Darwin Comes to Town: a Book for Us

by Sue Ann Kendall

I just finished a book I really loved, and I think my fellow Master Naturalists will, too. The author talks about us in the book, even! Here’s what I wrote in my other blog about it, with a little more in it for our audience:

I think I just spotted Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, by Menno Schilthuizen in the new nature books section on Amazon. I loved the cover and was really intrigued by the subject matter: how life evolves in the world’s urban enclaves.

Schilthuizen, a naturalist in the Netherlands and author of many articles in popular science publications, writes really clearly without “dumbing down” the science behind what he talks about. I think his reminder that evolution is not just something that goes on in the forests, oceans, and hidden jungles; it’s going on right under our noses.

I love the cover art.

In fact, he strongly encourages his readers to become citizen scientists and observe what’s going on in their own gardens, city parks, bridges, and rooftop plantings. He even praised the work people do on iNaturalist, which pleased me a lot!

While most of his examples come from Europe, it’s easy to see the same things he talks about here. I like learning how things work overseas, anyway.

From what I learned from this book, there’s a lot to observe in urban areas. Schilthuizen points out that city parks make really good islands, where populations of the same type of animal can diverge. There were great examples of white-footed mice, pigeons, and all those green parakeets that have taken up residence in the city parks of Europe. They can differ very much from park to park after a few generations.

Plants change a lot, too. Deep rooted plants learn to have more shallow roots, seed pods get heavier so they don’t blow away from their tiny “islands” as easily, and so on. If you are at all interested in how speciation occurs, this is the book for you!

Sample chapter opener. I love the drop cap followed by a whole line of all caps. And the shape of the D and the S. Aah.

Also if you just plain like books, this book is for you. It was published by Picador, and whoever designed this book deserves a medal. The paper is nice and thick, with a very pleasant, slightly rough texture. The fonts are also really elegant. I loved the titles and first paragraphs of each chapter enough that I consider them art. If you’re one of those people for whom reading a book is still a sensual experience, you’ll love Darwin Comes to Town.

Otherwise, yeah, you can get it on Kindle. Maybe the author even reads it in his Dutch accent on audiobook.

This book reminded me in a really pleasant way that nature is everywhere and you can observe it everywhere you go, just like me wandering around my workplace in Austin stalking baby birds and squirrels! And, while he does point out that native spaces ARE needed to keep biodiversity high, the hardy urban life is also making contributions and is not “bad” life. It belongs here, too.

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