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‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments

Breeding pigeons, growing orchids and other hands-on work provided evidence for the theory of evolution

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10:00am, August 24, 2017
Down House

HOMEWORK  Down House, Charles Darwin’s country estate, was the scene of many homespun experiments that provided evidence for the naturalist’s theory of evolution, as described in a new book.

Darwin’s Backyard
James T. Costa
W.W. Norton & Co., $27.95

The story of how Charles Darwin’s trip around the world on the HMS Beagle inspired his ideas about evolution is well-known. Less familiar, however, may be the decades of detailed research that he conducted after that 1830s voyage. As biologist James Costa chronicles in Darwin’s Backyard, many of those studies took place at Down House, Darwin’s country home southeast of London.

The estate’s relative isolation enabled Darwin to conduct in-depth anatomical analyses of everything from barnacles to birds. Darwin supplemented that work with hands-on experiments. He bred and raised 16 varieties of pigeons, trying to

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