Charles Darwin never shied away from controversy and, more than 100 years after his death, his groundbreaking theories on evolution continue to draw fire. In that spirit, it's almost fitting that the author/scientist is at the center of an unusual publishing situation: two strikingly similar books on his work are being released, at roughly the same time, from two different houses.

On September 30, Running Press published its 1,260-page Darwin: The IndelibleStamp ($29.95). The book, edited by DNA discoverer James D. Watson, collects the scientist's four seminal works—On the Origin of the Species, Voyage of the Beagle, The Descent of Manand The Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals—in one volume, with an introductory essay by Watson that links his own work in modern genetics with that of his inimitable forebear. Stamp will soon be competing with a book from Norton that features the same four works. From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books is a $49.95, 1,504-page tome, due November 7, edited by Darwin scholar and Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson. It features an introductory essay by Wilson and separate introductions by the scholar to each of Darwin's books, along with an index that links Darwin's 19th-century concepts with current biological thought.

So how did it happen that such similar books are hitting at roughly the same time? The story centers on Wilson, who was originally under contract to do a Darwin book with Running Press. According to Wilson's attorney, John Taylor Williams, Running Press's former associate publisher Carlo DeVito approached Wilson last year with an idea for a book that would collect Darwin's four aforementioned major works, and he commissioned an essay from Wilson for the project. After Wilson turned in his essay, Williams said, no one at Running Press returned calls about missed payments or the work itself. When DeVito left Running Press in February 2004, Williams said he didn't know about the departure until he read the news in PW. "We had problems getting a contract, getting paid for signing it or hearing from anyone for months after we submitted [the essay]," Williams said. Williams eventually returned the two payments he'd received for his client from Running Press and took the project to Norton, where Wilson was under contract for his next book.

Running Press's take is slightly different. Publisher Jon Anderson, who had just joined Perseus as Wilson was exiting, said no one at the house knew why Wilson left. "He submitted the manuscript and then he decided he didn't want to do the book and we let him out of his contract. We then decided to approach James Watson instead." According to Anderson and publicist Sam Caggiula, no one at Running Press knew of Norton's book until they saw it in a catalogue at BEA in May.

Still, Anderson is confident there's a market for both books. And while price may be a factor—Wilson's book is more lavishly priced but also contains more original content—the cachet of the authors may be the deciding factor for science buffs and Darwin enthusiasts. "[They are] two prestigious authors. Wilson certainly has his following and Watson is a Nobel laureate. Both are approaching the subject from a different direction," Anderson notes. And, he added, if a little controversy is stirred up over the whole matter, it might even help the books. Stamp, which had an initial printing of 50,000, "has been doing very well for us," Anderson said. Whether Wilson's book, also going to press for 50,000 copies to start, will bite into Stamp's business is yet to be determined.