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God—or Gorilla

Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age

As scholars debate the most appropriate way to teach evolutionary theory, Constance Areson Clark provides an intriguing reflection on similar debates in the not-too-distant past. Set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, God—or Gorilla explores the efforts of biologists to explain evolution to a confused and conflicted public during the 1920s. Focusing on the use of images and popularization, Clark shows how scientists and anti-evolutionists deployed schematics, cartoons, photographs, sculptures, and paintings to win the battle for public acceptance. She uses representative illustrations and popular media accounts of the struggle to reveal how concepts of evolutionary theory changed as they were presented to, and absorbed into, popular culture.

Engagingly written and deftly argued, God—or Gorilla offers original insights into the role of images in communicating—and miscommunicating—scientific ideas to the lay public.

About the Author

Constance Areson Clark is an associate professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Reviews

This highly readable book is valuable as it stands. It is also timely. The 1920s shaped pictures of evolution, and of evolutionary debate, that are still in our heads. As biologists work with illustrators to communicate science, and creationists attack textbook icons, it is helpful to reflect on the struggles of that decisive decade.

- Nick Hopwood - Nature

Engagingly written, well illustrated, and refreshingly free of the theory-driven jargon that often diverts attention from the task at hand, God—or Gorilla is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Scopes trial, the continuing controversy over the teaching of evolution, and the role of expertise in American society.

- George E. Webb - Journal of American History

A shining example of interdisciplinary American Studies at its very best.

- Choice

Clark's investigation of the images of evolution in the 1920s is a wonderful window into the place of science in the United States and how the cultural concerns of an era can shape scientific activity.

- Charles A. Israel - American Historical Review

Perceptive and enjoyable book.

- Warren D. Allmon - American Paleontologist

Significant contribution[s] to this broad interdisciplinary area, illuminating the ways in which ideas about organic evolution were contested, and charting the processes by which eugenics acquired an established place in American political and social life.

- Robin Vandome - Journal of American Studies

The value of this book, which is considerable, lies in its careful depiction of the scientific and cultural landscape within which the 'evolution wars' of the 1920s took place.

- A. Bowdoin Van Riper - Isis

Clark's choice of the 1920s is perfectly suited for her brilliant study of evolutionary imagery, for the decade saw significant social, economic and political changes along with growing tensions over the question of where humans came from.

- British Journal for the History of Science

Clark's study offers a novel perspective of the history of human evolutionary research and popular culture and is a valuable contribution to scholarship in this area.

- Matthew R. Goodrum - Annals of Science

A refreshing picture of the origins of the evolution–creation dispute, and in it we can see the germ of the outlooks and arguments that largely still motivate creationism today.

- Rudolf A. Raff - Evolution & Development

An exceedingly interesting contribution to the history of anthropology.

- Jonathan Marks - American Ethnologist

Clark's study has additional significance as a contribution to intellectual history. Readers will find familiar themes of evolution—natural selection, chance and design, and missing links—and the book shows the fate of these issues when they entered the public arena.

- J. David Hoeveler - History: Reviews of New Books

Endorsements

God—or Gorilla is a splendid study and an important contribution to our understanding of the role of science in democratic society. It shows not only how early advocates understood evolutionary theory, but also how they illustrated and explained it, packaging it for a popular audience. This is interdisciplinary scholarship at its best.

- Michael Lienesch, author of In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Antievolution Movement
Johns Hopkins University Press
Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context
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