Darwin and Evolution for Kids
: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
By Kristan Lawson
The evolution debate is like a school-yard brawl that breaks out around the monkey bars: Curses are hurled, punches are thrown, and no one is willing to listen. Indeed, rational argument seems strangely absent from campaigns such as the one waged last year in Texas, which demanded that the state board of education ditch texts that fail to teach the “weaknesses of evolutionary theory.” It’s a fine time, therefore, for a book that shows in lively detail just how Charles Darwin arrived at his theory of evolution—through careful collection of evidence from around the world, followed by 20 years of meticulous research that finally led him to publish, in 1859, On the Origin of Species.
Darwin for Kids focuses foremost on the great naturalist’s five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle and later on his intellectual odyssey. As Lawson explains, Darwin was fascinated by Charles Lyell’s theory that geologic forces had shaped Earth over millions of years. As he trekked through the Andean foothills of South America, Darwin discovered fossilized seashells thousands of feet above sea level, which confirmed Lyell’s theory that mountain ranges were thrust upward by slow-moving geologic forces. Later, he saw mussel-covered rocky outcrops that had been thrown from the seabed during an earthquake in Chile. “Here was the most direct proof of all,” he wrote.
Back in England, Darwin pored over his notes and studied the birds, beetles, and fossils—including an extinct giant ground sloth of the genus Megatherium—that he had gathered on his voyage. To demonstrate the rigor of Darwin’s research, Lawson suggests a variety of activities: Use beans and pebbles to build geologic strata like those that Darwin chipped at in the Andes. Collect seeds and examine how saltwater tolerance enables plants to migrate to isolated islands. Lawson too does not shrink from controversy, carefully citing biological and geologic data to confound the creationist stand. In the end, both children and curious adults will attain a clear understanding of Darwin’s grand idea and how it changed science forever.
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
Sleepless? Jittery? Jolted by sudden mood swings? You must be in love. It’s an obsession on a physiological par with drug addiction, writes Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. With the aid of brain scans from lovelorn volunteers, she shows that elevated levels of the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine can lead to the euphoria and the agony felt by those in the throes of passion.
Pandora’s Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution
Robin Marantz Henig
Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization, celebrated her 25th birthday last year. Henig relates the early history of conception in a dish, giving center stage to Columbia University scientist Landrum Shettles, who in 1973 tried to create the first American fetus in a lab before a zealous administrator destroyed the stewing gametes.
Science Best Sellers
1. A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING by Bill Bryson, Broadway Books
2. THE ILLUSTRATED THEORY OF EVERYTHING by Stephen W. Hawking, New Millennium Press
3. THE SCIENCE BOOK edited by Peter Tallack, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
4. THE SNOWFLAKE: Winter’s Secret Beauty by Patricia Rasmussen (photographer) and Kenneth Libbrecht, Voyageur Press
5. LIVING ON THE EDGE: Amazing Relationships in the Natural World by Jeff Corwin, Rodale Press
6. STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, W. W. Norton
7. THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene, W. W. Norton
8. EVERYTHING AND MORE: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace, W. W. Norton
9. THE LAST SORCERERS: The Path From Alchemy to the Periodic Table by Richard Morris, Joseph Henry Press
10. LONELY PLANETS: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon, Ecco
A quirky look at the quest for life outside Earth, from Greek Epicureans to alien abductions.
Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project
Tate Modern, Bankside, London
Climate is fickle. It probably doomed Mayan civilization with a 150-year drought that began in the eighth century A.D., and it may yet drown our own if it continues to heat up. Controlling the weather has been an elusive goal throughout history: The Maya of Chichén Itzá in Mexico sacrificed humans to their rain god, Chac, and during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military seeded monsoon clouds with silver iodide to trigger torrential downpours. The vainglory of such efforts fascinates artist Olafur Eliasson, who has installed a giant weather system inside London’s Tate Modern art museum on the South Bank of the Thames. A 50-foot-wide yellow disk glows like a dying sun in the gallery’s 500-foot-long Turbine Hall. Beneath its rays, hundreds of visitors disport themselves upon the concrete floor, watching their reflections in the mirrored ceiling as steam wafts from the walls. Indeed, the awe-inspiring grandeur of the art seems to cast a spell on the viewers. Girls join hands and dance in a circle. One person creeps along like a turtle. Others simply lie on their backs in the misty gloom, contemplating, perhaps, the question provoked by the piece: Will our mild climate be transformed one day into a museum exhibit, like a crumbling Mayan relic?