Borin Van Loon: Darwin - a graphic guide cover-Borin Van Loon: Darwin apeIntroducing... Darwin - a graphic guide

Icon Books (UK), Totem Books (USA).
by Jonathan Miller, Illustrated / designed by Borin Van Loon
"The best introduction to Darwinism you can buy." (See Reviews section below)
The first "big one" after I had won my spurs with Capitalism for Beginners in 1981. Working with Jonathan Miller, thespian, director, writer, biologist and all-round good egg, proved difficult at times, only because he was always taken up with "lighting Rigoletto" at the Royal Opera House or making a television series on the human body. Apart from the book on Buddha - someone who left little trace of his actual life - this is the only "biographical" book in this series on which I have worked. Darwin proves to be an oddly likeable but contradictory character. As a young man he was a wastrel: hobnobbing with the gentry, shooting, gambling and drinking his time away. Later, plagued by anxiety, nausea and headaches, he became a virtual recluse while developing his revolutionary theory of Evolution. He even delayed the publication of his monumental work The Origin of Species for some years in the fear of its repercussions on conservative Victorian siciety. He was proved right in the reactions when it did finally see the light of day. In many ways Darwin stands shoulder to shoulder with those other revolutionary thinkers of the era: Marx and Freud. A large format hardback of the book with colour plates was also published in the original series. This title is a bit of a classic, even though I say so myself.
Darwin window
Darwin (suffering) awaits departure of The Beagle overlooking Cat Sound, Plymouth.
The Rise Of ManThe original colour hardback cover

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery... Someone did a 'version' of Borin's work for a Russian edition cover (and didn't notice that the head is resting on a plate - Darwin didn't have cheeks like that).

Borin Van Loon: Darwin Russia  Borin Van Loon: Darwin head-on-plate

Reviews

Overall, this book does a good job of showing what Darwin discovered, went through, and how it changed the world. It's pretty simple to understand.
But wow. Really? It's really inappropriate. There are terribly disgusting pictures and occasional swearing, which I'm unaccustomed to when it comes to reading text books (what this was for me). So, it's a good read, but don't read it around small children.
Steen (Oct. 31 2011). www.goodreads.com

This comprehensive book explains everything you've ever wanted to know about Darwin and the facts surrounding his "Origins of the Species." I'm not a science person AT ALL and I was miraculously able to comprehend the book's information, presented in cartoon format. It's witty and entertaining. Highly recommended, especially for people who don't mesh well with science but are curious anyways.
Julie Suzanne (Dec 25, 2008). www.goodreads.com

This is an interesting look at Darwin. The comic book is a biography, talking about Darwin. What is amazing about this book is that goes through various other scientists, who were active before or during Darwin's life that had their own theories about the life of animals. The book also talks about Darwin not as genius but as an person of average intelligence. Since the theory of evolution isn't very complicated, the book talks a lot about history, which isn't common with the "for Beginners" comic series.
Jennifer (Aug 31, 2009). www.goodreads.com

Rarely does a book of worth come across my desk that uses both concise intellectual stimulating discourse  and also humor to explain Darwin’s theory of Evolution
, the concept of Natural Selection, and the history of evolutionary thinking as well as the process of biological adaptation, as does Darwin for Beginners. Written by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon, this work was originally published in 1982, and has become a lost but seminal work.  The authors capture the essential elements of the biological processes related to adaptation and change, and do it in such a fun way that the reader learns more facts about evolution than through any textbook on the topic of natural selection.
I originally read this book as an undergraduate studying anthropology and geology at Brooklyn College when it was first published.  While I hate to admit that almost thirty years have passed since those heady days, I find that the book remains just as fresh and captivating as it was three decades hence. In fact, this book is one of my required readings when I teach anthropology.  One would think that a book so old would lose some of its luster, but in fact, the material remains so fresh as both a work of science and a refutation of Intelligent Design that its value continues to brighten rather than fade.
What really sets this book apart from others on the topic is the use of literary and visual humor to both explain evolutionary processes, as well as discuss the history, philosophy and science behind evolutionary thought.  For instance, in discussing isolating mechanisms, in particular geographic separation and how they may impact breeding patterns, the authors write:
“Potential mates may encounter one another, but do not copulate because they are behaviorally incompatible. Potential partner A fails to recognize the ritual mating-signals of partner B, so the fucks off.”
Borin Van Loon: Darwin spreadAnother less “naughty” but humorous passage deals with Darwin’s own journey and how the Voyage of the Beagle almost never included the great scientist:
“On the 5th September, Darwin was interviewed by Captain FitzRoy of HMS Beagle. At this point, the whole project very nearly came to grief. FitzRoy, a devotee of the fashionable science of Physionomy, took exception to the shape of Darwin’s nose, thinking that it betrayed signs of laziness and hesitancy. For some reason, FitzRoy overcame his scruples and Darwin was signed on.”

<- Or these images concerning Darwin’s own conversion (for want of a better word) to the realization that humans as a species are part of the same biological scheme as all other living organisms on the planet and that the belief in god or a divine creator is indeed a falsehood.

Darwin for Beginners is so cleverly written and illustrated, that it can be used as a teaching resource about Darwin and evolution in just about every grade level as well as a college text.  This is because, as we develop intellectually, we see things differently as we learn from our own experiences. So younger folks may focus on the humor of the photos and illustrations, but older students will enjoy them as well along with the text.
It is sort of like reading The Catcher in the Rye at fifteen and totally relating to Holden Caulfield’s angst.  However, if we read Catcher at forty-five, we may see the deeper meaning in growing up and view the phoniness of adults as, well, just adults trying to make the best of an unfair world not necessarily of their making. It’s not that we can’t still relate to the protagonist, it’s just that we may see the story from a different emotional plateau or point of view as we get older.
That is why Darwin for Beginners is such a perennial favorite of mine.  No matter how much I age, the book seems to be just as relevant as it was when I first read it in 1982. What the book teaches appears to grow as my own understanding of Darwin and natural selection grows.
The great thing is the book is still in print. If you’re interested in reading it, you won't have to go to an antiquarian book seller to pick it up. It is available online at Amazon.com for as little as $11.00 (US). So if you want to learn about evolution and laugh, take this book out for a test ride.  You will not be disappointed. And if you are disappointed, let me know and I refund your money (not really).
Review by 'Paleolibrarian'
(that is Dr David Orenstein; Thursday, June 2, 2011). A blog dedicated to discussing Anthropology, Human Evolution, Librarianship, Academic Freedom, Secularism and also Atheist, Humanist and Free-Thinker Issues (http://paleolibrarian.blogspot.com/search/label/Borin%20Van%20Loon) [Cheers, David!]

Darwin biography meets Mad Magazine
through a natural history lens, this does a great job of comic bookizing the story of how the most important book ever written for empiricists came to be. (4 stars. Lawrence)

My husband and I read this small book to each other.
I don't think I would have finished it if I read it alone. I am sure very accurate but Darwin wasn't that exciting or interesting of a person from an observational view. what he produced as human is a whole different story, that is not this story. (2 stars. Sarah Vendetti)

Fun and edifying.
(4 stars. Steve)

Links the overall history of thought with pictures too!
(4 stars. Wayne Stone)

This is an interesting look at Darwin.
The comic book is a biography, talking about Darwin. What is amazing about this book is that goes through various other scientists, who were active before or during Darwin's life that had their own theories about the life of animals. The book also talks about Darwin not as genius but as an person of average intelligence. Since the theory of evolution isn't very complicated, the book talks a lot about history, which isn't common with the "for Beginners" comic series. (4 stars. Jennifer)

This comprehensive book explains everything you've ever wanted to know about Darwin
and the facts surrounding his "Origins of the Species." I'm not a science person AT ALL and I was miraculously able to comprehend the book's information, presented in cartoon format. It's witty and entertaining. Highly recommended, especially for people who don't mesh well with science but are curious anyways. (4 stars. Julie Suzanne)

PS I've read Miller and Van Loon's book, which uses comic strip iconography as part of its array of amazing visuals. I'd say the main difference is that our book is more of a continuous narrative. [Web note from Simon Gurr author of the new 100-page comic book Darwin: A Graphic Biography by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne.] (http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/2009/02/forbidden-planet-lost-world.html)


The back cover notes on Pantheon Books' DARWIN FOR BEGINNERS
describes the text of the book as "…clever, witty, and highly informative…," and DFB certainly is. The book is surprisingly accessible and presents Charles Darwin, the man we know as "the father of evolution," in a reader friendly way.
DFB, a republication of a 1982 book, is actually part of a series that introduces important intellectuals and thinkers like Darwin and Sigmund Freud to readers through words and pictures, what we like to call the comic book or graphic novel. Rather than do a comic book adaptation of Darwin's most famous work, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, writer Jonathan Miller details Darwin's life, the development of his theories, the science of his time, and the culture in which he lived and how those elements came together and shaped his revolutionary ideas.
Miller's text is highly insightful, funny, and as entertaining as it is enlightening. The last third of the book is, however, occasionally too dry, but it does revive in a conclusion that left me wanting more. Borin Van Loon uses a mixture of single panel cartoons, single page illustrations, collages, comic strips, illustrated maps, illustrated prose, and multi-panel pantomimes that work cohesively with Miller's text in ways that most traditional comic book art fails.
Darwin for Beginners is by no means perfect, but it's the perfect way to introduce crucial scientific ideas and personalities to the layman and to the student. If only copies of this were in high school classrooms. GRADE B+
Leroy Douresseau (http://www.comicbookbin.com/darwinforbeginners.html)

LOON MAKES DARWIN ZANY
I trust that "zany" has not been appropriated for some new euphemism (as befell "gay") because zany is the word this volume evokes. Its cartoons (by Van Loon) suggest a parody of Classic Comics, and the text (by Miller) reminds one of the record Classical music for those who hate classical music. The format is not unlike The 80s: a look back at the tumultuous decade 1980-1989 (published in 1979), but whatever future shock is contained herein originated at least as long ago as 1809 when the grandson of Erasmus Darwin was born.  Join Holmes and Watson as they romp through The strange case of Charles Darwin & Evolution in pictures and words. You can read the text in one sitting, but you won't. Instead you'll pause on each page to scrutinize Van Loon's illustrations, recognising a parody of Beardsley here or Sir John Tenniel there. The science of Miller's text is right on the money throughout, and, insofar as I am a judge, so is the history. I never could remember whether it was Hooker, the botanist or Lyell, the geologist, who dragged his heels in supporting Darwin's Origin. But I'll nor forget after reading this book. And I wager that even Darwiniana buffs will find things here they didn't know before. The biologist who fails to shell out the four bucks for his or her own copy  of this little masterpiece will later regret it.
Jack P. Hailman, Professor of Zoology, University of Wisconsin (reviewed in Bioscience, Vol. 33, No. 11, Dec. 1983)
- recently spotted on the JSTOR website: www.jstor.org/pss/1309361

In this fresh approach to the history of Charles Darwin, the authors present biographical, social and historical facts about Darwin’s life and theory in the fashion of a graphic novel. Clearly written as an introduction to the topic, this book does not give the depth or detail of more lengthy books on the subject. However, with its novel presentation, it is a superb book for audiences curious about the man who kicked off one of civilization’s biggest controversies. http://libweb.sonoma.edu/research/subject/annotated.html

... this graphical book takes a look at the life of one of the most controversial people in science: Charles Darwin.

The story paints the life of a man with many facets: a shy person who, in his early life spent much of his time wandering and collecting specimens to the detriment of his studies in medicine and religion. In his later years, when ill health forced him to stay at home much of the time, the book shows him as a man who gives attention to meticulous detail. His life (and science) was changed when he accepted a post on board HMS Beagle, on which he was to collect a lot of evidence that was to persuade him that evolution was happening and that Natural Selection was the method nature used to drive evolution.
The book makes clear that the idea of evolution was not Darwin's to begin with: Lamark and others also considered evolution. What Darwin did was to present a mechanism with supporting evidence that was logical and could be scientifically tested. Of course, there were many objections raised against Darwin and the book covers these objections also (especially Paley's 'argument from design').
Nicely written in a easily readable manner, this book serves as a useful introduction to both Charles Darwin the man, Charles Darwin the scientist and Charles Darwin the man who presented an incredible theory on how life developed and evolved on earth and who is still being argued about even now. The drawings, as in many books in the same series are sometimes funny and sometimes 'off-colour' but they help to put the point across that would have taken many words and many pages to say. (Book Reviews by Soh Kam Yung)

For a rapid, amusing and accurate guide to the Darwinian revolution, there is nothing better than: Jonathan Miller & Borin Van Loon, Darwin For Beginners (Icon Books, 1992). With cartoon illustrations. (www.ehlt.flinders.edu.au "The Impact of Evolution: Darwinism and Victorian Writers")

A short, entertaining cartoon introduction to Darwin's life and work. Don't be fooled by the cartoon format. It presents a lot of accurate, stimulating information in a compact, readable form. (A Galapagos Reading List)

A very good introduction to Darwinism and evolution. Tells the story of belief before Darwin and the controversy after. One criticism though is that it omits to tell the story of how Darwin's daughter died and how ultimately it made him lose faith in Christianity. But a very good book for the beginner, nonetheless. (putt-tuffery@lineone.net from London,England)

Accurate, clever, well done. This lively, clever, humorous little book is accurate -- "scientifically correct," in the words of Dr. Tim M. Berra of Ohio State University (author of "Evolution and the Myth of Creationism," 1990, Stanford University Press). I agree with him that it would be a great gift for students to give to their parents to help them understand evolution. The illustrations, many of which are worth a thousand words, are at once engaging, informative, and great fun. Solid history and science in superlative format. (Craig H. Bowen from Salt Lake City, UT USA)

The best introduction to Darwinism you can buy. An illustrated narrative tells, all too briefly, the story of Darwin the man and his revolutionary discovery of how the living world came to be. Thanks to its amusing, but informative, cartoon style exegesis, this little gem is a uniquely powerful antidote to creationist propaganda in the classroom. The best introduction to Darwin and his ideas you're likely to see. (Peter Hynes (elek@netstra.com.au) from Melbourne, Australia)

Fatuous and grossly inaccurate. It is a great shame the authors ruined such a good idea by doing no historical research. It is quite clear that the authors are ignorant of the wealth of research produced by the Darwin industry and of course the Correspondence of Charles Darwin. I could spend a long time doing a hatchet job on the book but I prefer to spend my time going to Snowdonia and walk over the mountains where Darwin did his geology and read his geological notes where he wrote them. In all a silly book on a great scientist.. We desperately need a good simple book on Darwin, which avoids all the hype and inaccuracy. (A reader from Chirk, N.Wales) (Keep walking those mountains, my friend. - The Illustrator)

Simple and Informative Primer on Darwin and Evolution. No-nonsense discussion on the Theory of Evolution, including a look at the people, places, and events that shaped its derivation. It provides a concise summary of Charles Darwin, the man and the scientist, including the dispelling of myths concerning his alleged anti-religious bent. The book is an easy read, yet is packed with factoids and information that provides an essential basis for evolutionary thought. While the book cover gives an appearance of child literature, young and old will find it enlightening and helpful.(koller@freethinker.org from Germantown, Maryland USA)

The cartoon guide to evolution. Have fun and learn. (by Gert Korthof - http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof54.htm)

For adult readers this presentation may take some getting used to, but this very method is one which will attract YAs. The book is not without its own prejudices and opinions. Yet, the observant student or teacher can use these as points of discussion. This unusual volume would be an excellent supplementary source to a high school biology or natural history course. Voice of Youth Advocates. (http://search.barnesandnoble.com)

To understand Darwinism simultaneously as a social phenomenon arising out of the remaking of the British social structure and as an extraordinary insight into the operation of natural forces, requires considerable knowledge and subtlety of mind. To explain all that clearly, correctly, wittily, but without condescension, to a lay public demands a high expository art. . . . [This book] puts all the emphasis in the right place, is historically correct, scientifically impeccable, and contains as a postscript the best 250-word piece on reductionist social explanation yet written. The New York Review of Books. (http://search.barnesandnoble.com)

This is not a mere comic book. It demonstrates in readily understandable terms the main tenets of Darwin's writings and includes references to many of the geologists and naturalists who preceded him and who, in some cases, aided his studies. . . . There is a serious presentation of the concepts of natural selection, the basis of modern genetics, isolating mechanisms, and the topology of DNA. There is actually sufficient text to fill several chapters of a standard textbook. This is one of those books that one opens at random to casually peruse a few pages and soon becomes engrossed. Recommended for students of all ages and to anyone else not totally devoid of a sense of humor. (http://search.barnesandnoble.com)

Essentially comic book format. Very easy to read. Covers the history of natural science and Darwin's life. Explains the theory of evolution and creationist objections. Lots of pictures and comic drawings. No real bibliography but lists some further readings.
(http://math.hws.edu/vaughn/fsem/002/project-1.html)

Jonathan Miller, Darwin for Beginners (Pantheon 1982 but much reprinted) is a fine place to get up to speed, helped by the illustrations by Borin van Loon. Called Introducing Darwin in some editions. William H. Calvin, A Brain for All Seasons. (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
(http://faculty.washington.edu/wcalvin/BrainForAllSeasons/notes.htm)

For a rapid, amusing and accurate guide to the Darwinian revolution, there is nothing better than: Jonathan Miller & Borin Van Loon, Darwin For Beginners (Icon Books, 1992). With cartoon illustrations.
from The Impact of Evolution: Darwinism and Victorian Writers
(http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/english/Victorians/DarwinLecSummary.htm)

Need a quick overview of Charles Darwin and the development of his theory? This 175-page book is filled with amusing illustrations and just enough words to convey the basic story. From 'Some Thoughts and Readings on the History and Philosophy of Science' Richard E. Lenski
(http://myxo.css.msu.edu/lenski/history)

Fun to read. This is a great lightweight book on Darwin's life and the development of the idea of evolution. Though it would be a shame to stop an exploration of natural selection here, it's a great starting point because it provides the context in which Darwin's thoughts came to be. It also discusses objections and criticisms of natural selection, how it has been misunderstood and abused, and how Darwin himself treated problematic aspects of the theory. I don't know that the illustrations and such are very revealing or useful, but they definitely make the book easy and fun to read, though the last few pages become more text-based. Overall, it's a well executed introduction to a very influential and oft misinterpreted person. But though this book is for beginners, please don't stay one... go and read "Origin of Species."Rating: 4. (http://www.anybook4less.com/detail/1840460768.html)

This lively, clever, humorous little book IS accurate -- "scientifically correct," in the words of Dr. Tim M. Berra of Ohio State University (author of "Evolution and the Myth of Creationism," 1990, Stanford University Press). I agree with him that it would be a great gift for students to give to their parents to help them understand evolution. The illustrations, many of which are worth a thousand words, are at once engaging, informative, and great fun. Solid history and science in superlative format.

An illustrated narrative tells, all too briefly, the story of Darwin the man and his revolutionary discovery of how the living world came to be. Thanks to its amusing, but informative, cartoon style exegesis, this little gem is a uniquely powerful antidote to creationist propaganda in the classroom. The best introduction to Darwin and his ideas you're likely to see. (Both these reviews from http://www.fetchbook.info)

This paper represents the outcome of about two months of total immersion in Darwin, evolutionary theory and relevant histories of science. My self-designed crash course began at the beginning with Darwin for Beginners, an engaging and informative grown-up comic strip by Jonathan Miller and Borin van Loon ...
Linda Nochlin (http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/spring_03/articles/noch_print.html)

This book takes us through the upheaval in biological thought that made The Origin of
Species possible. Meet Charles Darwin: a timid, anti-social, semi-invalid who was said to undermind the belief in God-the-creator.
(http://www.86thfloor.com/Advance%20Order/September2003/catalogue/7_Indies_R.htm)

This is a great lightweight book on Darwin's life and the development of the idea of evolution. Though it would be a shame to stop an exploration of natural selection here, it's a great starting point because it provides the context in which Darwin's thoughts came to be. It also discusses objections and criticisms of natural selection, how it has been misunderstood and abused, and how Darwin himself treated problematic aspects of the theory. I don't know that the illustrations and such are very revealing or useful, but they definitely make the book easy and fun to read, though the last few pages become more text-based. Overall, it's a well executed introduction to a very influential and oft misinterpreted person. But though this book is for beginners, please don't stay one... go and read "Origin of Species."
This lively, clever, humorous little book IS accurate -- "scientifically correct," in the words of Dr. Tim M. Berra of Ohio State University (author of "Evolution and the Myth of Creationism," 1990, Stanford University Press). I agree with him that it would be a great gift for students to give to their parents to help them understand evolution. The illustrations, many of which are worth a thousand words, are at once engaging, informative, and great fun. Solid history and science in superlative format.
An illustrated narrative tells, all too briefly, the story of Darwin the man and his revolutionary discovery of how the living world came to be. Thanks to its amusing, but informative, cartoon style exegesis, this little gem is a uniquely powerful antidote to creationist propaganda in the classroom. The best introduction to Darwin and his ideas you're likely to see. (http://traveltocaribbeanislands.com/0375714588.html)

The back cover notes on Pantheon Books' DARWIN FOR BEGINNERS describes the text of the book as "…clever, witty, and highly informative…," and DFB certainly is. The book is surprisingly accessible and presents Charles Darwin, the man we know as "the father of evolution," in a reader friendly way.
DFB, a republication of a 1982 book, is actually part of a series that introduces important intellectuals and thinkers like Darwin and Sigmund Freud to readers through words and pictures, what we like to call the comic book or graphic novel. Rather than do a comic book adaptation of Darwin's most famous work, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, writer Jonathan Miller details Darwin's life, the development of his theories, the science of his time, and the culture in which he lived and how those elements came together and shaped his revolutionary ideas.
Miller's text is highly insightful, funny, and as entertaining as it is enlightening. The last third of the book is, however, occasionally too dry, but it does revive in a conclusion that left me wanting more.  Borin Van Loon uses a mixture of single panel cartoons, single page illustrations, collages, comic strips, illustrated maps, illustrated prose, and multi-panel pantomimes that work cohesively with Miller's text in ways that most traditional comic book art fails.
Darwin for Beginners is by no means perfect, but it's the perfect way to introduce crucial scientific ideas and personalities to the layman and to the student. If only copies of this were in high school classrooms.  GRADE B+ (http://www.comicbookbin.com/reviews18.html) - nice to see us reviewed alongside 'proper' comic books.

National Center for Science Education
Lively, clever, and humorous, Darwin for Beginners introduces the life and work of Charles Darwin in words and pictures. Although Darwin for Beginners is in cartoon form, it is eminently suitable for the adult reader as well. In fact, as Tim M Berra, author of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, quips, it is “the sort of book students could give to their parents to help them understand evolution.” Originally published in the centenary year of Darwin’s death, 1982.
(http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rncse_content/vol20/9134_darwiniana_12_30_1899.asp)

Darwin. Taking us through the upheavals in biological thought that made The Origin of Species possible, Jonathan Miller introduces us to that odd revolutionary, Charles Darwin. A remarkably timid man who spent most of his life in seclusion, a semi-invalid riddled with doubts, fearing the controversy his theories might unleash, Darwin was also the man who finally undermined belief in God's creation of the world.
Splendidly illustrated, this clever, witty, and highly informative book is the perfect introduction to Darwin's life and thought.
[http://store.exploratorium.edu/page.htm?PG=Darwin]

Entertaining review of the theory of evolutionary history.  This review is from: Darwin (Beginners) (Hardcover)
I recently took this book out of the library and enjoyed it so much, I just had to own a copy and got straight on to Amazon to order it. It takes an amusing, but extremely factual and informed look at the history of evolutionary history in general and Darwin in particular, placing his work and the events in his life in context with scientific thinking at the time. An excellent bedside table book, Jonathan Millers easy style makes the book extremely readable. The illustrations by Borin Van Loon are great fun too.
By A Customer, 28 Mar 1999


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