Cover Image: Darwin and the Art of Botany

Darwin and the Art of Botany

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Member Reviews

This is a "must have" for gardeners, foragers, and general nature lovers.

The book's Preface and Introduction give insightful historic details. Don't skip them!
The plants covered are listed alphabetically by botanic name from Angraecum Comet Orchid to Vitis Grape vine. Each of the forty-five entries is treated with description from six to ten pages including an illustration from a famous botanical artist.

Bobbi Angell is a scientific illustrator, printmaker, instructor, and gardener. Drawing neotropical plants for botanists at New York Botanical Garden and other institutions led to her interest in Charles Darwin, recognizing species he might have seen in Brazil and elsewhere. Bobbi is coauthor of A Botanist’s Vocabulary and her pen-and-ink illustrations have been published in floras including Vascular Plants of Central French Guiana, Vines and Climbing Plants of Puerto Rico, and Intermountain Flora. Bobbi lives in southern Vermont where she searches for, draws, and grows native and unusual plants. Visit her website at

Jim Costa is an evolutionary biologist, entomologist, and historian of science. He is executive director of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, North Carolina, and Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. A long-time Research Associate in entomology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, he’s the author of numerous scientific research papers and several books about Darwin and Alfred Wallace Russel. He teaches biogeography and the history of evolutionary biology and lectures widely in the United States and Europe. Visit his website at

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Unfortunately, I had to DNF this book because it was too difficult for me to read on my phone. I usually read eBooks on my Kindle, but this book wasn't available in that format. The parts that I was able to read were incredibly interesting. I didn't know that Charles Darwin studied plants. I enjoyed reading about his experiments and how these studies supported his theories on evolution. I wish I could have read more!

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- Summary -
Although Charles Darwin is best known for his work on the evolution of animals, he also made large contributions to the natural sciences with his extensive work on plants. He made many detailed and thorough studies on various plants at his home.
Darwin and the Art of Botany is a wonderful read which includes beautiful illustrations and exerts from some of Darwin's lesser known works.

- Review -
The illustrations are beautiful and add such a nice accent to each of the dedicated chapters. The authors did a wonderful job trying to convey the type of person Darwin was, he was very inquisitive and constantly trying to understand how and why plants grew in a certain way. In addition the exerts from some of Darwin's lesser known works was very informative and it was very cool to read some of his findings.

It's a wonderful book for anyone who enjoys learning about plants, or want to know more about Darwin's research. It would be great to read over the course of a couple of rainy days; each of the sections are fairly short so you feel like you can pick it up again without feeling lost.

Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for this ARC.

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A truly stunning and informative read, although it may be more greatly appreciated by botany enthusiasts rather than regular old nature lovers.

What stood out to me most were all of the incredible watercolour paintings, lithographs and hand coloured engravings. They were so stunning, colourful and detailed.

I also loved the diversity of plants, from Periwinkle to Fava Beans and Peanuts to Bur Cucumbers.

While I love that I now have some fun plant-related facts stored in my head, I think the written content in this book may be more up the alley of someone with a more intense interest in specific plant observations and characteristics. The excerpt from Darwin’s botanical books made many of the individual sections feel unnecessarily lengthy and the detail slightly excessive.

All in all, I’m grateful to have read it!

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I truly didn't know what to expect with this book and I was absolutely blown away. It is the most beautiful amalgamation of science and art. While it could be read straight through, which I started to do, initially, I found that not committing to a structure maximized my experience of the text. Browsing illustrations, and then reading further about each unique species in the included excerpts of Darwin's research was such an enjoyable way to move through the book. This is, as a whole, a work of art to return to over and over again. I have never understood the concept of coffee table books, to be honest -- but would want a hard copy of this to have out in my home at all times to be able to pick up and refer to, learn from, and enjoy any time. So grateful to have received the digital ARC!

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The premise of this book and the aesthetics of it are both lovely. It was obviously created by people who care about both history and science. The illustrations are paired with the excerpts extremely well. The formatting is lovely as well.

As a side note, wow, Darwin was coming up with the right questions and wrong answers sometimes, and vice versa as well! Ha!

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Synopsis: Charles Darwin is best known for his work on the evolution of animals, but what people don't really know is that, in fact, a large part of his contribution to the natural sciences is focused on plants. His observations are crucial to our modern understanding of everything from the amazing pollination process of orchids to the way that vines climb. This book collects writings from six often overlooked texts devoted entirely to plants, and pairs each excerpt with beautiful botanical art from the library at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, creating a gorgeously illustrated volume that never existed in Darwin's own lifetime, and hasn't since. Evolutionary botanist and science historian James Costa brings his expertise to each entry, situating Darwin's words in the context of the knowledge and research of the time. The result is a new way of visualizing Darwin's work, and a greater understanding of the ways he's shaped our world.

Opinion: As biologist I adore to learn more topics and although plants were not my thing, this book is amazing from the writing to the drawings and pictures inside. Just to see the details in the images is worth the reading and more so with such wonderful compilation of botanical information.

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If you are a “plant-nerd" with an interest in Charles Darwin’s experimental work on plants (beautifully illustrated with many “historically significant botanical artwork"), you will enjoy this book. It includes generous quotes from Darwin’s works, including “The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects” (Darwin was a dedicated observer of Nature who wrote well, but he didn’t like paragraph breaks much, so be prepared to wade through long passages without rest) as well as charming tidbits about the man himself (he once lost a bet in college about the height of a ceiling, surrendering a bottle of port to the winner).

The book’s illustrations, which were provided by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, are gorgeous and fascinating in their detail.

What I didn’t like about the book was the authors’ unusual use of idiomatic expressions that seemed to come out of nowhere and land with a thud. It’s a book about science, so going into it you expect to run into terms like “consilient resonance” and to then break open a dictionary, but what you don’t see coming are oddities like “The only fly in the ointment was his father.” or Darwin writing “How I wish I was a Botanist.” To which the authors added "(As if!)”. It’s like they were trying to make the prose approachable, but instead built speed bumps that jarred me out of reading repeatedly. Eventually they stopped with the idioms at which point the writing was fluid and interesting.

I have to mention the book's design, Sowins Design used fonts, color choices, and a layout that enhanced the content beautifully, making it a joy just to flip through. It’s the perfect coffee table book!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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In addition to the depth of coverage of Darwin's life and his science, the book provides stunning illustrations that contribute to the "art of botany" elements of the book. The excerpts from Darwin that accompany each species really bring the reader closer to Darwin. I left the book with a new appreciation for the detailed and painstaking work that goes into the study of botany.

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Darwin and his statements about evolution are as controversial among the general public as ever. Most people have a general knowledge that Darwin was greatly influenced by his observations in the Galápagos Islands. In this beautifully illustrated book, the authors set out give us a glimpse of Darwin’s work at home among his beloved plants. Using specimens sent to him from around the world, Darwin engaged in careful observations to find further evidence for his theories. I really enjoyed learning about Darwin’s evidence and the book is an engaging window into the scientific process. Plus, it is visually stunning, filled with beautiful botanical drawings.

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What a beautifully constructed book. This noteworthy piece of literature blends together the realms of artistic excellence and scientific expertise. "Observations on the Curious World of Plants: Darwin and the Art of Botany" illuminates the painstaking scientific inquiry undertaken by Darwin in the field of botany. Every plant featured in this book is presented with stunning artwork and accompanied by comprehensive extracts from Darwin's research on the origins and science of each distinct species.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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This book was a remarkable combination of fine art and scientific knowledge. "Darwin and the Art of Botany: Observations on the Curious World of Plants" shines a light on the diligent scientific research Darwin did in the field of botany. Each plant highlighted in this book is showcased by beautiful illustrations, as well as detailed excerpts from Darwin's research on the history and science behind each unique species. This work is more academic but not beyond the understanding of someone with a basic knowledge of plants. The book will appeal to scientists, gardeners, and those with a passion for fine art.

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Darwin and the Art of Botany,
Observations on the Curious World of Plants
by James T. Costa and Bobbi Angell

A summary of Charles Darwin's writings about 45 species of plants, with skillfully-detailed sketches, this professionally-presented text is part history, part reference, part detailed study of Darwin's botany research, and part artwork.

The subject plant species are such as might be encountered in an English country garden and hothouse, and include peas, beans, grapes, clover, primrose and orchid. Each species is described in a half-dozen pages, with an introduction followed by Darwin's writings about that particular plant, together with Darwin quotes and personal trivia. The illustrations deserve special mention: features of the highlighted plants are sketched with botanical detail, coloured and presented with artistry.

This book will appeal to gardeners and historians, and of course to botanists. The style initially resembles a history and botany text, but the main impression upon me is an introduction to the personality of Charles Darwin, dedicated researcher of biology.

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Darwin and the Art of Botany is an interesting and well illustrated book following the life and botanical study of a Charles Darwin. The author has given a brilliant insight into these topics and uses a range of illustrations and references to bring his life and studies together as a whole.
My main quarrel with this novel was that it wasn’t concise enough and could have been more focused on just the artwork with maybe a small amount of background detailing (although the book does explain early on that his art is few and far between). However, the book is easy to follow and is perfect for those researching the topic as the book is carefully and strategically spilt into easy to read and follow chapters. However, all the artwork featured is outstanding beautiful and will inspire anyone who picks up the book.
Overall I feel the book gives a good beginners guide to those interested within Darwin’s life and his impact upon the botanical world and is a good read for those interested in biology or botanical studies.

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As someone who has taught science for the last 8 years I knew this book would be right up my alley. From reading the description I wasn't sure if this was going to be more like a biography/memoir of sorts or more of an informative text. The pictures were beautiful and I definitely felt like it gave the vibe of a great coffee table book. The book format was especially difficult to read with an e-reader/electronic file because of the pictures and the way it was organized I spent a lot of time zooming in and out which was frustrating.

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I really enjoyed this one! I've been on a Darwin kick lately and have read a mix of his books and books about him and this is one of my favourites. The drawings and art pieces were stunning and I liked the way the book was segmented. I think it's a great book to come back to often and is full of fun little details that will stick with me. One in particular was "nyctinasty" where Darwin studied how peanut leaves folded up during the night. In addition to the intriguing details about botany, the book also offers an insightful look into Darwin's interests and his lasting impact on science. The combination of art and science in this book is truly remarkable and comes together seamlessly. Overall, I highly recommend "Darwin and the Art of Botany" to anyone interested in botany, Darwin's work, or the intersection of art and science.

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Absolutely beautiful illustrations and very informative text. I find Botanical sciences fascinating, being both plants and science admirer. I liked reading about Darwin’s research and findings, learning about plants. I would love having a book like that printed in hardcover and large format.

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My son is studying Botany in college and I find the plant world beautiful and mysterious so I was eager to read this book.

The authors dedicated chapters to 45 different plants studied by Darwin.
It was mentioned that a lot of Darwin’s studies involved plant movement and other animal-like behaviors. This led to some very interesting plants being featured here.

The art work in this book is beautiful but I also found the reading to be interesting .

I’ve always found orchids fascinating and learned here that the Michigan native lady slipper is a type of orchid. I didn’t know that “The name “orchid” is derived from the Ancient Greek term for testicles.”

I also found it interesting that when triggered by an insect, the Venus flytrap snaps shut in about 100 milliseconds! Also, peas have been consumed for about 7000 years, and a population of cats in an area can save pollinators!

While I think someone schooled in Botany might get more out of this book, I definitely enjoyed both the art and the science.

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This book was very informative. I wasn't sure if it was a biography or a plant information book. The pictures were beautiful though. I loved that the back had so much research you could get more information from.
The format of the book did not work for an e-reader or any electronic device it had. I had to zoom in on each page just to read the words and it really put a damper on my enjoyment.

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"Darwin and the Art of Botany is a captivating and educational read for anyone interested in the world of plants. The authors, James T. Costa and Bobbi Angell, do an excellent job of explaining complex botanical concepts in an easy-to-understand manner, making this book accessible to both experts and laypeople alike. The combination of Darwin's observations and the illustrations by Bobbi Angell bring the world of plants to life, making it a truly immersive experience. Whether you're a botanist, a nature lover, or just looking for a good read, this book is sure to leave you with a greater appreciation for the incredible diversity and beauty of the plant kingdom."

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