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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I heard author Michael Keller on Science Friday yesterday and bought the book on the way home from work. Contrary to the previous reviewer's comments, this graphic novel is beautifully illustrated. The reader has to understand that this is not intended to be a textbook. The illustrator and author have embraced the tradition of graphic novels created a book that is exciting, entertaining, and beautiful to look at.

I have a strong background in biology and found the author's explanations of the process of evolution to be accurate and friendly to the average reader. This would be an excellent text to use for a high school or undergraduate course.

I do wish Amazon would post interior pages from the book so buyers might decide for themselves about the illustrations. My two cents is that they should certainly motivate you to buy the book, not dissuade you.

This would be a great holiday gift for any science lover on your list.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The idea of a graphic version of the "Origin of Species" is a good one, as many casual readers will never get through the original. Thus a graphic format might be more easily read and understood by them, if presented in the right way. Years ago I found the book "Darwin for Beginners" by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon to be a rather charming graphic account of Darwin's ideas. Now Rodale Press has recently published Michael Keller's "Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation" and I was interested in seeing how the subject was treated compared to the earlier work. At first I did not particularly like the illustrations (as noted by another reviewer), but styles differ and I while I don't think the illustrations are up to more rigorous scientific standards, they are more than adequate for a book of this nature. Boren Van Loon's illustrations, which borrowed a lot from other classic ink drawings and paintings, were also a bit quirky.

However the main point is that the Theory of Natural Selection was well covered and I think pretty well explained. I do have a few gripes (the reason that I did not give this book five stars) and these primarily have to do with content. For some reason Keller apparently used later editions of "The Origin" in which Spencer's phase "Survival of the Fittest" was added. Darwin did not invent this phrase and it was not in the first edition. The phrase, while true in the sense that "fit" can mean any adaptation that works to allow an individual to reproduce, does not necessarily mean that the "strong" overcome the "weak"and has unfortunately been utilized to imply that there are "inferior" peoples because they do not fit preconceived notions of superiority. I think that it would have been wise for Keller to explain this if he was going to use a later edition of "The Origin". I can also quibble with the fact that while Keller introduces Emma Darwin as Charles' wife on p. 26, he never really explains her background or the circumstances of their marriage (she was his 1st cousin), which certainly has some bearing on her relationship with Darwin and also her beliefs (she was a Wedgewood and was a devote Unitarian). I felt like page 25 was discussing one subject and on p. 26 a new one was introduced without any explanation. The death of Annie, his beloved daughter, discussed on p. 31, also caused Emma to doubt her beliefs and when Darwin died she actually refuted the rumor that he had recanted his agnosticism on his death bed. These are, I think, important points if Emma and Annie are introduced at all and I felt they were given short shrift. There were several other places in the book where new subjects seemed to be introduced without much in the way of a connection to what went before, but this may be more of an editorial problem associated with graphic books than the authors fault. Also toward the end of the book, some important points about modern theory were glossed over in my view, but again in a book of this nature some materials have to be cut. In addition I found an unfortunate error in that Robert Chambers' and John Henslow's occupations were reversed on p. 14. Chambers was a journalist and author (and the author of "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation") and Henslow was a botanist and geologist, as well as mentor to the young Darwin. The "Vestiges" is mentioned later in the book, but one gets no hint that Chambers is the author. The reader should not expect an in depth treatise on the subject in what is essentially a comic book, but these were errors that could have been easily avoided.

That said, Keller has produced a mostly understandable book that introduces the intelligent layperson to the principles of and evidences for Natural Selection. I might have written the book somewhat differently, but then I may not have been as successful in illustrating and publishing it. Those who want more depth to the background information on Darwin's life would do well to read Janet Browne's two volumes on the subject and those who would like more detail about Darwin's arguments should read a reprint of the 1st edition of the "Origin". However the more casual reader will find a reasonably good synopsis of the theory and its more modern developments within the pages of this book. It is to these readers that I recommend this slim volume, with the reservations mentioned above.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I can't really speak to the quality of the text part of the adaptation, not having read the original, but it seems an intelligent representation of the principles introduced by Darwin's theory. It is easy to follow, engaging, and informative.

As to the quality of the illustrations, however, I have to say the cover does not provide an accurate representation of the art inside. The drawings are beautifully colored and laid out well, but the physical forms of the humans and animals (humans especially) are often lifeless and awkward, as well as looking rushed--and definitely not in a stylized manner, although other aspects of her art do show a distinct style. In all, the drawings seem more amateurish than I would expect for such an adaptation. Fuller does many things right, but the talent really isn't there.

Whether the quality bothers you or not is your call, however. The illustrations weren't egregious enough for me to put the book down; a serious artist might get more irritated. I'd recommend this book as a good introduction to evolution for kids, or an entertaining and educational alternative to reading the original text.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In less than two hundred pages of annotated color illustrations, this book attempts to cover Charles Darwin's large and complex volume. Obviously, the author has massively edited Darwin's original material. However, it is well done. The book uses Darwin's words more often than not. The selection and presentation makes it cogent to our time. The author often draws examples from recent experience. This makes the material more understandable and interesting to today's readers. The book targets young adults and the author has done everything possible to attract and hold such a reader. Whether it will be successful with any particular individual is unpredictable; it is a tough audience.

The illustrator, Nicolle Rager Fuller, deserves equal billing to the author. Her work is obviously an essential part of the book. Further, the artwork is perfect for this book and the target audience. If anything in this book will capture young readers, it is the art. Adult readers will find it pleasing as well.

The nineteenth century is crowded with great scientists, scientific advances, and achievements having impacts into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. To a great extent, those scientists communicated and fed off one another. The fields of biology, geology, archeology, philosophy, horticulture, anthropology, mathematics, sociology, ornithology, entomology, botany, and zoology were all advancing and reinforcing one another. This book brings out this fact and cites the names of scientists and practitioners with whom Darwin interacted.

The book is balanced, honest, and accurate. Unfortunately, anything dealing with Darwin is politically charged. The political right and left both use Darwin's name and terms such as "origin of the species," and "survival of the fittest" as negative code words. I feel that only readers starting with an unshakeable bias can criticize this book on political grounds.

Too frequently today, we see Darwin and his work in a non-humanistic light. This is regrettable. He was both emotional and introspective. He interacted with his forebears, his wife and children, and with his peers. The book touches on this aspect of Darwin's life, along with the scientific component.

Darwin anticipated many of the criticisms of his work; criticisms that began with his early publications and continue today. Examples are the lack of a continuous transitional fossil record, difficulty in accepting the evolution of something as complex as the human eye, and explaining animal instinct versus reasoning. He dealt with such objections at length in "Origin of Species." This book shows how Darwin addressed some of those concerns.

Wisely, the author chose to show links between Darwin's work and current material with which most people are familiar. At a few pertinent spots, the author includes a tie-in with recent developments. Some support and some contradict Darwin's conclusions. These tie-ins are well done. To conclude the book, there is an "Afterward" section addressing how Darwin might view milestone developments occurring since his death. Only in this latter section can I criticize the author for showing a bias. To be sure, some of the scientific advances since Darwin's death disprove some parts of his theory, but certainly do not discredit him. "Afterward" contains only examples that support Darwin's theory or explain issues that Darwin admitted that he was unable to resolve.

The book provides examples of the scientific method. It is a manageable introduction and overview of an important figure and revolutionary scientific advance. However, I would not consider this a book for young children. Both the reading level and the concepts are seventh or eighth grade and high school level. To follow the book, one should have a smattering of knowledge about natural selection. In itself, the book is an inspiring example of nature journaling.

Indeed, this little volume reminds one of a comic book, albeit one with realistic illustrations. Will it entice children? It is worth trying. Perhaps your son or daughter of the video-game generation will relate to the colorful, graphic approach.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
After reading the reviews of this book, I can only come to one conclusion: those who are scrutinizing this book down to every crossed "t" and dotted "i" clearly aren't the audience that this book was intended for. I wasn't a science major in college, and I didn't know any more about Darwin going into this than what I learned in high school. But this book made even someone like me, who doesn't have the time or patience to dissect every one of Darwin's words, understand the complexities behind "On the Origin of Species." I purchased this book after hearing Michael Keller on Science Friday and was pleased to discover that the book did a wonderful job of explaining Darwin's theories without making me feel stupid (like science sometimes does). And to those of you who said the illustrations weren't up to textbook standards I say "so what?" It's not a textbook! And if it was, I probably would have enjoyed science class a lot more growing up. This book makes Darwin easy for everyone to understand, and I would highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This graphic adaptation of "On the Origin of Species" is an excellent introduction to the concepts of Natural Selection and Evolution. The artwork was great, and provided the necessary bridge of understanding for the often-dry text that Darwin used. What was extremely interesting was the "inside" details of who Darwin was, where he came from, what his family life was like, and who he associated with professionally. These details humanize the real person Darwin was.

I haven't read the original book, so I will not compare all the technical details between the original and this one, but after reading all of Stephen Jay Gould's work, I feel confident that Darwin's ideas are faithfully expressed here. This would make a good gift to a scientifically-minded high school student.
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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was unaware when I bought this book from Amazon, that it was basically a 'comic book' format. The book takes Darwin's approximately 307 page book, "On The Origin Of The Species By Means Of Natural Selection Or The Preservation Of Favored Races In The Struggle For Life" and converts it into 190 pages of comics/cartoons which are portions of things that Darwin states in his book. Remembering that Darwin was not always right, because the work of Gregor Mendel and the concept of Mendelian Genetics had not yet been rediscovered, so Darwin had no concept of how physical traits were preserved from one generation to the next. That being the case, Darwin had to use his knowledge, his amazing insight and his past studies in the evolution of animal and plant species to derive his explanations as to how his theory of Natural Selection would work.

Yet in this book, most of Darwin's logic, thinking and explanation of how Natural Selection or Sexual Selection or any other kind of selection works is mostly LOST in this book, because so much of Darwin's explanation is not quoted nor is it pictured in any way in the cartoon drawing. In fact, I would recommend kind of strongly, that unless the potential reader has some kind of background (like at least having read Darwin's version before reading the cartoon version, but then what would be the point of bothering to read the cartoon version at all, which I guess is really my point here) a reader will be seriously confused by the book and will not in anyway have a clear understanding of what Darwin actually was saying.

I therefore would seriously advise potential readers NOT to read this book. It is a waste of your time and money. Unless, you already have a good biological background and understanding of genetic inheritance, etc., DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. IT WILL ONLY SERVE TO CONFUSE YOU! If however, you have a good understanding of what Darwin said and how it works in nature, then go ahead and read the book, but why bother?

A reader would do better reading Darwin's real book. It will provide a lot more information with a lot better explanarion.
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VINE VOICEon February 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There are lots of more sophisticated and comprehensive ways of getting a good grounding in evolutionary thought (see, for example, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage),Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution). But few books match the child-like fun of this book, with its brisk, breezy words and so-crude-it's-sophisticated artwork. Some here have criticized the drawings as being unskilled and even juvenile, and except for some especially handsome nature sketches within the book (and a sumptuous cover), that description comes close to the mark. But that is precisely what gives "Origin: Graphic" its charm. It's like a zine, or an underground comic...not some slick, sciencey tome. It dares to make the Notorious Chuckie D seem hip and subversive. But not by skimping on the science in deference to politics. No, BECAUSE the science in this case is so powerful and confrontational. This book is very much not for everyone, but if you know a teen who enjoys off-label comics and graphic novels and the like, this book might well appeal to her. And for a more sophisticated treatment of individual evolutionary biology topics, I recommend the works of Jay Hossler, including especially Clan Apis.
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on December 16, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I'm glad to see some other reviews posted since the first one which was biased and overly negative. I bought this book to see another style and have viewed it as such - another style, whether I am used to it or not, like it or not. I think it was a wonderful achievement overall for both author and illustrator and I'm happy to have it in my collection. It is wonderful for the young and old and will make a great gift for the science lover!!
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on April 24, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I am surprised to see criticism of the illustrations in previous reviews. Although it is true that the illustrations are not like a standard comic book, it is also true that this is not standard comic book material. The illustrations are beautiful and appropriate to both the subject matter and to Darwin's time. I love the concept and the execution. Well done. Highly recommended.
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