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What to Read on International Darwin Day

February 12 is International Darwin Day, celebrating the birthday of Charles Darwin, born 210 years ago today. Naturalist Charles Darwin’s biggest claim to fame was his vision of evolution and natural selection. There are a number of books written by Darwin, which you could read today, from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) to The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842) and The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms (1881)—in which Darwin plays piano and bassoon at earthworms (lovingly depicted by Ben Jennings in How to Build a Universe, by the way).

There are a number of Darwin-themed books being published this February, including ones that challenge or expand on Darwin’s ideas, such as Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind or Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. And then there are true odes and simply research that wouldn’t have gotten so far so quickly without the work Darwin and his contemporaries did. Here are some recommended reads for today:


Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich


71edyllehmlDavid Reich’s job is to analyze DNA for signs that Neanderthals had interbred with humans. He has retrieved DNA from more than 900 ancient people. In his new book, Reich describes with unprecedented clarity just how the human genome provides not only all the information that a fertilized human egg needs to develop but also contains within it the history of our species. (Published in 2018, new in paperback February 26, 2019)



Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory by James T. Costa


615zwfulz1l._sx332_bo1,204,203,200_James T. Costa takes readers on a journey from Darwin’s childhood through his voyage on the HMS Beagle, where his ideas on evolution began, and on to Down House, his bustling home of forty years. This unique perspective introduces us to an enthusiastic correspondent, collaborator, and, especially, an incorrigible observer and experimenter. And it includes eighteen experiments for home, school, or garden. (New in paperback September 2018)



How the Zebra Got Its Stripes: Darwinian Stories Told Through Evolutionary Biology by Léo Grasset


61omm5k4vpl._sx329_bo1,204,203,200_Deploying the latest scientific research and his own extensive observations in Africa, Léo Grasset explains complex natural phenomena in simple and at times comic terms, as Grasset turns evolutionary biology to the burning questions of the animal kingdom, from why elephants prefer dictators and buffaloes democracies, to whether the lion really is king. The human is, of course, just another animal, and the author’s exploration of two million years of human evolution shows how it not only informs our current habits and behavior, but also reveals that we are hybrids of several different species. (New in paperback June 2018)


This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution by David Sloan Wilson


71o8i9jlmvlComing soon! In a series of engaging stories–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 toolkit for understanding not only genetic evolution, but also the fast-paced changes impacting 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 wellbeing as individuals, to our stewardship of the planet earth. (February 26, 2019)

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