One of the striking things about the The Origin of Species
is how much time Darwin spent pottering about in his garden and indeed, as Steve Jones says in his introduction, the great naturalist spent most of his time observing the natural world either at home or on extensive travels throughout Britain. I was delighted, therefore, to find "Darwin's Island".
Moral: never judge a book by its cover. Although there are some references to Darwin's garden and travels, this is not the book's main focus, nor is it, despite its historical background, a work of scientific history.
What we do get, however, is a review of some of the topics that Darwin studied, many of which are suggested by his lesser known works. The result is a fascinating whirlwind tour of carnivorous plants, insects, orchids, hops, barnacles and earthworms; as well as more predictable topics such as sexual selection.
This is a highly readable book aimed firmly at a general readership with no special knowledge of biology. Steve Jones has a neat turn of phrase and a good line in dry humour as well as a gift for drawing together the strands of historical and contemporary scientific thought and placing them into the context of the modern world.
Whilst drawing on the roots of modern biology, "Darwin's Island" is set very much in the present and, despite the title, has a global scope. As for the future, after reading this book, you may be left wondering whether the sustainability of our planet and our species has more to do with the fate of earthworms and barnacles than giant pandas.
Not quite as advertised, but nevertheless a welcome addition to that other endangered species, the popular science book.