One Book’ promotes discussion

Stephanie Louise Lu

Music freshman Stephen Garman read “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin” cover to cover.

The book, chosen for this year’s One Book One Northwestern program, was meant to appeal to students and faculty across all NU colleges.

This year’s One Book program sent copies of “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin” to incoming freshmen over the summer. Program events began in September, bringing speakers to NU to stimulate discussions about evolution, said Teresa Horton, chairwoman of the program.

The five-month program will end today with a celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday.

“I think we’ve had a lot more student interest in this program than past programs,” Horton said.

Speakers have gone into dining halls, visited student interest groups and attended afternoon receptions.

“I wasn’t interested at first, but having read the book and gone to lectures, the material has really grown on me,” Garman said.

Originally, the One Book program considered Charles Darwin’s work, “On the Origin of Species,” but in the end selected “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin” by David Quammen, who spoke on campus Feb. 5.

Although the program was aimed at incoming freshmen, lectures and events were open to everyone, said Prof. Bradley Sageman, who teaches a class called Evolution and the Scientific Method.

“We knew that we were asking people in a very transitional phase of their life to take time out and read a book,” he said. “David Quammen’s book is very readable and presents the scientific story in a very human way.”

Slavic studies Prof. Gary Morson, who asked his freshman seminar students to read “On the Origin of Species,” said he disagreed with the book choice.

“In general, it’s better to read primary sources than secondary sources if you are to avoid the prison of contemporary prejudices,” he said.

Still, David Quammen’s lecture filled Ryan Family Auditorium on Feb. 5.

At his lecture, Quammen discussed Darwin’s life and accomplishments, as well as his own take on the importance of the theory of evolution. The author focused on the difficulties Darwin faced, including poor personal health, professional rivalries and religious disagreements with his wife. Quammen focused his lecture on the scientist’s honesty and caution, using them to explain the tenacity of Darwin’s theories and work.

Sheila Kredit, a Music and Weinberg sophomore, said this was her third One Book event.

“I really love them,” the biology major said. “I feel like it’s a theme – evolution versus religion – that a lot of people are interested in across campus.”

Program organizers said they did not assume they had permanently changed anyone’s opinions.

“There were students who were not accepting of the theory who were asking very probing questions of the speakers and received very respectful answers,” Horton said. “These are the types of conversations that should be had in an intellectual environment, and that’s what this program is all about.”

Medill graduate student Jane Park attended Quammen’s lecture but said she did not expect her disbelief in evolution to change.

“I’ve perused (the book), haven’t read it actually,” she said. “I’m interested in what the speaker is going to say, but personally I’m not buying into evolution because of my beliefs.”

So far, Sageman said he thought the program has been successful.

“I can’t imagine a better One Book One Northwestern program than the one we’ve had,” he said. “The fact that this year coincides with Darwin’s 200th anniversary gave a lot of fuel to the intellectual fires. This year’s program is as successful as it can get.”

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