I never thought I’d look at formaldehyde aesthetically. Through the lens of the adept nature photographer Susan Middleton, the archives of the California Academy of Sciences—those taxidermied beavers and parrots, rows of pinned beetles, jars brimming with lizards—receive a clean framing and a fresh styling. The Academy’s Evidence Of Evolution (Abrams, $29.95) includes tortoise-shell shapes, lizard coloration, and, of course, the slight variations in finches’ beaks; these are vivid real-world illustrations of the evidence that led Darwin to his theories. The at-times elusive processes, patterns, and phenomena are further clarified in the sparkling and approachable text by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Her historical account of evolutionary discovery goes beyond Darwin’s cult to depict the contributing discoveries of Lyell, Goethe, Mendel, and Wallace, also taking time to dwell upon the history of evolution, and the curve ball of climate change.
This gorgeously illustrated edition of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species (Sterling, $35) presents the renowned scientist’s work in lavish detail. The text is the original 1859 version that took London by storm, triggering debates that persist 150 years later. Editor David Quammen offers a compelling portrait of Darwin as a duty-bound scientist, quietly battling the status quo to express his remarkable discovery. Quammen’s exhaustive annotation includes revealing sketches from Darwin’s personal journals, beautiful photographs of the animals Darwin saw, and news clippings and editorial cartoons from the period.
What On Earth Happened? (Bloomsbury, $45) is a marvelous family present—adults will love it and they can read it with their older children. Christopher Lloyd, a science writer, has fashioned a highly readable history of Earth by time periods, employing scientific discoveries, history, religious and technological developments. The book is illustrated with maps, photos, and gorgeous reproductions of art masterpieces. Humility is called for: scientists estimate that animals emerged onto land 400 million years ago, modern humans evolved in Africa only 130,000 years ago and spread to other continents around 50,000 years ago—and the first powered flight took place merely 100 years ago.