three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
By: 
Edward Humes
user_rating: 
0

Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul

A-Monkey GirlThe Scopes Monkey Trial first tested the case for evolution in 1925; 80 years later, Kitzmiller v. Dover reignited the debate between Darwinism and a form of creationism, intelligent design, as well as the debate over the separation of church and state. In 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board voted to require its high school biology classes to promote the theory of intelligent design. After protest by teachers, parents, the ACLU, and others, the case against the school board (and its supporter, the religious nonprofit Thomas More Law Center) was brought to trial. Judge John E. Jones III concluded that intelligent design could not "uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." In following the story behind this decision, Monkey Girl depicts how Dover became the national testing ground for American schools, beliefs, and culture.
Ecco. 380 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060885483

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[Humes] may be the most successful so far in making a complicated issue accessible and in putting human faces on both sides of the evolution divide. Clearly based on exhaustive reporting that takes the reader from the hard benches of a Harrisburg, Pa., federal district courtroom to the kitchen tables of Dover families whose children were taunted as ‘monkey girls,’ Humes’ fast-moving, richly detailed book reads like a suspense novel." Lisa Anderson

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Humes does a terrific job of evenhandedly laying out the history of creationism in America and the 150-year history of intense hostility from Biblical literalists to Darwin’s theory of evolution, virtually the entire field of modern biology, and even the scientific method itself. … His writing is vivid, memorable and engaging, and a welcome breath of common sense in an area dominated by zealots and table pounding." Kevin J. Hamilton

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The hero of Monkey Girl is the levelheaded judge, John E. Jones III, a lifelong Republican. … [The book] should be required reading for all who cherish education and their First Amendment rights." Richard Horan

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although his own sympathies clearly are with the defenders of evolutionary theory, Humes makes a strenuous effort to be fair-minded. … The Kitzmiller case was not quite the ‘battle for America’s soul’ that Humes suggests in his subtitle, but it was an important episode in the country’s ongoing struggle to reconcile faith, science and culture." Christine Rosen

San Diego Union-Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"This would be a good reading-list book for a college class on modern conflicts between religion and science. As a popular book, it’s overhyped." Neal Matthews

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"All the ingredients for good narrative nonfiction are there: courtroom drama, legal quarrels and colorful characters. … But Monkey Girl (the title comes from a schoolyard taunt aimed at the daughter of another plaintiff) often reads like a college term paper written the night before it was due." Pamela R. Winnick

Critical Summary

The Pulitzer Prize–winning Edward Humes (Mississippi Mud, School of Dreams, Over Here) knows how to successfully tackle society’s big issues and present them to the general reader. Monkey Girl is no exception. Humes writes clearly, makes complex scientific ideas accessible, and uses a novelistic approach to heighten the legal conflict and courtroom drama. Critics diverged only on a few points. While most thought Humes’s account evenhanded (for example, his sympathetic portrait of the defense’s star witness, Michael Behe), the Wall Street Journal called Humes "disappointingly self-righteous" in his criticism of intelligent design. And while most applauded his exhaustive reporting, a few cited a simplified narrative. Monkey Girl still stands as the best book for staying current on the arguments for and against the teaching of evolution in our public schools.