News of the World — August 11, 2014


Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!

now 8.11


What if you could witness evolution in real time? Researchers Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have spent time on the Galápagos Island named Daphne Major each year since 1973, have found that changes are happening–right now. The Grants are featured in a recent New York Times piece that details their years of research and the incredible discoveries that they have made. Jonathan Weiner writes:

Charles Darwin spent only five weeks on the Galápagos Islands, and at first, the British biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant didn’t plan to stay very long either — a few years at most.

They landed in 1973 on the tiny uninhabited island of Daphne Major, the cinder cone of an extinct volcano. (Darwin himself never set foot there.) Daphne is as steep as a roof, with cliffs running all around the base, and just one small spot on the outer slope flat enough to pitch a tent.

Their goal, as they relate in their new book, “40 Years of Evolution,” was to study finches in the genus Geospiza — the birds that gave Darwin some of his first inklings of evolution by natural selection — and to try to reconstruct part of their evolutionary history. Instead, they made an amazing discovery.

After several years of meticulous measurements, the Grants and their students realized that the finches’ dimensions were changing before their eyes. Their beaks and bodies were evolving and adapting from year to year, sometimes slowly, sometimes strikingly, generation after generation. The researchers were watching evolution in real time, evolution in the flesh.

Check out the full article, entitled “In Darwin’s Footsteps” in the New York Times.


In the richly illustrated 40 YEARS OF EVOLUTION: Darwin’s Finches on Daphne Major Island, the authors explore evolution taking place on a contemporary scale. By continuously tracking finch populations over a period of four decades, they uncover the causes and consequences of significant events leading to evolutionary changes in species.

The authors used a vast and unparalleled range of ecological, behavioral, and genetic data–including song recordings, DNA analyses, and feeding and breeding behavior–to measure changes in finch populations on the small island of Daphne Major in the Galápagos archipelago. They find that natural selection happens repeatedly, that finches hybridize and exchange genes rarely, and that they compete for scarce food in times of drought, with the remarkable result that the finch populations today differ significantly in average beak size and shape from those of forty years ago.

The authors’ most spectacular discovery is the initiation and establishment of a new lineage that now behaves as a new species, differing from others in size, song, and other characteristics. The authors emphasize the immeasurable value of continuous long-term studies of natural populations and of critical opportunities for detecting and understanding rare but significant events. By following the fates of finches for several generations, 40 YEARS OF EVOLUTION offers unparalleled insights into ecological and evolutionary changes in natural environments.

View Chapter One of 40 YEARS OF EVOLUTION for yourself.


For PUP author Anat Admati, American banks are doing it all wrong — and the status quo needs to change.

Admati, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2014, argues that banks are as fragile as they are not because they must be, but because they want to be–and they get away with it. Whereas this situation benefits bankers, it distorts the economy and exposes the public to unnecessary risks. Weak regulation and ineffective enforcement allowed the buildup of risks that ushered in the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Much can be done to create a better system and prevent crises. Yet the lessons from the crisis have not been learned.

These arguments and her recent progress are highlighted in a recent NYT feature entitled “When She Talks, Banks Shudder.” The article begins by discussing Admati’s tenacity:

Bankers are nearly unanimous on the subject of Anat R. Admati, the Stanford finance professor and persistent industry gadfly: Her ideas are wildly impractical, bad for the American economy and not to be taken seriously.

But after years of quixotic advocacy, Ms. Admati is reaching some very prominent ears. Last month, President Obama invited her and five other economists to a private lunch to discuss their ideas. She left him with a copy of “The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong With Banking and What to Do About It,” a 2013 book she co-authored. A few weeks later, she testified for the first time before the Senate Banking Committee. And, in a recent speech, Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, praised her “vigorous campaign.”

Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of Better Markets, a nonprofit that advocates stronger financial regulation, said Ms. Admati has emerged as one of the most effective advocates of the view that regulatory changes since the 2008 crisis remain insufficient. “She has been, as one must be,” Mr. Kelleher said, “dogged from the West Coast to the East Coast to Europe and back again and over again.”

Read the full article in the New York Times.

The past few years have shown that risks in banking can impose significant costs on the economy. Many claim, however, that a safer banking system would require sacrificing lending and economic growth. THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES — now available in paperback — examines this claim and the narratives used by bankers, politicians, and regulators to rationalize the lack of reform, exposing them as invalid.

Admati and co-author Martin Hellwig argue that we can have a safer and healthier banking system without sacrificing any of its benefits, and at essentially no cost to society. They seek to engage the broader public in the debate by cutting through the jargon of banking, clearing the fog of confusion, and presenting the issues in simple and accessible terms.

Check out the new preface from the paperback edition of THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES. And for more, watch Admati’s TED talk from earlier this year:


Yoga practitioners — is what you think you know about ancient yoga philosophy actually incorrect? PUP author David Gordon White brings us an exhaustively researched book that demonstrates why the yoga of India’s past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today.

Consisting of fewer than two hundred verses written in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is today extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice. As David Gordon White demonstrates in this groundbreaking study, both of these assumptions are incorrect. Virtually forgotten in India for hundreds of years and maligned when it was first discovered in the West, the Yoga Sutra has been elevated to its present iconic status—and translated into more than forty languages—only in the course of the past forty years.

THE YOGA SUTRA OF PATANJALI: A Biography received great attention recently in three different publications. The book was reviewed in both Tricycle Magazine as well as in Shambhala Sun, which describes the book:

A lively account of this sutra’s unlikely history and how it has variously been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, and hailed. The colorful characters on these pages include Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya, two giants in modern yoga, as well as literary figures such as T.S. Eliot. There is also Alberuni, a Muslim scientist and scholar who translated a commentary on the Yoga Sutra a thousand years ago, and the outrageous Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who fused the principles of the Yoga Sutra with Western ideas of the occult.

Check out this author Q&A with David Gordon White for more on why he chose his area of study, and view Chapter One of THE YOGA SUTRA OF PATANJALI.

How warfare and altruism go hand in hand

Whether one is for war or against it, humans generally agree that warfare is a terrible thing.  Wars happen when people are unable to settle disputes using our higher faculties, the capacity to reason and compromise that differentiates us from animals.  War is, therefore, a degenerative act for humanity.  …right?

Nicholas Wade’s article in the New York Times this week explains that over the course of human history war may have been the strongest factor in promoting the evolution of human altruism, the trait on which human societies have been founded.  It’s the same problem proposed by Rousseau in The Social Contract: “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.”  Humans are a strangely independent and dependent species.  Evolutionarily speaking altruism is nonsense: why should I sacrifice my own self interest to yours?  How would that help an individual survive?  And yet humans are constantly sacrificing their own interests for those of another–a spouse, a family unit, a community, or in the case of modern warfare, a vast nation of strangers.

The seemingly paradoxical evolutionary development of altruism is easily resolved if you consider natural selection as a group effort.  By banding together, people were more easily able to promote their own survival, and thus the instinct for group preservation developed in conjunction with self preservation.   As Wade notes, “Warfare may not usually be thought of as a form of cooperation, but organized hostilities between chiefdoms require that within each chiefdom people subordinate their individual self-interest to that of the group.”

Wade concludes with the conjecture proposed by A Cooperative Species authors Bowles and Gintes: that warfare “may have contributed to the spread of human altruism.” Communities that are successfully able to organize and raid others gain advantageous resources that increase their potential for survival.

The article is well worth a read.  And pick up a copy of A Cooperative Species–you may be surprised by what you learn about the human race!

PGS Dialogue: John Kricher, author of Galapagos: A Natural History #darwinday

Our final Darwin Day Q&A is with John Kricher, author of Galapagos: A Natural History. This book is a must-read for anyone curious about the flora and fauna Darwin might have encountered in his expedition to the Galapagos. Here, John discusses his favorite Galapagos species and the ecological changes the islands have undergone since Darwin’s visit. Oh, and did I mention the photographs? John has kindly provided photographs of two native species including perhaps the most famous of all — the giant tortoise.



Princeton Global Science: Your book Galapagos: A Natural History describes many of the flora and fauna of the Islands. What are some of your favorite species? Do you have any photographs or illustrations you could share?

John Kricher: As an ornithologist I obviously like birds and the Darwin’s finches and various seabirds of the Galapagos are real favorites. I very much enjoy visiting the waved albatross colony, for example. Plus the fact that where else is it possible to observe penguins and flamingos in close proximity to one another? Answer, no where else. And, of course, I very much like the reptiles of the Galapagos, the giant tortoises and the marine and land iguanas.

PGS: What are some of the species that Darwin studied? Are they still found on the islands?

JK: Darwin studied the Galapagos mockingbirds, the group that helped him to see the reality of evolution and he studied the famous Darwin’s finches. Those groups are still present and abundant.

PGS: Mockingbirds? We always hear about Darwin’s finches. Why aren’t mockingbirds given as much prominence in the Darwin narrative?

JK: Darwin found the mockingbirds much easier to study while he was on the islands. He saw that only one kind occurred on each island and that they were different from island to island (four species in all). He thought it odd that separate species should be on different islands given that the islands were so similar. The finches were somewhat overwhelming to him at the time. He didn’t even recognize that all were finches, thinking one to be a warbler or wren and another to be a blackbird.

PGS: Have there been any new species introduced on the Galapagos Islands since the time of Darwin’s travels?

JK: Too many “new species” have been inadvertently introduced ranging from goats to various aggressive non-native plants. Introduced species are a major threat to the ecology of the islands.

PGS: The Galapagos are now a popular tourist destination. What has this meant for the Islands’ biodiversity and habitat?

JK: Tourism helps preserve the biodiversity because it gives the Ecuadorian government reason to be diligent about its laws and conservation practices. Without tourism I doubt that many of the native species would endure.

PGS: Which species are most endangered at this point? And what can people do to help?

JK: The most endangered are species such as the Galapagos penguin, which has declined quite a bit and species such as the Charles Mockingbird and Medium Tree-Finch. Likely the most endangered is the Mangrove Finch. Tourists should just respect the boundaries set by park officials and guides and try to understand that endemic species on islands such as Galapagos are usually very susceptible to invasive species and habitat loss. Opinions matter and the more folks adopt conservation values, the more likely it will be that the islands and their unique flora and fauna will endure.

PGS: What is your favorite anecdote or story about Darwin?

JK: Darwin failed to accurately record which islands he took finch specimens from and had to use the finch collection of Captain Robert Fitzroy instead of his own, when he got back to England and analyzed his specimen collection. Those finches were very influential in making Darwin and evolutionist and bear the name today of Darwin’s finches. Perhaps they should be called “Fitzroy’s Finches.”

PGS: How would you recommend people celebrate Darwin Day?

JK: Celebrate DD by thinking about the sweeping, indeed remarkable history of life on planet Earth, the only planet known to have life and consider how life has adapted over its 3.8 million year history to all the vagaries of climate, geology, etc. and the challenges that face biodiversity in this century.

PGS Dialogue: Thalia Grant & Greg Estes, co-authors of Darwin in Galapagos #darwinday

To celebrate Darwin Day, we are interviewing our Darwinian authors. Earlier I posted a Q&A with David Reznick focused more on Darwin as author. Here we speak with Thalia Grant and Greg Estes, authors of Darwin in Galápagos: Footsteps to a New World about Darwin as an explorer. Thalia and Greg are in the unique position of having retraced, step-by-step, Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos. Here they speak about the challenges they faced in following in Darwin’s footsteps and also the insights they gained from the experience. Hover over the images to read descriptive captions.

You might also enjoy reading this excerpt from their book.

PGS: Your book Darwin in Galápagos: Footsteps to a New World takes readers step by step along Darwin’s travels. How did you reconstruct his expedition to write the book?

Our first discovery: Darwin’s first landing spot in Galapagos.Thalia Grant & Greg Estes: Greg and I came up with the idea to retrace Darwin’s footsteps through Galápagos after discovering that although it was known which 4 islands Darwin visited in Galápagos; it was not clear where on these islands he explored. In order to determine Darwin’s movements through the archipelago, we needed to examine his written works.

We traveled to England to immerse ourselves in archival research; to examine Darwin’s writings, and most importantly his original notes and manuscripts. Today all of Darwin’s works can be found on Darwin Online, but at that time his notes and manuscripts were buried deep within the Darwin archive of Cambridge University Library. There we unearthed, among other gems, a full volume of untranscribed geological notes that contained important clues to where Darwin had explored in Galápagos. At other repositories in England we found the log of HMS Beagle, and Captain FitzRoy’s charts of the archipelago, which showed the Beagle’s routes and bearings.

On Darwin’s trail into the highlands of Santiago Island.We then returned to Galápagos with all we had learned and embarked on our expedition. Some of the places Darwin explored were easy to pinpoint, others challenging. Some were found by trial and error, by going to places that sounded right in terms of the ship’s general anchorage, and when not finding the formations Darwin described, having to re-examine the clues and the coast line repeatedly until we got it right. It helped that both of us knew the Galápagos intimately from having spent years conducting ecological research on various islands and, in Greg’s case, leading natural history tours through the archipelago.

PGS: What are some of the challenges you faced in tracing Darwin’s footsteps?

TG & GE: Many of the places that Darwin led us to were off the beaten track, and new even to us. There were times when the terrain was “perilous”, the vegetation impenetrably thick, the seas and landing conditions unforgiving, and the heat withering, but the biggest challenges (and frustrations) we faced were where Darwin had left scant, vague, or even contradictory clues as to his movements. Nonetheless it was all very thrilling …like a treasure hunt …and a successful one at that.

PGS: Which areas of the Islands have changed the most/least since Darwin’s visit?

Greg collecting a sample of fresh water from the seep where Darwin got his drinking water while camped out on Santiago Island.TG & GE: The 5 inhabited islands have changed the most: Baltra, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela. Darwin visited three of these islands (San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela), only one of which (Floreana) was inhabited at the time. The fourth island he explored (Santiago) has also undergone significant changes. The changes are a result of human activities within the islands and the exotic organisms that people have brought to the islands, both on purpose and by accident. We discuss many of the changes in our book. The islands that have remained most intact ecologically are the smaller, drier, uninhabited islands that lie at a distance from the more disturbed, larger islands.

PGS: Is there a single place in the Galápagos that most influenced Darwin’s theories of evolution?

TG & GE: It was the fact that Darwin visited not just one, but several islands in the Galápagos, that was important. It was the geographical distribution of the Galápagos organisms Darwin observed and collected, and his recognition of their affinity to organisms found on the South American continent and their representation as similar but distinct species on the different islands of Galápagos, that convinced him of the mutability of species. So in this sense, all the islands he visited were equally important.

Duplicating Darwin’s measurements of streams of basalt in a scoriaceous cliff, at Buccaneer Cove on Santiago Island.However if we were forced to pick just one place that was pivotal to his thinking, it would be Floreana. It was on Floreana that Darwin met Nicholas Lawson, the acting governor of the island, who told him the all-important fact that the tortoises of Galápagos differ in size and carapace shape between islands. It was on Floreana that Darwin first recognized that the mockingbirds differ between islands. The Floreana mockingbird looked distinct from the mockingbird he had just seen and collected on San Cristobal, and this inspired him to pay particular attention to their collection on the next two islands he visited.

PGS: What is your favorite anecdote or story about Darwin?

TG & GE: Darwin’s diary is full of wonderful anecdotes from various places he visited throughout the voyage, and several passages written in and about Galápagos vie for attention. He writes briefly about riding a tortoise, pushing a hawk off a branch with the muzzle of his gun, catching birds in a hat, and feeding land iguanas pieces of cactus, over which they fought like dogs with a bone. But my favorite story is when Darwin explored Beagle Crater on Isabela Island.

Dismanting camp and are “throwing” our gear down the cliff, on to the landing beach, where it can be loaded onto the boat. The green plastic containers are 5 gallon jugs that contained our drinking water for the duration of our stay.Beagle Crater is the grandest tuff crater in the archipelago, and Darwin, being primarily a geologist at the time, was clearly eager to explore it. However the conditions were less than favorable. The sun was burning, the day baking hot, and because the ship was low on drinking water, Darwin and the rest of the Beagle men were on half rations. It is an arduous climb to the top of Beagle Crater, from where he started. You can imagine Darwin’s reaction when, parched and panting he reached the summit, to be rewarded with a magnificent view of an immense glistening lake in the centre of the crater. He rushed and tumbled down the inner slope in his hurry for a drink, only to find the water as “salt as brine”. His disappointment was twofold; he was unable to quench his thirst and it meant that the Beagle would not linger to take on water, and he would not have the opportunity to climb to the top of one of the island’s immense shield volcanoes.

PGS: How would you recommend people celebrate Darwin Day?

TG & GE: Other than by buying our book? I would say, go for a walk outside. Go to the woods, or an open field, or down to the beach, and observe. Contemplate, as Darwin did, “an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth,” and reflect that it was the contemplation of the natural world that resulted in an idea that revolutionized the world. As we become increasingly alienated from the natural world, I can’t think of a better antidote, nor a better way to celebrate Darwin’s life.

PGS Excerpt: Charles Darwin: The Power of Place by Janet Browne #darwinday

What better way to celebrate Darwin Day then by revisiting a portion of the definitive two-volume biography of Charles Darwin by Janet Browne. The two volumes, Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place are without peer for their insight on Charles Darwin’s life. The concluding volume, The Power of Place was winner of the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and the prestigious Pfizer Prize, History of Science Society in 2004. Here, I am pleased to present an exclusive excerpt drawn from the first chapter of this award-winning book. This is but a taste and I encourage all Darwin-ophiles to read the complete biography.

Please note this is available only in a PDF format.

PGS Exclusive: George Levine, author of Darwin Loves You on #darwinday

George Levine is the author of Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World and editor of the forthcoming volume The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now. His point of view is unique among our authors because his background is not in the biological sciences or evolutionary studies. He is an English professor. In fact, he was one of my English professors at Rutgers University.

In this brief article, Dr. Levine questions whether Darwin would have ever (as has been reported) repented his beliefs. He also addresses the question of “how does one live now with [Darwin’s] well-tested theory?”

I was once challenged by a very kind and gentle woman. “You know,” she said, “that Darwin repented on his deathbed.” No, of course I didn’t know that, but I did shortly after learn that the idea is part of a whole series of total misconceptions about Darwin that are designed to demonstrate that Darwin had been wrong about evolution, and thus that it hadn’t happened and wasn’t happening. The wrongness of all of these ideas is so absolute that they are beyond contradiction, which is part of the problem. Evidence will do nothing to change that gentle woman’s view. Nevertheless, there is a wonderful little book by James Moore that investigates the myth of Darwin’s repentance in all seriousness, and totally confutes it. Although Darwin is now probably the most thoroughly documented historical figure in the history of the English speaking world, there isn’t a whimper of evidence that he “repented.”

What is striking about the current continuation of mid nineteenth-century attacks on Darwin’s ideas (nobody dared attack him as a man, he was so meticulously respectable, and likeable, and buried in Westminster Abbey) is that anyone thinks that one can continue to fight about evolution as one fights about strategies to overcome our current economic problems. Do you “believe” in evolution? It is like asking, “Do you believe in gravity?” There are of course many disagreements and uncertainties among scientists about precisely how evolution works, but the problem is not whether it works. That is a given of all modern biology, as the great biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky argued half a century ago. Modern biology has taken Darwin and run with his ideas so that even his secret deathbed repentance would not affect in the slightest the developments in evolutionary biology since his time.

For lay people, the real question is, how does one live now with his well-tested theory? The fact that its most important founding father was such a nice guy and that so many of its early proponents were so eminently respectable (T. H. Huxley, for example), and even religious (Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray, for example) probably shouldn’t be taken as quite sufficient evidence that there’s no necessary connection between belief in evolution and wickedness. Nor even Stephen Jay Gould’s elaborate theorizing that science and religion are not conflicting ways of seeing and feeling, but belong to “non overlapping magisteria.”

But reading Darwin should do it. While some of his work might, for the lay reader, be a little dry, with lots of “dry facts,” as he put it, On the Origin of Species is a book full of wonder, and, as Adam Gopnik wrote recently, makes the whole world “vibrate.” Darwin had nothing to repent for, except, as he gently and sadly complained in his Autobiography, he hadn’t done enough good things in the course of his amazingly productive life. There is no reason that Darwin’s vision of the world should threaten anyone’s idea that life is meaningful. He described the world as it is, full of the bad things we see around us every day, and miraculously beautiful and diverse, and endlessly worth preserving; it is a world that has produced people capable of real generosity – “altruism” – which, as Frans de Waal, among others has been showing us, is built into our worldly human bones. Darwin’s determination to face the world as he found it has helped us grow up, and to seek meaning right here in the extraordinary world he described with such fidelity. He told us the truth as he knew it, and he had nothing for which to repent.

PGS Dialogue: David Reznick, author of The Origin Then and Now #darwinday

To celebrate Darwin Day, we are interviewing our Darwinian authors. First up is David Reznick who is the author of The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species. Of the book, SEED Magazine wrote, “Reznick . . . succeeds where others have failed–instead of annotating the dense, Victorian prose of the Origin or recasting it as a popular narrative, he paraphrases each chapter of the book, adding fascinating elaborations on why Darwin chose a certain phrase, where he turned out to be wrong, and how the intervening 150 years have changed our theories. His account is a welcome tool for those who’d like to hear evolution from Darwin himself but find the master impenetrable.”


In this brief interview, Reznick talks about the initial response to On the Origin of the Species and why it continues to be such an important book. He also has a few suggestions for how to celebrate Darwin Day this year.


If you are in Calgary, David will present the 26th Annual Darwin Lecture tonight.

Princeton Global Science: You make the point that in spite of being one of the most important books ever written and being cited thousands of times, The Origin of the Species is a rather difficult book to read, right?

David Reznick: Yes. Also, it is cited far more often than it is read, I think. The difficulty lies in part in its being rooted in the science of 1859, so some of the ways he presents things are foreign. A second reason is that he had a much broader command of science than most people do today, so he skips lightly from geology to paleontology to comparative embryology to anatomy, etc.

PGS: Do you mean that the public at large had a broader command of science or that scientists were more inter-disciplinary?

DR: I actually mean both. Scientists have tended to become more and more narrow in their areas of specialization as science has grown. Darwin could be up on all of geology and the life sciences, but no one today can do so because there is now so much more to know. The general public can certainly have a better appreciation of what science is and of what evolution is.

PGS: How was The Origin of the Species received at the time it was written? Did people understand just how important this book was and would be for future scientists?

DR: Yes, it was received as a major contribution from the very beginning. Darwin already had a good reputation as a scientist and was well known to the general public because of his “Voyage of the Beagle”, so the book was taken seriously. It was also as controversial from the start as it is today. It was quite successful in making the case for evolution, but less so for natural selection.

PGS: I thought the case for evolution and the case for natural selection were one and the same. Can you explain this further?

DR: Actually, they are not. There was a long history to evolution that preceded Darwin. His grandfather wrote about it in the 18th century. Lamarck proposed a theory of evolution in the early 19th century. A widely read popular science book published in 1844 entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation proposed a theory of evolution as well. Its reception by the scientists of the day was like our reception of tales of the abominable snowman and alien abductions, but it still got people thinking about evolution. It can be said that these predecessors prepared the way for Darwin. He brought much more coherent and extensive science to bear on the problem. Plus he proposed a mechanism that causes evolution, which was natural selection. In this regard, the two were separable from the start.

The fault with natural selection is that it assumed inheritance. In a later book (Variation under Domestication) Darwin proposed a mechanism of inheritance that was soon proven to be wrong. The way many people thought inheritance worked was inconsistent with natural selection.
When Mendel’s principles were rediscovered in 1900, they too were thought to be inconsistent with evolution by natural selection and were at first used as an argument against it.

PGS: How did Darwin deal with the controversial reception of his book?

DR: He did not engage in public debate nor did he generally respond to bad reviews. He corresponded extensively with others who were more than happy to defend him, like Thomas Huxley in UK and Asa Gray in the US. He also published books that promoted his ideas. He released a revision of the Voyage of the Beagle in 1860 in which he rewrote his observations and how they influenced him in a way that accommodated his later discovery of evolution.

In 1861 he published a book on fertilization in orchids in which he did an end run on those who argue that nature is too complex and beautiful to be the product of natural selection. He showed that the complexity of mechanisms by which orchids are fertilized and the complexity of their flowers can easily be explained by natural selection. He later published The Descent of Man, where he applied his principles to human evolution. There he especially expanded on sexual selection, which he proposed in Chapter 6 of the Origin. He also published the two-volume The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, which is a giant expansion on Chapter 1 of the Origin.

Incidentally, while Huxley was a staunch defender of evolution, he was not a fan of natural selection. Michael Ruse looked up all of his final exams at what is now UC London and found that he never asked a question about it.

PGS: What is one of the largest misconceptions about The Origin of the Species?

DR: Well, there are many. One is that some scientists today argue that Darwin promoted sympatric speciation as the sole mechanism of speciation and competition as the sole mechanism of natural selection. He promoted both, but also presented a diversity of other ideas. You can find this point made in one of the reviews of my book<, written by my competitor who wrote The Annotated Origin for Harvard U. Press.
Another, promoted by Ernst Mayr, is that the book is really not about the origin of species, but rather is just about variation and natural selection. Mayr is guilty of applying a 1942 definition of species to a book written in 1859. He was a better biologist than historian.

PGS: Were any of Darwin’s theories later proven incorrect?

DR: He argued correctly that evolution did not cause progress, except in one regard, which is that descendent species would always be in some way superior to those of that they replaced. The idea was that descendent species drove their ancestors to extinction. He argued that you could not see the superiority just by looking at them, but that if you could in some way bring the animals of the past into interaction with the animals of today, that the contemporary fauna would “annihilate” them.

He may have been correct in principle, but our new knowledge about mass extinction dictates that the pattern of replacement is different from what he imagined.
Secondly, he was dead wrong on how inheritance works, as were all others before 1900 except Gregor Mendel. It was the absence of a known mechanism for inheritance that played a big role in the rejection of natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary change before 1930.

PGS: Why is reading The Origin of the Species as important (more important) now than at any point in history?

DR: First, it remains a very lucid explanation of evolution as a theory, meaning as a unifying concept for the life sciences. While not intended as such, it is a potent argument against creationism and intelligent design, which is why they continue to focus their arguments on the Origin. One interesting feature that distinguishes it from modern books on evolution is the scope of science that is well explained. A final reason is that it gives you a good appreciation for the growth of ideas in science. Features of the Origin are certainly dated, but once you understand the Origin you can also appreciate how it became a guiding light for so much science that followed. Right or wrong, it did more than any one work to shape the way the life sciences were pursued thereafter. If you understand the Origin, then you can see how this happened. It also lead to the origin of new disciplines, such as branches of statistics that deal with individual variation, genetics (the Origin stimulated interest in inheritance that lead to Mendel’s rediscovery), quantitative genetics and population genetics.

PGS: What is your favorite anecdote or story about Darwin?

DR: His father saying that he would amount to nothing and be an embarrassment to his family. This occurred when he returned from medical school in Edinburgh at the age of 18 and announced that he did not want to be a doctor.

PGS: And now people are celebrating his birthday two hundred and one years later. Speaking of which, how would you recommend people celebrate Darwin Day?

DR: Well, buy my book so you can understand the Origin. To be less self-serving, I would say buy a copy of the later edition of the Voyage of the Beagle. It is very interesting and readable, but also is a window to how Darwin developed his theory. The catch is that the copy you buy will likely be the revision published in 1860. It thus postdates Darwin’s publishing of the Origin and contains many revisions not seen in the 1838 edition.

How will you celebrate Darwin Day?

Darwin Day is tomorrow, so it’s time to start planning for the festivities Here’s a suggestion — check out the PUP blog for Q&As and articles from our authors and exclusive excerpts from some of our Darwin books.

In the meantime, head over to the official Darwin Day site to check out their events calendar, videos of people explaining why they celebrate Darwin Day and a bunch more information.

Speaking of events, if you are in Calgary, plan to hear Dr. David Reznick give the 26th Annual Darwin Lecture tonight at the University of Calgary. Details are here.

The image above can be found at the Darwin Day web site.