Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Golden Book of Biology

The Golden Book of Biology: An Introduction to the Wonders of Life
Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler
illustrated by Charles Harper
originally published as
The Giant Golden Book of Biology
Golden Press, 1961

I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I finally broke down and purchased one of these online in its 1967, updated form. I did find a great deal, but still, you'd think I was made of money, right? I've always felt sooner or later I'd run into this collectible in my travels, so I suppose buying it is simply an investment in my future. (Or at least that's what I keep telling myself.) Regardless, it's totally divine to finally have it in my own two hands. I'm just sorry I didn't get it for a dollar, because then I wouldn't care if the boy tears it to bits. As it is now, we look at it only when we're together (and our hands are clean). That said, for years I've heard about how fabulous the illustrations are, but for me, it's the text that makes my eyes sparkle. So it begins...

If a stone could talk, and asked you what it is like to be alive, what would you say? You might say that your heart beats, and that you breathe and grow. But such an answer just leads to other questions. What is a heartbeat? Answer: Pumping action that sends blood through your arteries and veins. Your heart beats about 70 times a minute, 100,800 times a day, 37 million times a year. In ten years it pumps enough blood to float a ship. But why is all this pumping of blood necessary to keep you alive?

Questions are just as important as answers. Growth seems ordinary and commonplace, until you stop to think about it. "How you've grown!" friends of the family say. Then they go on to talk about something else. Plants and animals grow; you are expected to do the same. But stones and dead things don't grow, why is it that living things do?

Why, indeed. The question's the thing here and from this first paragraph you want to keep reading and reading and reading. From making a homemade microscope to how plants store energy to how food becomes flesh to cold-blooded vs. warm-blooded to the earliest days of the earth... Goodness, never has asking questions been so much fun! Don't get me wrong, Charlie's drawings are all that and more, but I can't help fall in love with a book where the last chapter begins...

Looking up at the stars on a clear night, you sometimes wonder if there are other worlds where plants and animals live. Perhaps, somewhere in the vastness of space, there are worlds inhabited by creatures who can walk, talk, and think. Do they, too, look at the stars? Do they wonder if you exist?

Do they? Do they?


  1. I haven't seen this one. What inspiring illustrations. Thanks for posting it.

  2. I bought the original at a thrift store for 50 cents, took it home, cut out pages, and hung it on my wall.

    I knew who Charlie Harper was, and loved him. I just didn't realize it would be worth $800.

    Oh well, I'm going to frame the pages.

  3. I have that book, the german edition mind you, but I have. The thing is, I can't seem to find it. The second I saw the cover a memory-spark hit me and I was back at my childhood, flicking through that particular book and always loving those illustrations although I do remember being slightly puzzled by them, since the look of those animals never quite matched with what I saw in real life, but I was 6 years old back then. I have to go rummage around in the cellar, it must be somewhere to be found.

  4. Is this the same as the Giant Golden book of Biology - the Science of Life? The title of yours says Wonders of Life. Would you know if both editions are the same in content if not title?

  5. I'm pretty sure they are the same, except factual things were updated.... let me know if I'm wrong...

  6. I think boingboing.net had a link to the golden book of chemistry. if not I have a PDF

  7. I love this book and hope to find one of my own for a decent price!! His illustrations are wonderful. Please share more pages from the book.

  8. This book, with its thoughtful text and beautiful images, was a deep influence on me in childhood. The way it combines scientific habits of inquiry, observation and analysis, with a reverent appreciation for the wonderful variety of living things, from very great to very small, and their intricate relationships, has resonated for me throughout my life.

  9. I was delighted to discover this book online. Like many other readers, I adored it as a child and can still remember it in great detail, as I read, and re-read it. I remember being fascinated by the diagram 'Why brown eyed parents may have a blue eyed child, which is still my reference point for explaining recessive genes. Although I still have my copy, the cover is severely battered and the title and foreword have disappeared, so I spent ages trying to find it before chancing on it.I just wish it wasn't so expensive, as I would love a new copy!