This Week’s Word Is “Darwinism.”
When a book about evolution drops through my letterbox, I pretty much know it will end up in a Word Wednesday column. Particularly if it’s are as gorgeous as Sabina Radeva’s retelling of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
“We see beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world.”
What is the On the Origin of Species?
Never read the On the Origin of Species? Feel like you ought to? Well now you can (sort of), and share the pleasure with your children, with this beautifully illustrated overview of Darwin’s work. Sabina Radeva’s picture book retelling is a slim hardback aimed at children 9 years and upwards.
The book marries history, art, and science, starting with Darwin’s scientific forerunners, before going on to detail his explorations on board the Beagle, and the formulation of his theory, once back home. It explains the variance of creatures amongst a single species before showing how these variations came about. In simple terms, the book lays out the essential tenets of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
After explaining the theory, the book then details the difficulties Darwin had proving his theory, describing the potential holes in it, and how Darwin explained them. There’s a really great page that explains how the perfection of the eye (a common complaint raised by naysayers) can be explained by evolution.
Radeva tackles some quite complex science including the “Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings” and comparative embryology. In the appendices, she further fleshes out the science behind Darwin’s theory. Before those appendices is a single page 5 point Conclusion which succinctly sums up the “Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.”
The book concludes with some recommended reading of more children’s books that focus on evolution, a glossary of terms, and best of all, a field guide for some of the insect illustrations found in the book.
Why Read On the Origin of Species?
“A grain in the balance will determine which individual shall live and which shall die – which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease and finally become extinct.”
If you’re looking for an accessible science-based account of the Theory of Evolution, it’s hard to imagine a better one than this. It looks amazing and dissects the theory into easily digestible chunks. It’s never too wordy or boring and gives engaging pictorial explanations of each of the concepts it lays out.
As well as explaining the theory of evolution, the book describes the cultural and scientific climate of Darwin’s day. There are some biographical touches too, including a Darwin family tree, which is a nice addition giving Darwin some context as a person, rather than just a super-famous scientist. (Personally, as a child, I had great difficulty relating to famous scientists as being real people. They seemed almost like super-beings who only did science.)
The book is worth picking up for its gorgeous end pages alone. I love butterflies and was fascinated by them as a child. The illustrations at the start and end of the book are sweet sugary nectar to butterfly fans.
The appendices that appear at the back of the book take in some tricky concepts. They greatly aid the filling out of the theory and explain how our understanding and reporting of evolution has…err…evolved since Darwin’s time. They might be a little dense for younger readers, but take up only a couple of pages.
There’s also a great section on common misconceptions about Darwin’s theory too. This is a great way to heighten your understanding of the subject and helps readers see the wood from the trees.
Having these more complicated details removed from the main text means they don’t overwhelm on early read-throughs. They won’t put readers who aren’t quite ready to go that little bit deeper. The appendices are there for consumption when the reader is ready.
In a world where scientific understanding is increasingly called into question, writers like Sabina Radev and books like On the Origin of Species are needed to ensure that future generations can easily access and understand the fundamentals of the subject. It’s never been more important that dispassionate but appealing teaching of science is put into our children’s hands. They need a strong grounding to help overcome the shouty conspiracy theorists and crackpot science deniers that increasingly threaten to overwhelm sensible discourse.
This book gives exactly that sort of grounding. Critical thinking is paramount and Radeva’s book is a great tool in helping the next generation understand evolution and the science that underpins it. Children everywhere should have access to On the Origin of Species. This is a book that needs to be in libraries and schools, everywhere.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of On the Origin of Species, you can so here, in the US and here, in the UK. There looks to be a new US edition coming out in October.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.