with the assumption that humans were not susceptible to “monkey malaria.” The revelation that a mosquito carrying a macaque parasite could infect a human raised a whole range of public health and biological questions. This paper follows Coatney’s team of parasitologists and their subjects: from the human to the nonhuman; from the American laboratory to the forests of Malaysia; and between the domains of medical research and natural history. In the course of this research, Coatney and his colleagues inverted Koch’s postulate, by which animal subjects are used to identify and understand human parasites. In contrast, Coatney’s experimental protocol used human subjects to identify and understand monkey parasites. In so doing, the team repeatedly followed malaria parasites across the purported boundary separating monkeys and humans, a practical experience that created a sense of biological symmetry between these separate species. Ultimately, this led Coatney and his colleagues make evolutionary inferences, concluding “that monkeys and man are more closely related than some of us wish to admit.” In following monkeys, men, and malaria across biological, geographical, and disciplinary boundaries, this paper offers a new historical narrative, demonstrating that the pursuit of public health agendas can fuel the expansion of evolutionary knowledge.

BOOK REVIEW, GUEST POST & GIVEAWAY: Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous

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Artist Juan Carlos Alonso’s new book Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous (Lake Forest, CA: Walter Foster Jr., 2015, 112 pp.), co-authored with paleoartist Gregory S. Paul, is unlike any dinosaur book for young readers I’ve seen.

It combines two things I really love: learning about dinosaurs and natural history illustration. Alonso introduces the reader to dinosaurs and other creatures from a 44 million year slice of Earth’s history. This is a welcome focus for a dinosaur book, since nearly every dinosaur book attempts to cover the whole period of dinosaur history, excluding bird evolution to the present (165 million years).


This slim approach allows the book to cover a more diverse group of creatures than would otherwise be possible, with new species names to learn. And the depiction of these dinosaurs, praised by paleontologists, is done in a nature journal fashion, as if the artist is encountering them as wildlife on a nature trip. This helps to see these animals as actual, living entities, and Alonso treats us to full size illustrations as well as close up examinations of interesting anatomy. The journal is organized by different dinosaur groups (Theropods, Sauropods, Ornithiscians, Pterosaurs, and First Birds), and an introduction nicely places this wildlife in context of Earth’s geologic history and discusses what kind of plants coexisted with dinosaurs of the Early Cretaceous.

Alonso was kind enough to write a guest post for The Dispersal of Darwin (for the book’s blog tour), which I share here:

As a child I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Their size, ferocity and the fact that they’re extinct all played into their mystique. They presented more questions than answers. Back then, they were much stranger than how they are viewed now. Dinosaurs were seen as massive lumbering monsters, angrily snapping at anything within their reach. Scientists believed that the very largest were too large to support their own bodies, so they were relegated to living in the water. Everything about them seemed unnatural. They were slow, dumb and doomed to be extinct – they were an evolutionary dead end. As a matter of fact, the very word dinosaur is synonymous with outdated or extinct. Movies, books and toys also did a pretty good job of confusing our perception of prehistory as well. It seemed every movie I ever watched as a child had all prehistoric beasts like Tyrannosaurus, Brontosaurus, saber-toothed tiger and sometimes man coexisting in one chaotic time period. The truth is much more interesting and complex.

For being called a “dead end” it turns out dinosaurs were around for a long time –165 million years to be precise. If you consider our species (Homo sapiens) has been around for about 200 thousand years that was a pretty successful run. As a matter of fact, there is a greater time span between Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex (83 million years) than there is between the last Tyrannosaurus and humans (65 million years). We now know that some modern birds are the descendants of the theropod dinosaurs, so they haven’t even become extinct.

As time passed, the strange unreal monsters that I knew as a child became as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves. Dinosaurs are, and always were animals. Animals that, like any today, ate, bred and fought to stay alive to ensure the species and bloodline would continue. The mystique I knew as a child was replaced by scientific curiosity as these “monsters” became even more intriguing to me. For me prehistoric life represents a perfect amalgamation of science, fantasy and art. All three work in unison to recreate wildlife long extinct using fact, research and some speculation based on living animals to fill in the gaps.

Seven years ago I became a father. I began to re-experience childhood wonder and curiosity through the eyes of my daughter as she grew older. It brought me back to my own childhood and inspired me to write Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous. I set out to create drawings that represented an artist’s first-hand account of studying extinct animals through a naturalist’s notebook. Much like John James Audubon, documenting bird species from previously undiscovered lands. The intent was not only to bring these animals back to life, but also to capture a snapshot of life in a 38 million year window called the Early Cretaceous. By dedicating the book to half of one period of the Mesozoic, I was able to look closely at some species rarely featured in other books and illustrate details and features that make each unique. These are the types of books that sparked my interest in both science and art as a child and it is my goal to share my interest with children.

Ultimately, I hope to write and illustrate more books in the series, each dedicated to a specific time period. This will give perspective on how some species evolved into others and illustrate Earth’s rich history of past wildlife and how our animals came to be.

The next stop on the blog tour, on August 31, is at The Children’s Book Review. And the publisher has a neat little video about the book here. I am delighted to learn that Alonso plans to continue Ancient Earth Journal books for other time periods. My interest in dinosaurs started when I was 15 and led me to a broader interest in the history of science and Darwin and evolution. And now, the giveaway!

The giveaway:

To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous (courtesy of the publisher), please comment on this post telling me what your favorite prehistoric animal is or about an interesting museum experience dealing with paleontology. Giveaway open to residents of US or Canada only. From the entries I will randomly pick a winner. The contest will be open until Friday, September 4, midnight PST. If you would like to enter without commenting on the blog, you can send me an email at darwinsbulldog AT gmail DOT com. Good luck!

BOOK: The Annotated Malay Archipelago

Alfred Russel Wallace’s correspondence is being transcribed, and his works have been put online similar to Darwin’s. While the persons behind each of those projects – George Beccaloni and John van Wyhe – don’t agree on all aspects of Wallace’s life and work, it’s only a good thing that Darwin’s co-discoverer of natural selection is receiving renewed interest and materials in print (in paper and online).

Wallace fans should know that van Wyhe has recently published the following:


John van Wyhe, ed., The Annotated Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russel Wallace (Singapore: NUS Press, 2015, 836 pp.)

Publisher’s description The Malay Archipelago, the classic account of Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s travels through Southeast Asia, first appeared in 1869 and has been much loved by generations of readers ever since. Despite numerous modern reprints with appreciative introductions, this edition is the first — long overdue — fully annotated version to appear in English. The treasure trove of new information it contains illuminates The Malay Archipelago like never before. Through an examination of the historical context, the editor reveals new aspects of Wallace’s life, his sources and the original meanings of this famous book. Following conventions of the time, Wallace often left people, places and publications unidentified, and he referred to most species only by the scientific names current in the 19th century, terms that are unintelligible to most readers today. John van Wyhe’s explanatory notes, running into the hundreds, provide the common names for species and update their scientific names. People, places and other details that Wallace mentions have been tracked down and identified. The book famously raises provocative questions, but did tigers actually “kill on an average a Chinaman every day” in Singapore during the 1850s? Did a Dutch Governor General really commit suicide by leaping from a waterfall in Celebes? John van Wyhe deals with these and many other matters by comparing the text of The Malay Archipelago with Wallace’s letters, notebooks and a wealth of other contemporary sources. Greatly enriched by an extensive introduction, explanations that make the book accessible to modern readers, a detailed itinerary of Wallace’s voyage, a lavish selection of additional colour illustrations and a full bibliography of related materials, this is the definitive edition of Wallace’s great work.