An Almanac of Nature in History and the Arts


"Sims's range is awesome."

Martin Gardner

"A book to be savored."

Library Journal

"A truly surprising, weird, and entertaining compendium."


"A treasure trove of odd, entertaining, quirky—and significant—episodes from the history of natural history."

Richard Milner

"An offbeat, endlessly entertaining daybook."

Paul Mariani


Darwin's Orchestra is an oversize book of days, its 366 essays (one for every day of the year, including Leap Day) adding up to more than 500 pages of wonderful stories about King Kong, Rachel Carson, Spider-Man, John Muir, Basho, and countless other figures real and imagined. It includes more than 100 illustrations—movie stills, Far Side cartoons, bronze opium weights, ancient sculptures, Victorian drawings.


"In this calendar of curios, the levity of oddity reigns supreme....With a satirical undertone, Sims also aims his eclectic attention at representations of science (chiefly animals extinct or extant) in popular culture. So he trolls for subjects among cartoons, children's books, campy monster movies, or journal entries by famous authors....One never knows what's on the next page—Columbus is as likely as Cleopatra or Calvin and Hobbes—making this a truly surprising, weird, and entertaining compendium."

—Gilbert Taylor, BOOKLIST

"The mini-essays in Darwin's Orchestra are a marvelously entertaining mix of evolutionary theory, biology, physical science, history, hoaxes, crank religion, and the liberal arts. Sims's range is awesome. Although the format is one essay for each day of the year, it is almost impossible not to keep turning pages to see what delightful surprises come next."

—Martin Gardner

"Throughout, the author chronicles the influences that flora and fauna, the earth, and stars have had on human culture. This is a book to be savored. Recommend for all libraries, including personal ones."

—Bruce D. Neville, LIBRARY JOURNAL

"To understand how we perceive the natural world, the interplay between science and popular culture is vital. Darwin's Orchestra is a treasure trove of odd, entertaining, quirky—and significant—episodes from the history of natural history."

—Richard Milner, senior editor of Natural History magazine, author of The Encyclopedia of Evolution

"In this hype-saturated age....it's rare to run into a science book that promises nothing but the rarest commodity of all—a good read....It's also quirky, nicely written, and full of gossipy tidbits....The blending of nature, science history, and the arts reaches its whimsical peak in the essay from which the book takes its title....As Vladimir Nabokov says in [one] essay, 'There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.'"

—Phillip Manning, NEWS & OBSERVER (Raleigh)

"Michael Sims provides us with an offbeat, endlessly entertaining daybook celebrating humankind's multifaceted and curious interactions with Nature. Every one of the 366 entries holds new, fascinating, and often surprising bits of information, all of it rendered by an urbane, witty, and encyclopedic raconteur."

—Paul Mariani, poet and biographer

Enjoyable reading.... Certain to amuse and appeal to scholars, teachers, students, and the general public."


You flick to a page and scan through until another topic steals your interest; then you jump over to a new location by means of a thoughtfully provided link, only to find yourself careening in a new, unexpected direction. Although you may have started at the first page with every intention of proceeding straight ahead, it's not long before you're skipping through strands of anecdote and discovery that have been woven into a wide web of knowledge.... [Sims] has orchestrated disparate fact and random tale into an intellectual cavort, apparently by converting his private curiosities into a public meditation upon the natural world.... With a temporal legerdemain, Sims accomplishes some magical symmetries.... All manner of creatures wise and wonderful inhabit Sims' pages."


What an astonishing accomplishment and what a delightful blend of learning and lore is Darwin's Orchestra. How the heck can one person know all the history, science, literature, and art assembled so cleverly here? ...A most entertaining journey, packed with obscure facts and arresting anecdotes.... You'll want to linger here and there while developing your own method for exploration.... But Darwin's Orchestra isn't just a parade ground for Sims's brilliance.... You can't read it without becoming something of an environmentalist. The variety of the natural world and of the human responses to Nature—poetic, wise, silly, heroic—is simply amazing. To read Darwin's Orchestra is to discover once again that we really do live in a world of wonders."

—Alden Mudge, BOOKPAGE

It's no stretch at all for Sims to fit Darwin and other academic types snugly against Bugs Bunny and Dracula and Shakespeare and Mr. Ed.... To add another dimension to some of the fascinating stories, Sims scoured archives for illustrations. They're as varied as the text, with a Far Side cartoon and still photo from Bedtime for Bonzo followed by a wood carving of St. George slaying a dragon."

—Linda Quigley, THE TENNESSEAN

A book of days that a reader will treasure for years.... Sims' general knowledge and ability to connect things is profoundly informative.... His style is clear, concise and often very amusing.... Wit, charm, irony, and elegant phrasing."

—Jack McCray, POST AND COURIER (Charleston)

Start anywhere. Open Michael Sims' delightful new book to your birthday, your wedding anniversary, or today's date. . . . For every day of the year, Sims has discovered and recounted stories about natural phenomena, grand and subtle, serious, comic or poignant. . . . Some entries report curiosities. . . . Others provide succint summaries of important scientific work."