441 pages, 60 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
James T. Costa takes readers on a journey from Charles Darwin's youth and travels on the HMS Beagle to Down House, his bustling home of forty years. To test his insights into evolution, Darwin devised experiments using his garden and greenhouse, the surrounding land and his home-turned-field-station. His experiments yielded universal truths about nature and evidence for his revolutionary arguments in On the Origin of Species and other watershed works. We accompany Darwin in his myriad pursuits against the backdrop of his enduring marriage, chronic illness, grief at the loss of three children and joy in scientific revelation. At each chapter's end, Costa shows how we can investigate the wonders of nature, with directions on how to re-create Darwin's experiments.
"The immense library available on Darwin's life and contributions may seem exhaustive. James T. Costa, writing only as a modern naturalist of the first rank can, shows us how drastically wrong that perception has been. If you've ever fantasized walking and conversing with the great scientist on the subjects that consumed him, and now wish to add the fullness of reality, read this book."
– Edward O. Wilson, author of Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life
"A really interesting read about a really important character."
– Daniel Pink, PBS NewsHour
"A passionate but balanced celebration of [Darwin's] lifelong obsession with enquiry."
– Henry Nicholls, Nature
– David Dobbs, New York Times Book Review
"Readers will enjoy the tales Costa tells and the experience of re-creating some of the famous naturalist's most enlightening work."
– Sid Perkins, Science News
"Darwin's Backyard drives home how science is a cumulative, constantly evolving endeavour. All of this makes Darwin's experimental world a wonderful teaching tool. [...] Fortunately, each chapter closes with Darwin-inspired experiments to try at home. Costa more than achieves his stated goals of revealing the evolution of Darwin's insights and the relevance of his methods now."
– Henry Nicholls, Nature
"An unusual look at the daily creative life of a great scientist, with opportunities to dig in and observe the workings of nature first hand using methods very similar to his own."
– Shelf Awareness
"A charming book about Darwin's homespun experiments."
– Clare Pettitt, Times Literary Supplement
"[Darwin's Backyard] takes readers on a journey [...] revealing how [Darwin] found universal evolutionary truths in simple yet ingenious homespun experiments."
– Publishers Weekly
"If you think that evolution is 'just a theory,' without a firm background in the real world – read this book and learn. If you've never met Darwin as worm whisperer, seed sorcerer, honeybee helper and lots more, read this book and savor the encounter. If you simply love science and how it works – and are ready for some creative projects you can do yourself – read this book and get ready to fall in love even more!"
– David P. Barash, professor of psychology emeritus, the University of Washington, and author of Out of Eden: Surprising Consequences of Polygamy
"So much more than a biography. [...] Devoted scientists, neighborhood naturalists, and Darwin devotees will all find inspiration within these pages. [...] [Darwin's Backyard] is accessible and fun."
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James T. Costa is a professor of biology at Western Carolina University, executive director of Highlands Biological Station, and a trustee of the Charles Darwin Trust. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.