Lurking in the title of Charles R. Ault Jr.'s book are two intentional ambiguities. The “Darwinian origins” are both the origins of various evolutionary lineages—tetrapods, elephants, whales, and birds among them—and the origins of Charles Darwin himself: three chapters retell episodes from his childhood and his voyage aboard the Beagle. And the “stories” are both the sober narratives of historical and biological scholarship and the whimsical and playful tales of children's literature, including both enduring classics such as Kipling's Just-So Stories and Stevenson's Treasure Island and relative novelties such as Leo Lionni's Fish is Fish and Bernard Wiseman's Morris the Moose.

Beyond the triple motifs of Darwin, evolution, and stories, there is no overarching theme: Do Elephants Have Knees? is a collection of essays rather than a monograph. But that is not a fault, especially because each essay abounds with stories, anecdotes, and insights, often from unexpected quarters,...

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