The book “Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller,” by David A. West, associate professor emeritus of biological sciences (1962-1998) was published by the University Press of Florida in July 2016. 

The book will be introduced to the Virginia Tech community from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on  Sept. 30, in the Fralin Life Science Institute auditorium and atrium. The book launch will include a panel discussion to highlight the book and West’s story of how he wove together his research and global travels to produce a thorough explanation of Müller’s life and scientific findings. A reception will follow with book sales and signing by members of the panel.  

At David West’s death in April 2015, his dream was coming true – the publication of his long-time work on evolutionary biologist and theoretician Fritz Müller (1821–1897). Müller belongs in the cohort of great 19th-century naturalists. West describes the close intellectual kinship between Müller and Darwin and details a lively correspondence that spanned 17 years. Despite the importance and scope of his work, however, Müller is known for relatively few of his discoveries. West remedies this oversight, chronicling the life and work of this extraordinary and overlooked man of science.  

According to Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus of Biology Duncan M. Porter, the former senior editor and director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, “Fritz Müller’s importance to Charles Darwin was demonstrated by his son Francis: ‘My father’s correspondence with Fritz Müller was, in its bearing on his work, second in importance only to that with [Joseph] Hooker. He had for Müller a stronger personal regard than that which bound him to his other unseen friends.’  Darwin turned many of Fritz’s fact-filled letters to him into publications. David West was certainly correct when he wrote ‘Fritz Müller was Darwin’s closest intellectual kin.’”

West’s remarkable book goes beyond revealing the importance of Muller’s contributions to the development of evolutionary theory, casting new light on the social and environmental impacts of colonialism in the late 19th century. According to the book’s foreword, written by Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Science Studies Richard Burian, and University of Florida history of science professor, Vasiliki Betty Smocovitis, "Here, West enables us to understand the intersection of human migration, settlement, and environmental change with exploitative practices, such as slavery in the rapidly shifting economy of postcolonial Brazil."

Susan Marmagas and David West
Susan Marmagas (left), an associate professor of public health practice at Virginia Tech, with her father, David A. West. Photo by John Cline.
Share this story