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From the Stacks 

November 24, 2009

On “Origin” and “Evidence”

Being a librarian, I tend to think of my work life as a series of questions and answers. Answering questions is essentially what I do for a living, and answers are the product of a hard day’s work.

I was quite happy to pick up Evidence of Evolution, a new book with text by Mary Ellen Hannibal and photographs by Susan Middleton, and see that it begins with questions.

Quoth Mary Ellen: “Why do butterfly wings have so many different patterns, and if a snake is a reptile and an eel a fish, why do they look so similar? A hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin addressed these questions with the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species. In it, Darwin posited the theory of evolution based on natural selection as the answer.”

150 years ago today – November 24, 1859 – Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published. Evolution was not a new idea, but the concept of descent with modification, the idea that change is powered by modifications in gene frequency over time, driven by a process dubbed “natural selection” captured the scientific imagination. All the copies of Origin (only about 1,250 were printed in the first run) sold out on the first day.

It is a fitting time to celebrate the publication of Darwin’s great work alongside the release of Evidence of Evolution. This new book features spectacular photographs of specimens from the Academy’s research collections, accompanied by text that illuminates how scientists see and use these specimens as, well, evidence for evolution.

It is the sign of an important question that we’re still contributing to the answer 150 years later.

Evidence of Evolution, photography by Susan Middleton and text by Mary Ellen Hannibal is available for purchase from the Academy’s Scientific Publications.

Since a copy of a first edition of Origin just sold for $172,000 US at auction, picking up a copy of Evidence of Evolution is a more affordable way to commemorate this momentous day.

Keep asking questions!


Filed under: Photography,Research — Librarian @ 12:55 pm

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