There is a paradox at the heart of the theory of evolution

Natural selection favours above all the particular individual that leaves the most offspring – a super-organism that might be called the Darwinian Demon. If it existed, this theoretical ogre would populate the world with only its own kind and would extinguish all diversity.

  • Why, then, has evolution manifestly filled the world with diversity and not demons?
  • What keeps Darwinian demons in check?
  • Can they be let loose by human actions, or even be created by genetic manipulation?
  • What is the future of biodiversity in a world now so dominated by one species - our own?

Demons in Eden explores these questions using the latest scientific theories and discoveries of evolutionary biology and ecology applied to plants.

What readers and reviewers have said

“Demons in Eden is a grand scientific narrative, full of vivid description, clear analysis, and personal warmth—an enthralling read and an important contribution to our understanding of biodiversity.” 

Oliver Sacks

“An inspiring tour through the sheer wonder of plant life and the key ideas on how plant diversity came about. This book takes us inside the grand theatre of plant diversity—and also asks how we would like the current act to end.” 

Peter Crane, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

“In a sequence of cameos each as invigorating as a stroll in a mountain meadow, with marvelous clarity and wit Jonathan Silvertown entices us on a quest. By means of fascinating insights, we explore those several paths along which scientists have deduced how plant diversity has arisen and is sustained. Hidden within these tales lies a rigorous text on evolution, the lessons from which are then compellingly applied to address those threats to diversity which we, the current demons, have created.” 

Peter Ashton, Harvard University

“Demons in Eden is a riveting account of the effort to understand—and to stop—the tragic loss of plant species throughout the world. Like a botanical Dante, Silvertown leads the reader through the inferno of plant extinction—fearfully ascending the cauldron of plant demons on a volcano in Japan—then takes us to the purgatory of a small island in Panama where rare seedlings miraculously hover between life and death for decades. Silvertown then points to paradise: tropical Edens such as Hawaii or southern Florida, which he believes can be restored to their glory. This is a compelling journey to the very frontiers of science that hold the answer to one of the most crucial questions of our age: why is nature disappearing and what can we do about it?”

Paul Alan Cox, author of Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rain Forest

"I found your manuscript so compulsive that I read it at one sitting through yesterday evening, so here are some comments. First and foremost, it is enchantingly written and as a lay person in this field (so to speak) I found it attractive, informative and enjoyable...."

Steven Rose, Winner of Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize 1993

"This book is both topical and timely. There’s growing public awareness about the threat of invasive plant species, and public policy-makers are beginning to hear more about it. It will give advanced undergraduates and graduate students exposure to the biological foundations behind invasiveness in a most interesting way. The writing is very approachable and authoritative. As I read I felt as if I was learning as much or more than a textbook but enjoying it much, much more. This is anything but a plodding textbook. Further, this book will appeal more broadly to the intelligent, scientifically literate audience outside of universities. It is a good, quick read, despite some of the complex biology presented. The author is so clear, concise, engaging, friendly, funny, and adept with the techniques of narrative writing – e.g., metaphor, analogy, scene-setting, entertaining anecdote, circling back for historical context, description of personal feelings and experiences, and personal revelations – that this is a pleasant read over and above the rich content. In many ways this is a field biology travelogue as the author takes the reader to various sites around the world to teach his lessons by showing – not just telling. My hat is really off to the author as a skilful writer...."

William Allen, Science Journalist, St Louis, Mo.

Reviews

"Reading Demons in Eden: The Paradox of Plant Diversity is like listening to a great professor deliver a stellar lecture..." Sara Alexander, Science (2006) 314:763

"...In this highly readable and pleasantly anecdotal account of the dynamics of the plant world, Silvertown suggests that tasting the fruit of evolutionary knowledge may provide us with a ticket for readmission to the Garden of Eden, where we can exercise the privilege by ensuring that biodiversity is conserved. Let us hope that he is right." Peter D. Moore, Nature 438:27

"...In an educational and entertaining analysis of the nature of species diversity, Silvertown brings to fruition some 30 years of personal and professional research as he incisively probes current ecological conditions to reveal the considerable threats posed by these evolutionary intruders." Carol Haggas, Booklist

"...Silvertown has a knack for explaining complex biological concepts in an accessible and engaging way. He deftly uses analogy and example to illuminate his discussions, and often waxes lyrical in his descriptions." Viveka Neve, American Gardener Nov/Dec 2005

"Jonathan is the author of many scholarly articles but here he writes in a style which is both engaging and entertaining, and discusses some of the most significant plant conservation issues of the day. ... This book is... an altogether good read." John Hopkins, English Nature Magazine, March 2006.

"What we get is a fascinating journey with an affable host, taking in plant growth in environments around the world. The situations are mostly ones the author has dealt with first hand in a distinguished research career. Is all this science really necessary for a designer? ... The trick is that without having to be exhaustive in content, we get to the heart of so many issues relating to why plants are the way they are, and we are the richer for it." Jonathan Ingram, Garden Design Journal, April 2006

"The text is scattered with vignettes dealing with the excitement of frontline research, and asides revealing the quirky perception of the world through the eyes of a botanist. Some of the puzzles are solved, some not, but the enthusiasm is infectious. The book reminded me to travel to see more of these wonderful living organisms and most importantly see the ones we live with today, though fresh eyes." Jonathan Ingram, The Garden, April 2006

"Silvertown describes plant communities around the world, explores the research of the scientists studying them, and covers the fundamentals of plant ecology—island biogeography, niche partitioning, dispersal and recruitment, nutrient use. He illustrates how each seemingly esoteric example is controversial, compelling, and highly relevant to conservation." Margaret Pizer, Conservation in Practice, April - June 2006

"I must admit that when I started reading this slim volume, I was prepared to be skeptical, even cynical, about its premise and whether the author could weave together concepts from so many diverse fields into a compelling story that would be palatable to an educated lay audience and not so superficial as to be meaningless to a professional biologist… However, by its end, I was taken in and my marginal notes became enthusiastic, instead of cynical. This book is a quick read and Silvertown’s style is engaging. I highly recommend it for biologists looking for a way to better comprehend the alien invasion happening all around us. As I write this, I am already laying out in my mind a capstone course planned around the layout of Silvertown’s book for our seniors. Its 10 chapters, along with readings from the primary literature, which is well referenced in the footnotes with suggestions for further reading, will fit perfectly in our 10- week terms." Richard Olmstead, American Journal of Botany, Aug 2006

“The clarity of ecological analysis within this novella-length book is an enviable accomplishment….Ultimately, Demons in Eden is a perceptive ecological narrative, a contemporary and evocative fugue of botanical exploration, evolutionary ecology theory (converging in Chapter 6) and insight into the very tenuous relationship between ecological robustness and global human impacts. Overall, it is the writer’s ability to interweave a succinct analysis of plant evolutionary ecology, his engaging enthusiasm for scientific research and the intrinsic marvel of plant life that furnishes the enduring impressions of this book.” Caroline Chong, Austral Ecology 2006

Jonathan Slilvertown is a natural communicator; he uses his skills very effectively in this book. … This book deserves to be taken seriously. It is written so that the non-expert can get a sound understanding of difficult ecological and evolutionary principles. It is not beyond the grasp of policy makers and politicians, and might be described as required reading by people who will shape the future of our planet. David F. Cutler, Annals of Botany 2006

"Silvertown offers a delightful series of vignettes about plant diversity and evolutionary biology. Written for nonspecialists, this work explains in common language many basic principles in evolutionary biology and environmental science. Silvertown writes in a way that enables readers with little science background to get a clear understanding of some basic scientific principles without compromising the accuracy of the science.…Highly recommended"Clear: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

"This is a book I recommend you read. I found it fascinating and frightening..."Norman Todd, Victoria Rhododendron Society Newsletter February 2006

"Jonathan Silvertown is a leading British ecologist well known to many members of the Society. Never one to eschew a difficult problem, in this volume he provides his interesting explanation for plant diversity using a form of 'case studies' approach, which takes in many of the most pressing environmental challenges... You should buy it for someone you know." David Walton, Bulletin of the British Ecological Society, June 2006

"Highly recommended, this gem of a book is packed with stimulating explanations about plant life and the wonder of its diversity." Marilyn K. Alaimo, Chicago Botanic Garden

"What controls biodiversity is still one of the big unanswered questions in biology, and it forms the centrepiece of Jonathan Silvertown's brisk and readable tour of what is going on in plant ecology." John Whitfield, Times Higher Education Supplement, July 2006