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News about Darwin

In response to:

Evolution Toward What? from the February 7, 1980 issue

To the Editors:

Since writing a review of various books about evolution for you [NYR, February 7], I have received an extraordinarily attractive illustrated edition of the Origin of Species, prepared by Richard Leakey.* With this, layman or specialist can enjoy Darwin’s precise argumentation and simple prose with the advantage of illustrations of many of the topics discussed. The pictures have been chosen with great imagination and are often a help to understanding the text—for instance where he deals with the adaptions of woodpeckers. Many are excellent colored views of animals and others help to evoke Darwin’s meanings. A striking etching of a Victorian slum illustrates problems of population and the discussion on Beauty is helped not only by two pretty African girls but by the shapes of ammonites and protozoans.

The text has been abbreviated by the omission of some repetitions and examples. No indication of the deletions is given, but they are not irritating, as might have been feared. There are no additions to Darwin’s clear prose, but in a few places where it seemed suitable a short note is added (in distinct type). Thus there is a brief explanation of continental drift, with an excellent picture (how this discovery would have pleased Darwin!).

Leakey and his consultants Bynum and Barrett also provide an introduction, in which modern views of evolution are set out simply and accurately. At no point does this edition try to add to the work of its distinguished author. Indeed one finds oneself hoping that somewhere Leakey will tell just a little of the recent discoveries about the origin of man (which would also have fascinated Darwin). But it was not to be. Only in one rather feeble picture are we shown the succession from the ape-like Ramapithacus to modern man. Leakey and his consultants and publishers give us Darwin’s great book, embellished, but without intrusion. I thought your readers would like to hear about this, as well as the books reviewed previously.

J.Z. Young

The Wellcome Institute

for the History of Medicine

London

  1. *

    The Illustrated Origin of Species by Charles Darwin abridged and introduced by Richard E. Leakey; W.F. Bynum and J.A. Barrett, consultants. Hill and Wang, 240 pp., $25.00

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