Consider the Platypus, by Maggie Ryan Sandford

As I’ve said a number of times, the pandemic really destroyed my ability to read, and now that I’ve achieved some sense of mental stability again I’m working to catch up on a bunch of the books that I just hadn’t had the energy to read.

This includes science books as well as fiction, and recently I decided to dive into Consider the Platypus (2019), a book by one of my Twitter friends Maggie Ryan Sandford!

This book is a fun exploration of evolution and all its modern developments, told through the descriptions of a variety of animals, from relatively mundane creatures such as cows, dogs and cats to truly unusual beasts such as axolotl, hoatzin and the titular platypus.

Each animal is used to highlight a concept in evolutionary biology, including a lot of the twists and turns that the research has taken as scientists learn more about how evolution works beyond Darwin’s original ideas. But Darwin is often discussed in sidebars, as Sandford explains what Darwin got right and what he got wrong about evolution with the information he had available. This gives great perspective on how far we’ve come in our understanding, and how gloriously complicated living creatures are.

You know what I found? This book is the perfect bedtime reading! Each animal is discussed over a handful of pages at most, and reading about 2-3 animals per night is a great way to unwind and learn some new concepts. Each animal is fully illustrated (with great illustrations by Rodica Prato), and the description is broken into short sections that highlight things like our shared genetic heritage (how much of our genome is shared by the animal), where the animal started to take shape in evolutionary history, and what lessons are to be learned from it. The example of the platypus (taken from the publisher website) is shown below.

The book is impeccably researched and fascinating to read. I think it could be a good introduction to evolution for people, especially younger students, who might be intimidated or bored by other texts. It teaches evolutionary concepts step-by-step by example, and has a playful tone throughout. I felt like I learned a lot while reading, even though I feel like I’ve had a good grasp of the fundamentals for a while.

In short, Consider the Platypus is a very clever book written in an engaging and unique style, and I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about the creatures that we share this planet with!

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