Charles Darwin; Evolution of a Naturalist

Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Naturalist
by Richard Milner

(Illus.; from the Makers of Modern Science series)
Facts on File, Inc.
1994
176pp.
0-8160-2557-6
Glossary; Index
YA, C **

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This is a marvelously written, easy-to-read volume that reviews Charles Darwin' s development as a biologist-naturalist from his childhood through the voyage of the Beagle and subsequently to his eminence as a naturalist-philosopher-evolutionist. The text clearly shows, systematically and step by step, how Darwin observed, developed, questioned, sought answers, hypothesized, and finally unified concepts in his Origin of Species. An example involves Darwin's study of flower structures and his subsequent belief that they had coevolved with insects, so he predicted the discovery of a bizarre moth with a proboscis 10 to 11 inches long as the pollinator for Christmas Star orchids found on the island of Madagascar. Subsequently, some 40 years later, despite the incredulity of many entomologists, a night-flying moth with a 12-inch coiled proboscis was discovered and was named "Predicta"--the moth that had been predicted. This delightful book is filled with vignettes and discussions about key concepts Darwin spent his lifetime studying, but more importantly, it places these in the framework of the Victorian world that Darwin lived in. It includes quixotic glimpses of the Victorian lifestyle, including the role Darwin played as a part-time police court magistrate and his exposÚs of spiritualist mediums, whom he saw as "clever rogues." For science students, this small book really describes and illustrates the gradual development of a new paradigm in natural history and biology that increasingly unified diverse fields of science. The book describes the incremental changes leading to paradigm change-transformation, as described in Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980), and also amply illustrates the paradigm shift, as described in Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970). As Milner points out, through Darwin, diverse fields of science were unified, leading to the development of a series of new questions and, eventually, to the view Darwin himself held that "uncertainty is an acceptable and inevitable part of knowledge and its acquisition." This biography is suitable for serious high school science students and would make an excellent supplementary text for college introductory biology classes. It would be especially useful in discussion group sessions, because it is easy to read, interesting, and filled with a variety of excellent photographs and illustrations that illustrate the Victorian sense of the book. The text also would be suitable for use in general education-general science types of classes at the college level that deal with current issues and topics. Because it is so interestingly written and explores the nature and process of natural history observation, the book would make an interesting addition to courses in natural history, field biology, and evolution at the college level. For students in natural history and field biology classes, the text is replete with small vignettes that illustrate and add to most contemporary texts used in these fields. For example, Milner describes an incident that took place when Darwin was reviewing the bird collections he had made on the Galapagos Islands. After some years, he realized that he had not bothered to tag many of the specimens with the names of the particular islands they had come from, because at the time, there seemed to be no reason to do so. Later, he realized and noted that "All observations must be for or against some view if they are to be of any service" to the scientist. I highly recommend this book to any serious reader of science.

--Reviewed by Robert Goode Patterson in Science Books and Films, 30/8 (November 1994), p. 236.