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Book by UC Riverside Biologist Explains Darwin’s “Origin of Species”


Book by UC Riverside Biologist Explains Darwin’s “Origin of Species”

Book also offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today

(November 9, 2009)

Book cover of “The <i>Origin</i> Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the <i>Origin of Species</i>” (Princeton University Press, 2009).  For a photo of David Reznick, please see below.  To view a video of Reznick, click <a href=here." height="297" width="200" />Enlarge

Book cover of “The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species” (Princeton University Press, 2009). For a photo of David Reznick, please see below. To view a video of Reznick, click here.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Many people have tried to read Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” whose publication celebrates its 150th anniversary this month, but gave up.

For them and others who would like to know what the book is about, help by way of a new book is at hand.

World-renowned evolutionary biologist David Reznick is the author of “The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009), which makes Darwin’s book (hereafter “the Origin”) more accessible by explaining its historical context, and converting it into more modern terms. Reznick’s book also explains the immediate and longer term impacts of the Origin.

“I have taught the Origin to more than a dozen classes, and felt that I had figured out why Darwin’s arguments were so hard to follow,” said Reznick, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. “His Victorian prose is a small part of the problem. The bigger part is that the book is rooted in the knowledge of science in 1859, which is quite different from today. To understand the book, it helps a great deal to understand the context in which the book was written and the audience that Darwin was addressing.”

In his book, Reznick weaves in material from not only Darwin’s earlier work, but also his monographs on barnacles. He also includes biographical material and brief descriptions of some of the mentors and contemporaries who helped shape Darwin’s ideas, and who may have come into conflict with Darwin after the appearance of the Origin.

“To the best of my knowledge, no other book combines an explanation of the Origin with a definition of the historical context and of the differences in the way Darwin defined evolution and how we define it today,” Reznick said.

Reznick hopes his book will expand the general public’s knowledge of both Darwin and evolution.

“Anyone who reads my book will get more than an explanation of the Origin,” he said. “They will also get a sense of the growth of an idea and how science works.”

Reznick’s background research for writing the book was a product of his teaching and his hobby of reading works by Darwin, his contemporaries, his biographies, and books about the history of science. Painstakingly, he also read the original literature that followed the Origin, from 1860-1918, then the modern synthesis classics that appeared in the 1930s and later.

“I also followed Darwin’s lead of making heavy use of correspondence,” Reznick said. “He was famous for writing letters and seeking input from experts all over the world by making best use of the efficient Victorian postage network. I used the Internet.”

Reznick began writing his book in February 2007. He completed the first draft in May 2008. The final length of his book almost equals the length of the first edition of the Origin.

About David Reznick:

At UCR, Reznick studies evolution as a contemporary process and performs experiments on natural populations of organisms. He and his students study guppies (small freshwater fish that have been the subject of long-term studies) and test predictions from different facets of modern evolutionary theory in natural populations on the island of Trinidad.

His current research includes studies of the interaction between evolution and ecology in these fish. He also studies the evolution of placentas in the fish family that includes guppies, and is using this work as a model for the empirical study of complex characters.

Early in his career, he succeeded in experimentally testing predictions of evolutionary theory in natural populations of guppies. While doing so, he showed that the rate of evolution in nature can be very high, on the order of 10,000 to 10 million times faster than had been inferred from the fossil record.

He decided to take up a career devoted to evolutionary biology when he was a senior in Washington University, Mo., from where he graduated in 1974. He obtained his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. Subsequently, he was a research associate at the University of Maryland, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. He joined the UCR faculty in 1984.

Reznick was the Faculty Research Lecturer for UCR in 1998. In 2003, he was a recipient of the prestigious E. O. Wilson Prize from the American Society of Naturalists, which honors an active investigator who has made significant contributions to the knowledge of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms. In 2009 he was elected vice president of the American Society of Naturalists.

He has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications in internationally peer-reviewed scientific journals and in edited books on evolutionary biology.
UC Riverside biologist David Reznick is the author of Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species." Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications." height="600" width="400" />Enlarge

UC Riverside biologist David Reznick is the author of "The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species." Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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