Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tree of Life - Charles Darwin (Book Review + DVDs recommendation)

The Tree of Life by Peter Sis

When I first saw this book, "The Tree of Life" by Peter Sis  in the library accidentally, it got me interested because I somehow link it to the India artefact in the Asian Civilisation Museum, "The Tree of Life".
"The tree of life is a symbol of the connections among all things, past, present, and the future."
                                                                                              -Booklet from the Asian Civilisation Museum
Indian Artefact in Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM)
. More than 200 years old. Carefully woven and dyed in India
{Credit} My Enchanted Trail booklet by ACM
So when flip through it, I realised it is a story about Charles Darwin's life, exploration on a 5 year voyage on board the Beagle, his many years of studying nature, his secret life of writing a book that change the world.

"As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men. "
                                                                                                  - Charles Darwin

What is the tree of life and who is Charles Darwin?

Charles Darwin (1809 -1882) was a naturalist, geologist and a thinker. He was born in 12 Feb 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. During that time, many people were convinced that man was a special being created by God. Charles Darwin had been interested in nature since young. This was something which his father does not really support because he had wanted to groom him as a doctor.

After 5 years on board Beagle (DEC 27,1831- OCT 2, 1836), Charles Darwin went round the world studying different organisms and collecting specimens for various experts for study and classification. During the 5 years he ate exotic food such as armadillos and land iguana. From this voyage, he trained his mind. Especially on the visit to Galapagos Islands (geographically young volcanic islands then), he heard that the species of tortoises differ from island to island. He also noted the different flinches on the different islands of Galapagos.

After the voyage, through details examinations and classifications by various experts, Charles Darwin realised that they were actually are very closely related species. He analysed and deduced life may have origin from a single source. He sketched in a notebook a tree showing old species branching into new ones. (the tree of life). The Beagle voyage alone was not enough to prove that species transmutate or evolve. Many people in those days strongly believe Man was created by God. He did many experiments for years to prove that species do transmutate. After many years of experimenting (23 years), he concluded the following theories:

1) Plants and animals have more offspring to replace the parents.
2) Offspring of the same set of parent are not exactly the same.
3) The overall number of each kind of plant or animal mostly stay the same

These pointers suggest there is a struggle for existence. Natural selection is a on-going progress and only the one who fit the environment  best would be chosen to survive. Hence, the theory survival of the fittest.

With all these findings, Charles Darwin finally had the courage to get his book, The Origin of Species, to be publish in Nov 24, 1859. Of course, Darwin's theory was being attacked by the church. Darwin had his supporters too. These sparked the Great Oxford Debate.

The book also show Charles Darwin's private life. He had 10 children with his wife, Emma and yet 3 died when they were very young.

Although this book is a simplified story and it contains many illustrations, but it also contains words such as "archipelago" and "aftershock" and many names of people and rich vocabulary of animals which may not be easily grasped by primary school children. Hence, this book is probably more suited for teens who had studied biology. Recommended age would be 15 years old.

Personally, I studied biology during my school days but little was known about this wonderful man, Charles Darwin. After reading the book, I realised he deserved to be a man of respect due to his courage to go against the belief of his people. He was not the first person to suggest evolution but he was the first one who provide evidence to support the idea that evolution is possible over a long period of time.

DVDs about Darwin

Now you know about artists, explorers and scientists/ created by Classrisa Brooke-Turner

This DVD set consist of 3 disc, 1 for each occupation. Each DVD tells the story of 5 famous people in a first-person narrative and colourful 10 minutes film. This set of  DVD is a good introduction to the various famous people such as Charles Darwin , Leonardo da Vinci and Captain Cook. Young children are attracted to the colourful illustrations but Little One does not like the part whereby people were dying (although illustrated vividly) in the DVD.

Charles Darwin and the tree of life/ Written and presented by David Attenborough

An interesting hour documentary about Charles Darwin and his revolutionary theory of evolution through natural selection. And a Extra DVD about Darwin's personal life, which include his church devoted wife and his favourite daughter, Annie.
What I like about this documentary is that you get to see the archive footage (Eg. the different tortoises and the barnacles.) that David Attenborough had done for BBC to illustrate Darwin's findings.

I strongly recommend all 3 if you are interested to find more about Charles Darwin.

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