Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory

James T. Costa. Norton, $27.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-393-23989-8
Charles Darwin is best known as a great theorizer of ideas on the origin of species, human evolution, and a wealth of other topics that have stood the test of time, but Costa (Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species), professor of biology at Western Carolina University, demonstrates that he was an equally remarkable experimentalist. Costa combs through Darwin’s notebooks and letters as well as biographies of him to present an impressive array of experiments that Darwin conducted (each chapter concludes with experiment instructions for readers). According to Costa, whether Darwin was working to elucidate the phylogeny and reproductive biology of barnacles, the construction of beehives, the nature of plant pollination, or the biology of earthworms, his “mind was always churning, turning out remarkable insights from the grist of simple observations.” In every case, Darwin was collecting data to support his broad evolutionary ideas and to “solidify [his] evolutionary vision of a truly universal Tree of Life.” Costa also uses Darwin’s experimental work to make a broader point about the methodology of science and the importance of data relative to opinion. Costa nicely explains what Darwin discovered, discussing those rare cases where he got something wrong and using the findings of modern science to extend Darwin’s conclusions. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2017
Release date: 09/05/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-393-24915-6
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