Harris Center Reads: Darwin

February 4, 2021   |   Susie Spikol

A Natural Selection of Great Reads

Welcome to Harris Center Reads — a monthly, curated list of good reads for curious naturalists of all ages! February’s post is dedicated to fellow naturalist Charles Darwin, who was born 212 years ago this month and whose work is still making waves today. Discover how other writers, thinkers, and illustrators have come to view him, and explore the times in which he lived by curling up with one of these engaging books.

For Adults

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books by Charles Darwin, with an introduction by E.O. Wilson. This tome gathers four of Darwin’s most seminal works —Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845), The Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) — all in one place. An insightful introduction by E.O. Wilson outlines the monumental meaning of Darwin’s theories and their continued relevance in our world.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen. A deeply engaging biography of Darwin by one of the best science writers around. Gloria Maxwell of Library Journal described this book as “a concise, tightly focused, engaging, and informative biography that…provides a satisfying portrait of this controversial man.”

Darwin Comes To Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen. Join an urban ecologist on a fascinating journey through natural selection in modern times, and find out how animals are evolving before our very eyes.

John Edmonstone: The Freed Slave Who Inspired Charles Darwin by Melissa Pandika. If you’re looking for a short but thought-provoking read, check out this OZY article about John Edmonstone, a freed Guyanese slave who not only taught Darwin the art and skill of taxidermy but may also have inspired him to study the natural world. Darwin used the techniques he learned from Edmonstone to preserve bird specimens during his famed voyage aboard the Beagle. This story hasn’t been made into a book yet, but it ought to be!

Picture Books for Kids

Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure by Jennifer Thermes. Follow along with Charles Darwin as he sails to South America aboard the Beagle! Brightly illustrated with a map of his travels and filled with text that highlights Darwin’s wonder and curiosity, this wonderful biography shows how Darwin’s trip inspired his thinking and ultimately changed how we see the world.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Picture Book Adaptation by Sabina Radeva. This beautiful introduction to the complex topic of evolution combines simple, concise phrases with detailed scientific illustration. A perfect read for curious 8- to 11-year-olds.

For Middle School Readers & Teens

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. This work of narrative non-fiction for middle school readers and up explores the relationship between Darwin and his wife Emma. As Charles’s theories on evolution begin to take shape, how will they impact his marriage to his deeply religious wife? A Harris Center staff favorite and a finalist for the National Book Award, this book is both poignant and informative.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller and Nicolle Rager Fuller. With stunning illustration and design, this version of On the Origin of Species is a great resource for biology students trying to get a handle on Darwin’s theories.

Where to Find These Books

BUY. We’d like to give a special shout-out to our local bookseller, Toadstool Bookshops in Keene and Peterborough! They’re open for in-person shopping, and they also sell online.

BORROW. In addition, many local libraries are offering curbside pickup, as well as a wide variety of eBooks and other digital options. Check with your town library for more information.