Publishers Weekly, 2001-04-23 The isolated Gal pagos Islands, lying on the equator 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, have played a continuing roleone that Larson beautifully evokes herein studies of evolution ever since Charles Darwin spent his celebrated five weeks there in 1835. Larson, who received the Pulitzer Prize in history for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion, relates the islands' fascinating history since their discovery by a Spanish bishop in 1535. They soon became a sometime base for pirates, and, during the South Seas whaling boom of the late 1700s, English and American vessels fished the surrounding waters. English naturalists called attention to their unique plants and animals, which led to Darwin's visit on the Beagle. The young Herman Melville visited them six years later; he was much less favorably impressed. In the late 1800s, San Francisco-based scientific institutions like the newly founded Stanford University sent expeditions to bring back plants and animals, dead or alive (mostly dead). The American army dynamited an airstrip out of the volcanic rock to protect the Panama Canal during WWII. After the war, UNESCO took steps to protect the wildlife, which had been decimated over the centuries. In recent years tourism and the attendant influx of Ecuadorians have proved a dubious blessing for the islands' unique ecosystem, which still attracts scientists who travel there to study evolution at work, as well as creation scientists who hope to disprove it. The book contains two extensive photo galleries and is larded with drawings from old accounts of the islands, but it would have benefited immensely from a modern topographic map and photographs of the terrain. Nevertheless, Larson's first-rate history not only will entertain and engage lay readers but also is required reading for those seriously interested in Darwin, evolution or these remarkable islands. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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