Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Two New Darwin Books

Last fall I wrote posts about Darwin and his associates like Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Lyell. Two books have recently been published about Darwin. One is The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller (Viking, 2017). The titular book is On the Origin of Species, first published in England in 1859 and published in America in 1860, which of course was at the outset of the Civil War. As Eric Froner writes, the book had a galvanizing effect upon abolitionists, who understood natural selection to be a equalizing way to understand the human races, as well as naturalists like Thoreau and Asa Gray.

A brand-new book is Darwin's Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory by James T. Costa (Norton, 2017). Darwin's five year voyage on the Beagle is famous, less so his careful experiments and observations made around his own house, greenhouse, and estate. No one-hit-wonder, he wrote twenty-five books, contributing important discoveries in biology and botany. Costa discusses Darwin's research into worms, plant movement, heterostyly, carnivorous plants, and orchids. Costa tells us of Darwin's wide correspondence with other scientists with whom he exchanged information. Not only that, Costa shows us how we could duplicate some of Darwin's experiments using our own household tools!

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