This may well be the only book on evolution that we will ever review on this site, and it’s a good one. Forbes' main theme is the development of our understanding of the processes behind natural mimicry, where one harmless species comes to resemble another, more dangerous one.
Our story begins in the Amazonian jungle in the mid Nineteenth century, where two British explorers became the first men to notice mimicry in nature, when they realised that a number of butterflies were mimicking other species.
Their discovery came at the same time as the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and since then the study of mimicry has played a major role in our understanding of evolution.
Twelve of the book's sixteen chapters focus on the natural world. These chapters tell a fascinating story of scientific discovery and controversy, coming right up to the present day. Forbes does a very good job of explaining some very complicated theories, and has produced a classic work of popular science.
This only leaves the question of why we are reviewing this book. The answer comes in the other four chapters, which look at the attempts made by some of the leading naturalists and biologists of the period to use their theories and knowledge to help camouflage Allied ships, aircraft, tanks and other facilities during the two World Wars.
During the First World War this was largely limited to the 'dazzle' patterns applied to warships, but in the Second World War camouflage and mimicry came into their own, with fake airfields and factories, inflatable tanks and a myriad of other ideas, which reached their peak in North Africa, during the preparation for Montgomery's offensive at El Alamein, before playing a major part in the deception plans before D-Day.
1 Darwinians, mockers and mimics
2 Swallowtails and Amazon
3 Delight in deception
5 On the wings of angels
6 Dazzle in the dock: The First World War
7 Camouflage and cubism in the First World War
8 Hopeful monsters?
9 The natural history of the visual pun
10 Cannibals and Sunshields
11 Dazzle (revisited) to D-Day
12 From butterflies to babies and back
13 The aromas of mimicry
14 The tinkerer's palette
15 The Heliconius variations
16 A shifting spectrum
Author: Peter Forbes