Collecting Evolution: The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin

While laypeople (still) debate the work of Charles Darwin 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, most don't know evolution did not become established scientific fact until the 20th century. Science relies on proof, and though Darwin's time in places like the Galapagos Islands was enough to spark the notion that became evolution, others had to follow in his geographic footsteps and find evidence for his claims. In Collecting Evolution, scientist Matthew J. James lays out one of the most important trips to the Galapagos in the wake of Darwin: the 1905-6 expedition by the California Academy of Sciences.

Originally a trip to burnish the institution's reputation, the voyage became the organization's lifeline when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed virtually all of its holdings; the eight men learned halfway through their expedition that their work would help start the museum from scratch. James weaves the personal histories of the men with that of the Academy, and of course the work of Darwin, showing how two visits to the Galapagos had unexpected reverberations in science and culture.

By shedding light on the latter visit, James reveals the riveting story of a museum recuperating from disaster, and of science at the dawn of the 20th century. For a book that has "The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin" as a subtitle, however, it doesn't do a good job of explaining that vindication. Still, for those looking for an interesting take on the history of science, Collecting Evolution is a good pick. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
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