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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] During the 1924-25 school year, John Scopes was filling in for the regular biology teacher at Rhea County Central High School in Dayton, Tennessee. The final exam was coming up, and he assigned reading from George W. Hunter’s 1914 textbook A Civic Biology to prepare students for the test. What followed has become one of the most well-known accounts in the history of science and one of the most famous trials of twentieth-century America.

In Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Anti-Evolution Movement in American Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Adam R. Shapiro urges us to look beyond the rubrics of “science” and “religion” to understand how the Scopes trial became such an important event in the histories of both.  The story begins with a pair of Pinkerton detectives spying on a pair of textbook salesmen in the Edwards Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. Shapiro brings us from that hotel room into a series of classrooms, boardrooms, and courtrooms while exploring the battle over textbook reform in the twentieth-century US. Based on a close reading of high school curricular materials around the discipline of botany, with special attention to the emergence of “civic botany” as a pedagogical field, Shapiro’s book uses the debates over pedagogy, evolution, and the textbook industry to explore a number of issues that are of central importance to the history of science: the construction of authorship, the histories of reading practices, the co-emergence of economies and technologies, and the ways that urban and rural localities shape the nature of sciences and their publics. It is a gripping, moving, and enlightening story. Enjoy!

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