Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale: The Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth

Overview

"An engrossing narrative" (Wall Street Journal) that does for evolutionary biology what The Double Helix did for DNA.
In the 1950s, a British physician and amateur lepidopterist named H. B. D. Kettlewell went into the English woods to catch "evolution in action" among the now-famous Peppered Moths. His work became "Darwin's missing evidence," an evolutionary experiment as influential as any in the last century. Compellingly told, Of Moths and Men reveals Kettlewell to be a deluded scientist, a man tyrannized by ...

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Overview

"An engrossing narrative" (Wall Street Journal) that does for evolutionary biology what The Double Helix did for DNA.
In the 1950s, a British physician and amateur lepidopterist named H. B. D. Kettlewell went into the English woods to catch "evolution in action" among the now-famous Peppered Moths. His work became "Darwin's missing evidence," an evolutionary experiment as influential as any in the last century. Compellingly told, Of Moths and Men reveals Kettlewell to be a deluded scientist, a man tyrannized by his mentor, the powerful E. B. Ford, an imperious, eccentric Oxford don, a Darwinian zealot determined to crush all enemies in his path. In a revelatory, controversial work that will be debated for years to come, Judith Hooper uncovers the intellectual rivalries, petty jealousies, and faulty science behind one of the most famous experiments—and myths—in the history of evolutionary biology. Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
“An extraordinary, even-handed, highly entertaining and scrupulously researched book.”
New York Times Book Review
“Hooper shows...gentleness and respect, creating a moving and compassionate portrait.”
Dava Sobel
“A riotous story of ambition and deceit....demonstrates delightfully how the theory of evolution evolved.”
Ernst Mayr
“A fascinating account a story of hard work, brilliant insights, and human foibles.”
Sunday Times [London]
“[A] timely and intriguing tale.”
The Guardian
“[Hooper's] absorbing account of a flawed if not fraudulent experiment reveals an all-too-human side to scientists.”
Evening Standard
“[Hooper] tells her story with sensitivity and grace...[a] skillful synthesis of scientific and human detail.”
Scotland on Sunday
“[C]onsiderable narrative gusto while painting vivid portaits of key players....the book is never dull.”
Frank Ryan
“A mesmerising book....I have no doubt it will be a classic.”
Lynn Margulis
“A stunning revelation of evolutionary theory and practice. Hooper contributes significantly to the history of science scholarship.”
KLIATT
In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, starting a debate still raging today. In England Darwin had his supporters, those scientists eager to defend his theory of evolution. But where was the proof? At Oxford University the founding fathers of population genetics thought the answer lay in the peppered moth, and supported the field research of an amateur entomologist named Bernard Kettlewell. In 1953 Kettlewell, doctor of medicine and obsessed moth man, devised and carried out a field experiment with moths outside Birmingham, hoping to provide the world with Darwin's missing evidence. A black mutant form of the peppered moth teemed around England's polluted cities; pale moths lived in the unsullied countryside. Had the white moths evolved to elude hungry birds by turning dark? Kettlewell's results, published in 1959, seemed to prove that industrial melanism was a fact. In 1973 he finally published his magnum opus, The Evolution of Melanism, and his work could be found in every textbook. It has been only recently that Ted Sargent of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst—and others—have found serious flaws in Kettlewell's original experiment and in his conclusions. In retelling this fascinating detective story, Judith Hooper presents not only the science (in cogent, understandable language) but also the lives of the flawed scientists involved. Kettlewell the man suffered much. His daughter had an insatiable sexual appetite and committed suicide at 32. His son was an academic disappointment. His "friends" in academia were devious backbiters. He was even a joke among the snobbish students, who saw him as uncouth. His story is absorbing and Hooper's telling ofit exemplary. Copious notes, a thorough bibliography and index, as well as a brief glossary and chronology accompany a text notable for both its humor and passion. Eight pages of photos are included. Highly recommended. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Norton, 377p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Janet Julian
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393325256
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/5/2004
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,340,913
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Hooper has written for The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Book Review, and many other publications; she is the author of The Three-Pound Universe. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix
Map: Kettlewell's Britain xiii
Prologue: The moths of Oxford xv
Part I
1 The moonlit world 3
2 What Darwin missed 15
3 Natural selection reduced to arithmetic 34
4 The private lives of insects 68
5 E.B. Ford and his enemies 91
Part II
6 Triumph in Birmingham 109
7 A most influential home movie 125
8 A reptile's leg into a bird's wing 146
9 The cost of selection 180
10 The goose that laid the golden eggs 205
Part III
11 'It was a bird feeder!' 241
12 A damn good story 278
Notes 316
Bibliography 339
Glossary 354
Chronology 360
Picture Credits 363
Index 365
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