Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

Story by Michael Keller, Art by Nicolle Rager Fuller

Place: Publisher & Year: Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2009

Genre: Non- fiction, science, biography, history

Format: Graphic novel

ISBN: 9781605299488

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 191

Setting: Earth

Time period: 1831 – 2006

Plot summary: This book is a graphic version of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as well as a biography of Darwin and a history of evolutionary theory.  The book begins with Darwin having returned to England after travelling around the world on H.M.S. Beagle.  It depicts his life while working on his theory of natural selection; it also depicts his theory and the effects of it upon the current scientific understanding of life on Earth.

Illustrations: Beautifully drawn color pictures bring this text to life.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Somewhat erratic; parts of the book (including the beginning and end) moved rather quickly, while other parts seemed to crawl.

Characterization: The main character is Darwin and the book is presented through his perspective.  Other historical people are found throughout the book, but are not discussed with any depth.

Frame: Darwin’s theory of natural selection is presented in conjunction with the events of his life, which was not an easy one.  While he had a few supporters, he had very frail health and suffered from the loss of a child.  He was not in a hurry to publish his work until he realized that if he did not do it soon, someone else might publish something very similar.

Story line: A wonderfully illustrated, serious story which describes the evolution of life on Earth, natural selection, and how Darwin’s theory impacted him, his life, and future scientists.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882. On the origin of species — Illustrations.

Evolution (Biology) — Comic books, strips, etc.

Natural selection — Comic books, strips, etc.

Similar authors:

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou

The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz, Zander Cannon, and Kevin Cannon

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edwin Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology by Jim Ottaviani & Big Time Attic

Fallout : J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb by Jim Ottaviani, … [et al.]

Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists by Jim Ottaviani , Donna Barr, … [et al.].

Personal notes: I thought this would be a quick and easy read, since most of the graphic novels I’ve read in the past have been.  That was not the case with this book.  It took me the whole three weeks I had this book out from the library to get through it (although I did read other things within this time period).  It may have taken me longer to get through it because of the time of the year, but it is pretty dense in parts and the 19th century language did not make it a quicker read.  I don’t think it would have kept my interest without the art.

I would have loved to have watched the debate which occurred after his work was published between the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce and the scientists.  It’s interesting that the argument of the naysayers to the theory of evolution doesn’t seem to have changed in over 150 years, even though the scientific evidence has only grown stronger and more abundant.

“Would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion?  I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape, sir” – T.H. Huxley (p. 173)

Other (themes, diversity, websites):

The Darwin Correspondence Project

Sayo-Art (Nicolle Rager Fuller’s website)


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