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Good Reads  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution

Unnatural Selection

Art / Photobook Popular Science New
By: Katrina van Grouw(Author)
304 pages, 150 b/w illustrations
Van Grouw returns to Princeton with another magnificently illustrated book, honouring Darwin's legacy of looking at what domestic animals breeds can tell us about evolution. Read our Q&A with Katrina van Grouw
Unnatural Selection
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  • Unnatural Selection ISBN: 9780691254050 Hardback Jun 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £41.99
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About this book

Read our interview with the author here.

Please note that the 2023 version is an unmodified reprint of the original 2018 book.

Unnatural Selection is a stunningly illustrated book about selective breeding – the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it's a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scale – a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We'd call it evolution.

A unique fusion of art, science, and history, Unnatural Selection celebrates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's monumental work The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, and is intended as a tribute to what Darwin might have achieved had he possessed that elusive missing piece to the evolutionary puzzle – the knowledge of how individual traits are passed from one generation to the next. With the benefit of a century and a half of hindsight, Katrina van Grouw explains evolution by building on the analogy that Darwin himself used – comparing the selective breeding process with natural selection in the wild, and, like Darwin, featuring a multitude of fascinating examples.

This is more than just a book about pets and livestock, however. The revelation of Unnatural Selection is that identical traits can occur in all animals, wild and domesticated, and both are governed by the same evolutionary principles. As van Grouw shows, animals are plastic things, constantly changing. In wild animals the changes are usually too slow to see – species appear to stay the same. When it comes to domesticated animals, however, change happens fast, making them the perfect model of evolution in action.

Suitable for the lay reader and student, as well as the more seasoned biologist, and featuring more than four hundred breathtaking illustrations of living animals, skeletons, and historical specimens, Unnatural Selection will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in natural history and the history of evolutionary thinking.

Customer Reviews


Katrina van Grouw, author of The Unfeathered Bird (Princeton), inhabits that no-man's-land midway between art and science. She holds degrees in fine art and natural history illustration and is a former curator of ornithological collections at a major national museum. She's a self-taught scientist with a passion for evolutionary biology and its history.

Art / Photobook Popular Science New
By: Katrina van Grouw(Author)
304 pages, 150 b/w illustrations
Van Grouw returns to Princeton with another magnificently illustrated book, honouring Darwin's legacy of looking at what domestic animals breeds can tell us about evolution. Read our Q&A with Katrina van Grouw
Media reviews

"This massive and breathtakingly beautiful book uses artificial selection – the means by which breeders promote desired traits, turning 'tame populations into more beautiful, more useful, more productive, more efficient, or simply different versions' – to elucidate the processes of evolution itself."
– Julie Zickefoose, Wall Street Journal

"[A] witty, exquisitely illustrated book."
– Alison Abbott, Nature

"Unnatural Selection feels like an homage to the standards of a bygone publishing age, through its large-format pages and its use of heavy sepia-coloured paper, but especially in van Grouw's lovingly detailed monochrome drawings."
– Mark Cocker, The Spectator

"Van Grouw's beautiful anatomical illustrations are as informative and scientifically rigorous as a statistical plot but also as aesthetically pleasing as the pieces hanging in an art gallery [...] Van Grouw is perfectly placed to communicate in a way that is conversational but also precise, confidently knowledgeable, and often poetic. It seems too easy to make a comparison with Darwin, yet it would be remiss not to."
– Caitlin R. Kight, Trends in Ecology & Evolution

"A hefty, gorgeous, yet serious, book [...] stuffed with Katrina's exquisitely observed pencil drawings [...] A remarkable portrayal of the wonder of artificial selection – an ancient process that's still going on today."
– Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife

"Whether you are an artist, illustrator, zoologist, pet-enthusiast or simply curious, you will be intrigued, educated and inspired by this extraordinary book."
– Tim Birkhead, Archives of Natural History

"You don't need to be a scientist, veterinarian, scientific illustrator or artist to fall deeply, madly in love with this painstakingly accurate, stunning book."
– Grrl Scientist, Forbes

"I'm impressed with this book's content, organization, and writing. The scholarship is impressive and conveyed in an accessible manner."
– Greger Larson, University of Oxford

"Combining art, history, and science, this idiosyncratic book is very engaging and exceptionally clear. The illustrations, more than just appropriate and accurate, are marvelous."
– Henry S. Horn, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, Princeton University

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