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By: Judith Hooper
377 pages, Bw photos
In the early 1950s Dr Bernard Kettlewell went into the woods with a mission - to catch 'evolution in action'. He believed a black variety of the peppered moth thrived in industrial areas because camouflage on blackened trees protected it from predatory birds. His work became 'Darwin's missing evidence', and his findings, immortalised in biology textbooks, are now as firmly embedded in our cultural consciousness as e=mc2.
But Kettlewell overlooked two details: peppered moths do not normally rest on tree trunks. And birds do not usually eat them. When a rival lepidopterist made these observations, the British scientific establishment ranged itself against him. In Of Moths and Men Judith Hooper travels back to a cloistered academic community populated by vying groups of eccentric naturalists, and unravels the full story behind the most famous experiment in twentieth-century evolutionary biology. She tells a tale which has, up until now been silenced; a tale of imperfect science, Darwinian zealotry, delusion and heartbreak. A compelling journey into the moonlit world of the lepidopterist, Of Moths and Men is also an evocative exploration of the mysteries of evolution and a fascinating psychological dissection of the ambitious scientists who will ignore the truth for the sake of fame and recognition.
'A riotous story of ambition and deceit.' Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter 'A salutary and fascinating tale in which the men get as muddled up as the moths.' The Times 'Extraordinary, even-handed, highly entertaining and scrupulously researched.' TLS 'An absorbing account of a flawed if not fraudulent experiment reveals an all-too human side to scientists that will annoy professionals and enthral laypeople in equal measure.' Guardian 'Hooper gives a valuable reminder that even scientists can be underhand, incompetent and less than objective...She warns us that 'lepidopterists can be crushing bores if you're not one of them'. Thankfully, despite a large cast of those enthusiasts, the book is never dull.' Scotland on Sunday
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