Hi, Im Richard Milnera historian of science who loves to share my lifelong research (and original discoveries) about Darwins life and thought with you. Trained as an anthropologist, specializing in primate behavior and human evolution, I worked for years as Senior Editor at Natural History magazine at the American Museum of Natural History.
There I edited Stephen Jay Goulds famous column, This View of Lifethe basis of his popular booksan odd twist of fate, because Gould and I had been childhood friends who were interested in evolution and Darwin even as 12-year-olds. Since then, Ive written
But theres also a twist to my Darwinian research and scholarhip. Gould used to introduce me to audiences by saying, Richard doesnt just search the history of science for biographical and intellectual insightshes the only Darwin historian whos always looking for song cues.
Thats because, back in the 1960s, when I was a graduate student at the University of California (UCLA and Berkeley), I began writing songs about Darwin and evolution and performed monologues with a jazz bassist at San Francisco coffee houses.
Im still writing songs about Darwin and evolution, and for the past decade have performed my one-man musical Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert all over the world, including such venues as the Edinburgh Science Festival, London Natural History Museum, Dresden Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Canberra Skeptics Society (Australia) and most recentlythe fulfillment of a lifelong dreamon a cruise ship in the Galapagos Islands. (After the performance, the audience gathered on deck, where they were treated to a unique spectaclesea lions leaping out of the water to catch flying fish in mid-air!)
Eight of my Darwin songs, with music by Jacques Semmelman, were performed last spring by a 100-voice choir in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known as the North Cambridge Family Opera Company. You can click on the video clip above to view New York Times coverage of my show on Darwin Day last year.
In the full show, a multi-media production, several hundred digital slides and eleven songs are interspersed with dramatizations of the history of science. Much of the dialogue is based on the letters of Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Alfred Russel Wallace, plus there is my own take on the Scopes Monkey Trial, the essays of Stephen Jay Gould, and a few comic fantasies. Among fans of the show have been the illusionist Penn Gillette, the late Stephen Jay Gould and actor Tony Randall, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, the historian Frederick Burkhardt, the legendary Broadway lyricist Sheldon (Fiddler on the Roof) Harnick, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Theater critic Rex Reed wrote that Milners songs are clever and witty; he could tackle musically any subject. Tony Randall called them absolutely wonderful, and famed Broadway lyricist Marshall (Once Upon a Mattress) Barer wrote: Milners lines are incredible. Written with seemingly effortless expertise, Richard Milners lyrics leave us unaware (until weve finished laughing) that we have made a quantum leap in the reconciliation of art and science. The songs are fresh yet inevitable, modest and audacious, stylishly eclectic, touching and hilarious. Master lyricist Sheldon (Fiddler on the Roof) Harnick said in the Wall Street Journal, His lyrics are expert especially because theyre so scientifically rich. Click image on right to see some of the lyrics.
Darwins Universe: Evolution from A to Z (University of California Press, 2009) is the evolved descendant of my Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanitys Search for its Origins, which has gone through two editions (1990 and 1993). The new book contains a hundred new essays, and a treasure trove of rare pictures and illustrations from the history of natural science. Darwins Universe is not only about Darwins Life and thought (and those of his friends and fellow evolutionists) but is also the story of how evolution leaped out of science to influence drama, literature, exploration, cinema, law, and popular culture. Go to Darwins Universe page.
As part of Darwins Bicentennial, I also co-edited the 200th Anniversary Special Darwin-Wallace Issue of the Linnean Society of London. You can read my article in that Journal, Charles Darwin: Ghostbuster, Muse, and Magistrate. (Click journal cover image on the left.) You can read the entire issue online at the site of The Linnean Society of London. Also, see my cover story on Darwin and coral reefs in the current issue of Natural History magazine.
Part of the Linnean story involves my discovery of an amazing court trial in 1876the first time a psychic had ever been charged by a scientist with concocting fraudulent scientific experiments. I found, to my astonishment, that the two greatest naturalists of the nineteenth century took opposing sides when the supernatural went on trial. Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection was the star witness for the defense, while Charles Darwin secretly contributed funds to the prosecution. (See Charles Darwin & Associates, Ghostbusters (). You can hear me speak about Darwin as Ghostbuster, Muse, and Magistrate with Steve Mirsky on Scientific Americans current podcast.
Ill end by returning to my newest book, which is featured at the top: Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time, published by Abrams. Leading wildlife and sci-fi artists and filmmakers have written that they consider this the book that Charles R. Knight fans have been waiting and hoping for. Paleoartist Bill Stout calls it magnificent . . . amazing . . . dazzling. Paleontologist Don Prothero raves, truly remarkable . . . gloriously illustrated.
Knights paintings of dinosaurs, mammoths, early humans, and living animals rank among the greatest treasures of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago, (see Field Museum Photo ArchivesCharles Knight Paintings) and other institutions. See also the World of Charles R. Knight.
The book also contains a new biography of Knight, which I constructed after months of examining archival boxes full of his letters and papers, most of which have never before been researched. His life turned out to be more interesting and compelling than I ever imagined, and his dramatic life story is told in this book for the first time. It is a remarkable naturalist-artists life, full of his love of animals, fascination with the remote past, the joy of creation, and the despair of gradually losing his sight. Also, Knight fans have sent us photos of his wonderful artworks from far and near that have never before been published.
I was deeply delighted that Rhoda Knight Kalt chose me to assemble this treasury of her grandfathers artistic legacy, which includes his wonderful wildlife renderings as well as the classic prehistoric scenes. Knights surviving private letters and papers, many of which we have published for the first time, are also fascinating.
Thanks for visiting Darwinlive.com. I hope you will like my writings, songs, and performances. Its my deepest pleasure and my joy to use history, science, and scholarship to create music, theater, and art. Darwins lessons went beyond science. He spent a life making his play his work and his work his play. As Darwin sings in my show, while gathering specimens aboard HMS Beagle, I do what I love and I love what I do.