Book by UC Riverside biologist explains Darwin's 'Origin of Species'

November 9, 2009
Book by UC Riverside biologist explains Darwin's 'Origin of Species'
UC Riverside biologist David Reznick is the author of "The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species." Credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

Many people have tried to read Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species," whose publication celebrates its 150th anniversary this month, but gave up.

For them and others who would like to know what the book is about, help by way of a new book is at hand.

World-renowned David Reznick is the author of "The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species" (Princeton University Press, 2009), which makes Darwin's book (hereafter "the Origin") more accessible by explaining its historical context, and converting it into more modern terms. Reznick's book also explains the immediate and longer term impacts of the Origin.

"I have taught the Origin to more than a dozen classes, and felt that I had figured out why Darwin's arguments were so hard to follow," said Reznick, a professor of at the University of California, Riverside. "His Victorian prose is a small part of the problem. The bigger part is that the book is rooted in the knowledge of science in 1859, which is quite different from today. To understand the book, it helps a great deal to understand the context in which the book was written and the audience that Darwin was addressing."

In his book, Reznick weaves in material from not only Darwin's earlier work, but also his monographs on barnacles. He also includes biographical material and brief descriptions of some of the mentors and contemporaries who helped shape Darwin's ideas, and who may have come into conflict with Darwin after the appearance of the Origin.

"To the best of my knowledge, no other book combines an explanation of the Origin with a definition of the historical context and of the differences in the way Darwin defined and how we define it today," Reznick said.

Reznick hopes his book will expand the general public's knowledge of both Darwin and evolution.

"Anyone who reads my book will get more than an explanation of the Origin," he said. "They will also get a sense of the growth of an idea and how science works."

Reznick's background research for writing the book was a product of his teaching and his hobby of reading works by Darwin, his contemporaries, his biographies, and about the history of science. Painstakingly, he also read the original literature that followed the Origin, from 1860-1918, then the modern synthesis classics that appeared in the 1930s and later.

"I also followed Darwin's lead of making heavy use of correspondence," Reznick said. "He was famous for writing letters and seeking input from experts all over the world by making best use of the efficient Victorian postage network. I used the Internet."

Source: University of California - Riverside (news : web)

Explore further: 'Darwin's delay' the stuff of myth

Related Stories

'Darwin's delay' the stuff of myth

March 28, 2007

The long-held view that Charles Darwin avoided publishing his theory of evolution for 20 years because he was afraid of the reaction it would provoke is being rebutted as a myth by a Cambridge University academic.

Why didn't Darwin discover Mendel's laws?

February 27, 2009

Mendel solved the logic of inheritance in his monastery garden with no more technology than Darwin had in his garden at Down House. So why couldn't Darwin have done it too? A Journal of Biology article argues that Darwin's ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.