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Darwin's Backyard

How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory


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How Darwin found universal evolutionary truths in simple yet ingenious home-spun experiments.

James T. Costa takes readers on a journey from Charles Darwin’s youth and travels on the HMS Beagle to Down House, his bustling home of forty years. To test his insights into evolution, Darwin devised experiments using his garden and greenhouse, the surrounding land and his home-turned-field-station. His experiments yielded universal truths about nature and evidence for his revolutionary arguments in On the Origin of Species and other watershed works. We accompany Darwin in his myriad pursuits against the backdrop of his enduring marriage, chronic illness, grief at the loss of three children and joy in scientific revelation. At each chapter’s end, Costa shows how we can investigate the wonders of nature, with directions on how to re-create Darwin’s experiments.


“If you’ve ever fantasized walking and conversing with the great scientist on the subjects that consumed him, and now wish to add the fullness of reality, read this book.” — Edward O. Wilson

Darwin’s Backyard, is a passionate but balanced celebration of the Victorian scientist’s lifelong obsession with enquiry and how the fields and meadows around his home were a microcosm of the wider world... Costa more than achieves his stated goals of revealing the evolution of Darwin’s insights and the relevance of his methods now.” — Nature

“It is a charming book about Darwin’s homespun experiments...” — Times Literary Supplement

“...excellent Darwin's Backyard... James Costa has written an intimate and big-hearted book. In its pages, readers will discover the real Darwin, a complicated man behind a revolutionary theory.” — Science Lives

“With Darwin's Backyard, Costa has written an intimate and big-hearted book. In its pages, young readers will discover the complicated man behind the revolutionary theory.” — Science Magazine


Long-Listed — AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books, 2018