WEIT is a summer reading pick

Well, summer’s just over now, but I learned today that WEIT was chosen as one of five recommended 2013 “Summer Reads” by Sophie Roell, editor of the very useful Five Books site.  (She interviewed me a few years back about my picks of the five best evolution books for the tyro.)

The other summer books are Amanda’s Wedding by Jenny Colgan, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and Influence, by Robert Cialdini.  I’ve read the Collins book (one of the few “mystery books” I’ve ever liked) as well as the one by Cialdini, and can recommend them both. The others are unknown to me.

I can’t resist reproducing the recommendation for WEIT:

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

I started reading this book because I never did study evolution or much biology at school and I really started feeling that deficit when even my aged four-and-under children could fox me with questions like, “Do snakes lay eggs?” I never expected reading this book to be a profound experience, but it was. The fact that the book is setting out to prove, to potentially sceptical US citizens, that evolution is indeed true, makes it highly readable and engaging: it’s not just a textbook saying “This happened and then that happened.” And the writing at the end, when Coyne tries to explain why evolution is a wonderful thing, something to embrace rather than run away from, is really quite beautiful. It made me look at the world around me — the leaves on the trees, the groundhog on my backdoor step — with a new kind of wonder. Plus my children are very well-informed now, and know they are closely related to apes (at least on their father’s side).

Think of the children!

50 Comments

  1. Achrachno
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “I can’t resist reproducing the recommendation for WEIT”

    And you shouldn’t resist. Congratulations! It’s a lovely review and it should draw in more readers for WEIT.

  2. Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    WEIT remains my favorite popular book on evolution (and I’ve read a TON.) I think it is the best one out there and always recommend it first to anyone who asks. If they’re willing to read a second I recommend Prothero’s, “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters.” Congrats! Well deserved – hope WEIT gains a whole new audience.

  3. Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    What a nice, well-written recommendation by her! Congratulations, that should lead many others to read it.

  4. D. Taylor
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Way to go, Jerry! That’s terrific.

  5. Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Re: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins “one of the few ‘mystery books’ I’ve ever liked.”

    The Moonstone, “generally considered the first detective novel in the English language,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moonstone) is even better than Woman in White.

    I love talking about books!

  6. gbjames
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Congrats!

  7. Stephen Barnard
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Cangratulations on the pick. It’s well deserved.

    Bring Up the Bodies is excellent, but it’s the second novel in a planned trilogy. It would be best to read Wolf Hall first (which is equally good). The story turns the popular conception of the reign of Henry VIII and the English Reformation on its head, making Thomas Cromwell the hero and Thomas More a vicious religous fanatic.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      “Thomas More a vicious religous fanatic” – sounds about right!

      • Dominic
        Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Religious…

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          I’ve always been a poor speller.

  8. lancelotgobbo
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Bring up the Bodies is the second part of a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell – Henry VIII’s “fixer” who eventually got on the wrong side of his master. If you think modern politics are dirty, it will open your eyes!

  9. sgo
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Congratulations. And, I want to echo post 7: Bring up the Bodies is truly excellent. Just as good as Wolf Hall, indeed, and I strongly recommend both. There’s a third one in the making, too, and I am very much looking forward to it.

    The writing of both is really excellent (they both won the Man Booker Prize). One stays close to Thomas Cromwell, and sees the world and court of Henry VIII through his eyes. The sentences are short, and very lively. Both books were great pleasures to read.

  10. M Janello
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    The Woman in White is on Project Gutenberg:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/583

  11. Posted September 26, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I fully agree on her assessment for WEIT. I had used it for many years in my senior capstone class, and it was clear that my students also enjoyed it. It is still my favorite among the many trade books for evolution.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    It’s shocking (though I’m starting to wonder why I’m shocked still) that the person who recommended WEIT had not taken any biology or learned about evolution in school.

    • Chris
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I don’t remember learning much about evolution at school in the UK. I stopped doing biology & chemistry aged 14. However I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere that treated evolution as anything other then true.

      I also haven’t read WEIT. I probably need to be expelled.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        I learned about evolution in grade 10. Maybe that’s how we role in The Republik of Kanukistan, at least in the 80s.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          Actually I think it was grade 9 science. We had to take science until grade 10.

    • TJR
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I also don’t recall doing much on evolution even in A level biology.

      I think it was just assumed that we’d all seen Life on Earth so they didn’t need to say any more.

    • Notagod
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I had to get signed permission (reluctantly signed by my mother) to take a short three week class that lightly touched on evolution in high school.

  13. Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Well-deserved accolades, Prof. C!

    I love the Woman in White — an excellent read.

  14. Dennis Hansen
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Congrats, Jerry!
    I tell first-year vet students every year that they should read Quammen’s “Der Gesang des Dodo: Eine Reise durch die Evolution der Inselwelten”, and WEIT (I haven’t found any link to a German version yet – anyone?).

    Yes, I teach at a German-speaking university ;) Four double-lectures; that’s all they’ll ever get about evolutionary ecology, before they start cutting open pigs and stuffing their arms into cows; poor sods.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you teach at a German speaking university; I thought you were just hard core and I kind of thought that was ok since I often read German books for some of my archaeology work. :)

      • Dennis Hansen
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

        Hmm, maybe I should suggest my English-speaking students to read the German versions, too. ‘Hardcore ecologist’. Kinda sums it all up nicely! :D
        -where do you do your digging?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          where do you do your digging? Only from an armchair :) I’ve worked in high tech for my entire working career. I’m one of those people who uses her training in odd, omni directional ways.

  15. Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Plus my children are very well-informed now, and know they are closely related to apes (at least on their father’s side).

    Minnor (or maybe not!) nitpick…but her children, of course, are apes, as both their parents, and they’re closely related to chimpanzees (which are also apes), and almost as closely related to the other great apes, and less closely related to the other apes, to monkeys, to primates, to mammals, to tetrapods and vertebrates, to eukaryotes, and to everything else alive on this Earth that isn’t in one of Dr. Venter’s labs.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Indeed, nicely put Ben. She needs to read Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      Don’t take it so literally, Ben. I took it to mean that Ms Roell is claiming divine descent for herself… ;)

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Congrats, Jerry!

    Though endlessly aiming at improvement, I will be happy the day people disfavor “closely related to apes” for “clades within apes”. Just to make it as explicit as possible that evolutionary creationism is a no-no.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      … and then my poor web connection let me update, I see the point is already made by Ben.

  17. Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Kudos!

    From her review: “I never expected reading this book to be a profound experience, but it was… And the writing at the end, when Coyne tries to explain why evolution is a wonderful thing, something to embrace rather than run away from, is really quite beautiful.”

    I agree.

  18. JBlilie
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    But of course! Congratulations!

    “my children are very well-informed now, and know they are closely related to apes ” — fixed that for her.

  19. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Congratulazione!

  20. Sophie
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Jerry for posting this! A very nice surprise to wake up to here in Beijing.
    It’s only been a few months, but I somewhat regret two of my choices.
    For historical fiction I wish I’d chosen, I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Not that the Hilary Mantel aren’t great, it’s just that I, Claudius (and its sequel, Claudius the God) are my first loves and less in the news right now so worth reminding people of.
    I also wish I’d chosen a different chick-lit book, I’d forgotten about Helen Fielding’s Cause Celeb, by the author of Bridget Jones, but less well known. It’s very, very funny. She ends up going to Africa and organizing a concert for famine victims so it’s also about more than just getting married…

    On the science studying issue: I did study biology up to ‘O’ level in the UK, but evolution was not on our syllabus (although two of Darwin’s descendants, Clare and Lucy Darwin, were at the school…).

    On the closely related to apes issue – I love the fact people have pointed this out. I hesitated when writing it, but I wanted to make the joke about my husband, which wouldn’t have worked if I’d been completely accurate! I’m afraid at the end of the day I’m a writer and not a scientist…But I will read the Ancestor’s Tale. Good idea.

    The main thing: we are all in agreement that Jerry’s book is fabulous.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      I, Claudius and the sequel are great reads. I was drawn to the novels by the BBC TV production with Derek Jacobi as Claudius. The story is similar in spirit to Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, in that they both stand received history on its head — Claudius as the shrewed survivor instead of the crippled fool, Cromwell as the capable, reflective, generous if ruthless statesman, instead of Henry’s thuggish henchman. (It’s clear to me that Mantel’s Cromwell was an atheist.)

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        shrewd. :-)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget the portrayal of Augustus as the nice old gent. Augustus was ruthless and manipulative just like his father (by adoption), Caesar (he just did it better); it’s what made him so successful. I love I Claudius but the bad thing is every time I hear “Claudius” I think “Claw, Claw”.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Augustus was played as an elderly, avuncular character, nostalgic for the Republic, but he had a dark side. He alone understood Claudius’s acuity, and warned him of threats, particularly from Tiberius. I think the BBC series was faithful to Graves.

          The young Augustus in the HBO series Rome was sufficiently ruthless and manipulative. Great series, BTW, and well worth a rental on iTunes or wherever. I wish for a Rome II.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

            I was afraid to watch Rome in fear it would be unfaithful to history. Perhaps I’ll give it a shot and get over my phobia.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

              Diana, it’s my opinion that the creators of HBO’s Rome worked well within the parameters of historical fiction. Nothing happened that might not have happened (AFAIK), the story line is plausible, complex, and multi-theaded, and the characters are fleshed out. The writing, acting, and production values are first rate.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                I hope the outfits are good. I see people walking around in full body armour (cuirass & grieves & everything) & people just wouldn’t do that as it would uncomfortable & impractical.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                I like the way every episode opens with Roman graffiti, often obscene, and spookily animated, presaging or recapitulating the story line. I rank this as the best TV production ever, IMO of course.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                The rude Roman graffiti will be worth it alone. I’ll check it out! I remember learning about some of the graffiti in Pompeii (where I’m sure they got a lot of it for the series) & a lot centred on gladiators and their paternal member!

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Sophie,

      If I might put on my amateur editor’s hat for a moment…I think the ape gag would have been even funnier and wouldn’t have set off the hackles of us nit-pickers had you just left off the “closely related to.” Something like this: “Plus my children are very well-informed now, and know they’re actually apes (at least on their fathers side).”

      Cheers,

      b&

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      You will love The Ancestor’s Tale, I promise. It’s very long; but when I had finished it, I was sorry it was done (always an excellent sign!)

      I fully agree with you on Graves: Magnificent writer: His non-fiction as well as his fiction.

      And: Thanks for commenting here! :)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Yes you will love the Ancestor’s Tale. Friends bought me a hard copy back when it Forst came out!

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      Sophie, count me as one who knew exactly why you set up the joke the way you did and thought it worked wonderfully. Sheesh, nitpickers, give it a rest!

  21. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Of course we got the joke. I just took it to mean you were claiming divine descent for yourself. But you know this site, even as we appreciate humour, we can’t resist nitpicking it… ;)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      That was meant to be a reply to Sophie, of course…

  22. Diane G.
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    And sub.


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