Monday, February 9, 2009

Books about Charles Darwin: 5 best

James A. Secord, the editor of Darwin's Evolutionary Writings (Oxford, 2008), is the director of the Darwin Correspondence Project and professor of the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University.

Number One on his list of the five best books about Charles Darwin:
The Tree of Life
by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003

It might seem surprising to begin a column on books about Charles Darwin with a children's title (age 8 and up), but this delightful volume is a superior introduction for all readers to the great naturalist. The delicate drawings and diagrams -- displaying animals, plants, instruments, portraits, maps -- lend to the book the flavor of a gorgeously illuminated medieval manuscript. Peter Sís's images, like Darwin's own writings, invite the reader to observe carefully and make connections. The emphasis on detail comes across best in a cross-section of the Beagle, the ship that took Darwin around the world. This is a book to think with and an ideal way to escape the mindless polemics (and hero worship) that will inevitably crop up during the 2009 bicentenary of Darwin's birth on Feb. 12. Give it to your kids, if you can stop looking at it long enough yourself.
Read about the other four titles on Secord's list.

--Marshal Zeringue