A new general book on evolution by Steve Jones (and one on climate change by Prince Charles)

I often get emails from parents asking if there are good books on evolution for their kids. I’ve recommended some (Grandmother Fish is quite good), and some day I’ll compile a list, though I haven’t read them all and really can’t compare them. But at least I can call your attention to new ones. In this case it was reader Michael who told me about two new books, one on climate by Prince Charles (and coauthors) and the other (aimed at adults, but probably useful for older kids) by my old friend Steve Jones, an emeritus professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London. Michael wrote about both books from England:
There is news today that Ladybird Books is publishing a new book co-authored by Prince Charles on climate change
Ladybird Books is an iconic children’s books publisher – anyone learning to read in Britain in the early 60s knows [and loves] the brand from that and also the “Learn about” series of instructional books for [mainly] children
These books have an instantly recognisable appearance [layout, style of illustration, slim, hardback]; and recently the imprint has tried to recapture their old audience with fairly jokey titles for adults such as their guide to The Hangover & The Hipster [these & similar have also been published for the US market as “The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to…”, but I doubt that it will catch fire over there without the history!]
Anyway, I had a look around and discovered there’s one coming out on Evolution by Steve Jones.
The Amazon site has a very thin description of Steve’s book. There is, however, a funny “about the author” bit undoubtedly written by Steve himself:

Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and is one of the world’s top six experts of snail population genetics (the other five agree).

Here’s the book, coming out January 26; it has 56 pages, and so is a short read:


There’s more information on Steve’s book from  the Kobo site:

Part of the new Ladybird Expert series, Evolution is a clear, simple and entertaining introduction to Charles Darwin’s pioneering and revolutionary theory of how all life changes through natural selection.

Written by broadcaster, prize-winning author and geneticist Professor Steve Jones, it explores the extraordinary diversity of life on our planet through the complex interactions of one very simple theory.

You’ll discover the common origins of dogs and Brussels sprouts, how it is we’re all mutants, where wings, ears and tails came from, why sex is good for you, how some dinosaurs evolved and survived, and why human evolution may finally have stopped. [JAC: I disagree with that, and so do many others. There is plenty of evidence that human evolution has NOT stopped.]

Written by the leading lights and most outstanding communicators in their fields, the Ladybird Expert books provide clear, accessible and authoritative introductions to subjects drawn from science, history and culture.

For an adult readership, the Ladybird Expert series is produced in the same iconic small format pioneered by the original Ladybirds. Each beautifully illustrated book features the first new illustrations produced in the original Ladybird style for nearly forty years.

If you want a quick overview on evolution, this might be the book for you. For a more comprehensive take aimed at scientifically literate adults (no degree required), check out Oxford University Press’s Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. That “VSI” series, which now includes over 400 titles on subjects as diverse as quantum mechanics, French cinema, and free will, is a great way to get up to speed on lots of things. There’s even a VSI on atheism, I believe by Julian Baggini.

And the BBC News describes Prince Charles’s book on climate change, which, I trust, is more scientifically sound than his views on homeopathy. Judging from the cover, it looks to be:




  1. Carl
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Another small disappointment of life – Prince Charles writes a book, and Christopher Hitchens is not alive to review it.

  2. Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    The baker’s shop is nothing to do with me.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      I was going to ask! Soggy bread for ducks…

  3. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Funny. First person I worked for as a student did snail population genetics. I had a sense it was a pretty big field, being easy animals to sample and all that.

  4. Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    The book appears to be about natural selection, not evolution.

    And if Jones is still pushing his crazy idea that human evolution has stopped then you (Jerry) should not be recommending it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I remember Jones’ pushing, but had forgotten that John Hawks had written about it, with far more anthropologist expertise:

      “Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

      10 Oct 2008

      I’m usually pretty measured when I respond to dumb ideas about evolution reported in the press. After all, scientists are often misquoted, or misunderstood by reporters. So, I didn’t really think it was worth writing about this story covering a lecture by UCL geneticist Steve Jones. After all, I’m hardly going to attend a faculty talk in London, and there’s really no news here – Jones has been arguing for more than ten years that human evolution has slowed or stopped. …

      Why it’s wrong

      What I haven’t yet seen, in all the commentary, is a short and simple refutation for each element of his argument. Let me lay out the components of Jones’ argument, …

      In this case, Steve Jones has defined the “rate” of evolution in a very particular way, to come to the story that he prefers.

      I generally don’t mind when prominent people say silly things about evolution. It gives the rest of us a chance to explain why they’re wrong, and teach about the mathematical basis of evolution as we do it. In this case, it’s sort of sad: Jones is out there making arguments and selling books, but he’s clearly trapped in the pre-genome era.”

      [ http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/evolution/selection/jones-evolution-stopping-2008.html ]

      So it is another decade, and Jones has *still* not learned how to do modern genomics! [Insert your own snail science joke here.] And is still pushing his antiquated, erroneous ideas in books meant to educate…

      • Larry
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        John Hawks does good work and is a very effective educator. He is worth listening to.

      • Posted January 16, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        It seems to me that anyone arguing that evolution *in any species* has stopped, doesn’t really understand evolution. I could understand a non-specialist layperson thinking something like that, but not a biologist.

  5. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    For a brief introduction to evolution, it’s hard to beat this HHMI video.

    • Larry Moran
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      It appears to be a brief introduction to natural selection. There’s more to evolution than just natural selection.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see bonnie Prince Charlie is better on the climate than he is on homeopathy, but as far as I’m concerned, they could put that stuffed-shirt in a can with his great-uncle Prince Albert (Edward VII), another heir presumptive who took up with a divorcée.

    But, then, I hold with Denis Diderot that mankind will never be entirely free “until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Hell, I’m iffy on inherited wealth, let alone inherited power and privilege.

    • Carl
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Well, if I can’t have Hitchens, I’ll take this.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, Hitch didn’t care much for Chuck, even less for Her Ladyship Di.

    • BJ
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      “…took up with a divorcée.”

      You say that like it’s something contemptible…?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        Hey, many of my favorite people are divorcées; it’s the royals I can’t stand.

        • Larry Moran
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          Presidents are soooo much better.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

            Some of them, I can’t stand either.

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Prince Chuck’s take on climate change: it’s real, and THERE WILL BE SO MUCH MEDICINE YOU GUYS!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      It was great-uncle Edward VIII. Edward VII was his great-great grandfather (if I’ve counted correctly). Edward VIII needed to be got out of the way anyway – he was a fan of Hitler.

  7. Steve Pollard
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    1. I have some difficulty in believing that Big-Ears has written this book all by himself. It will be interesting to see who has written it for him.

    2. The ‘Ladybird’ books go back to the 50s, and were well known in their day for presenting quite grown-up subjects in language that kids could understand and relate to. Over the last couple of years, some spoof ‘Ladybird’ books have been published (usually to coincide with the Christmas market), such as ‘The Ladybird Guide to the Hipster’, or ‘The Husband: How it Works’, using some of the period illustrations to the original books. I do hope that Big-Ears’ book is not placed in the wrong category by mistake.

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I bet that he didn’t write anything, just put his name on the cover. Esp. if the book is good.

    • Posted January 16, 2017 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      The importance of Ladybird books can’t be overstated. They were used to teach generations of us to read so this is a big deal.


      I’ve got half a dozen of Jones’s adult books but I think I’ll add this to my collection for old time’s sake.

    • Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      The spoof ladybird books were what I thought of too. They’re not bad for a quick giggle and have now also been followed by spoof ‘I-Spy’ books and short ‘Famous Five’ books, my favorite of which is ‘Five Go on a Strategy Away Day’

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Follow-up: according to The Times today (Monday 16 Jan), the manuscript was checked by a team of experts, who also “amended some of the more assertive language to ensure it was bulletproof”. The Prince’s “co-authors” are Tony Juniper, former executive director of Friends of the Earth, and Emily Shuckburgh, a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey.

  8. Jonathan Dore
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Blogger Crispian Jago did a couple of delicious spoof Ladybird books a few years ago: “The Ladybird Book of Atheist Buses” (http://crispian-jago.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/ladybird-book-of-atheist-buses.html) and “The Ladybird Book of Chiropractic Treatment & English Libel Law”, part of the “Quacks and Shysters” series (http://crispian-jago.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Ladybird%20Books)

  9. BJ
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m morbidly curious about a book on climate change by His Royal Highness (but what he so often seems to be high on is what I’d really like to know).

  10. phoffman56
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    They mention the origin of Brussels sprouts, but Philomena Cunk already told us about that a few weeks ago in the video Jerry pointed us to:

    IIRC, it happened when a pea somehow had sex with a cabbage.

  11. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Being on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I’d never heard of Uckfield before and had to go look it up. Turns out the Uck River regularly floods the town, even without the help of climate change.

    Yes, that’s why it caught my eye. I don’t suppose anyone who lives in the area has ever made a joke on the name.

    • Lars
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      The competition is stiff. There’s an Isle of Muck in the Hebrides.

    • Christopher
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      There are some great descriptive names in the UK:
      Bell End, Worcestershire
      Brown Willy, Cornwall
      Boggy Bottom, Hertfordshire
      Twatt, Orkney
      Nob End, South Lancashire
      Fanny Barks, Durham
      Scratchy Bottom, Dorset
      Minge Lane, Worcestershire

      And then there’s Bitche, Pussy, Anus, Condom, and Craponne, in France. Of course that may not be fair, being in another language, but then the French laugh at the Teton mountains, which in French means tits, so fair play, I guess.

      • Posted January 16, 2017 at 3:37 am | Permalink

        Amusing as those names are, imagine living here:


      • Dominic
        Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Ugley in Suffolk,
        Six Mile Bottom in Cambridgeshire,
        Nether Wallop in Hants.

        • Allen Linville
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Dildo and Come By Chance, Newfoundland…

      • Posted January 16, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        The Grand Tetons are aptly named. And funny even in English.

        • Charles Phillips
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

          Those saucy French…. I live near the Mumbles in Wales and they have a similar etymology:
          “The headland is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands which comprise the headland: the word ‘Mumbles’ may be a corruption of the French ‘les mamelles’, meaning ‘the breasts’.” (wikipedia)

        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

          Locally, a pair of mountain peaks which are now known as The Lions were referred to as ‘Sheba’s Paps’ by previous generations.

          Earlier still, they were known as the Twin Sisters to the Squamish people.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted January 16, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Not to mention the village of F*cking in Austria.

        • Posted January 16, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          Supposedly they had crack down severely on visitors stealing their signs!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Damn! Beat me to it.


        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted January 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          … and Wankers Corner in Oregon.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 16, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        And for those who write net-Gestapo software based on word searches, there’s
        and innumerable Piddles


    • CJ Klok
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      And here I thought the cover artist of Charlie’s book was just ucking with us…

  12. Helen Hollis
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    On one hand he can dismiss science, on the other he seemingly embraces it?
    Is there anyone else that is confused by this?

    • kieran
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      Not really, he is passionate about conservation so climate change is bad. He also has weird ideas about the natural world as such he only listens to science that conforms to that and ignores the rest.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      He loves homeopathy but cares deeply about the natural world.

  13. dabertini
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I knew in grade 5 that humans were still evolving when my teacher told the class that eventually humans would be born without a pinky toe because we had no use for it. Take that Steve Jones!!

  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I went through primary school with Ladybird books, and Janet and John books (for learning to read). The first Janet and John book was called ‘Father is Asleep’. I still remember bits of it, including Janet and John saying, “Wake up, father, wake up.” He woke up in a much better mood than mine would have in the same circumstances! 🙂

    I’ve still got lots of my Ladybird history books. They’re what gave me a love for the subject.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      We had Dick and Jane books.

      “See Dick run. Run, Dick, Run.”

      They were an American series, popular from the 1930s to the 1960s. That they were used in Canada was more cultural Imperialism than Appropriation.

      Wiki claims that first editions go for as much as U$200.

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