Friday, November 21, 2014

Booknote: Darwin: A Graphic Biography

Eugene Byrr and Simon Gurr, Darwin: A Graphic Biography. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2013. ISBN:  9781588343529

This was a short book for young readers that I enjoyed very much. The author presents the life of Darwin in a creative way: a group of apes on APE-TV are doing a documentary on the life of Charles Darwin. It's an amusing and cute way to frame a story for young readers. However, don't think this is just some cute book for children. This book is a pretty solid and substantial biography of Darwin that also explains his theory and ideas in a clear, precise, and easy to understand language. The illustrations are good and go along with the science concepts well, making the science more accessible.

I would say this book is a good introduction to Darwin the man and his work. If you felt a bit intimidated by On the Origin of Species, this graphic novel explains the key ideas in a clear and simple way. The graphic novel is not comprehensive, but it is definitely a good introduction that may encourage readers to read more about Darwin, his work, and the work of other scientists. That is an important point. Darwin was not alone in his inquiries. However, he was the one to really explore, investigate, and shape what became known as the theory of evolution in a synthesis. Furthermore, other scientists, as science advanced, have worked on and expanded Darwin's theory. It is a theory but not in the sense that religious fundamentalists misuse the word, which is to mean a hunch or guess. As the author explains, "a theory is a hypothesis that has been tested by observations and experiments" (94). The author even adds that if you can come up with a better theory and produce enough evidence to support it, then you could prove evolution wrong. That is science. Scientists accept that: testing, observation, experiments, and the possibility a theory can change But evolution so far has been proven true, and modern advances in genetics and molecular biology continue to prove evolution true. That is how science works, which is well explained in this book. It certainly is something you can show some misguided fundamentalist when they say, "it's just a theory."

Overall, this is a very good book. Darwin's tale is inspiring, one that many young readers will enjoy. Boys and girls with a budding interest in science will likely find encouragement here. Darwin was not great just because. He worked hard, was perseverant, and curious. Like me, it took him a bit to figure out what to do in life, but he found his passion and went on to move science forward. In addition, this is a good book for adults as well. It is well written and nicely illustrated, a good biography of the man and explanation of his ideas. It uses a bit of light humor to make it entertaining. For adults wanting to learn about Darwin, this is a good start. The author includes a small bibliography listing further works for people who want to learn and read more.

I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

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