Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Title: How the Zebra Got Its Stripes: Darwinian Stories Told Through Evolutionary Biology
Author: Léo Grasset
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pegasus
Date Started: March 10, 2017
Date Finished: April 5, 2017
Format: Adobe Digital

*I would like to thank the publisher, author, and NetGalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

When I was a young child, my mother would read me stories from Old Mother West Wind. They asked the questions of “why,” “how,” and “when” and gave reasons to the strange traits that we observe on animals today. The stories contained in the volumes are what we now describe as “Just So” stories, providing anecdotes that may not make actual sense, but explain why things are the way they are. How the Zebra Got Its Stripes by Léo Grasset takes this same approach, except gives the real reasons and the science behind animal characteristics.

And that’s what I absolutely love about this novel. It brings together the intriguing stories of the weird things animals do, or the absurd way animals look, and provides a scientific story and the logic behind its purpose. Each chapter takes a characteristic of a species, and explores it with an evolutionary perspective, with a tendency to focus on the “why.”

An unexpected twist to the novel revolves around presenting science in its true form. Many things are still unknown, and filling these gaps is the purpose of current science. And Grasset admits that. At times this lack of conclusion punches the reader in the gut, for how could we not know why female hyenas have penises? This novel sparked memories and old passions in myself, so I have no doubt it will inspire future scientists, who will discover the answer to the cliffhangers presented within the pages.

Several chapters were captivating and thought-provoking, such as the one centering on the political systems used by differing animal species. Others chapters were short and I just wanted more, more, more! But then again, being an evolutionary biologist, I am probably just a tad bit biased. Where I found the book to be light and refreshing, others may find inspiration and excitement where before they just saw a freaking awesome animal. Or a boring animal, because some animals are secretly cool.

Overall, I really liked this book. For those with a scientific background, this book is a quick, enjoyable read. For those who are interested in learning more about biology I would highly recommend this book. There is not too much terminology, and the questions raised are universally fascinating.

Overall, 4/5 moose