Richard Milner, Singing Darwin


“Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wonder, meticulously researched wonder may be the first thing that shines through any interview or performance by Richard Milner. A science historian, Darwin expert, troubador, songwriter, anthropologist, editor, and author Milner was interviewed in the New York Times earlier this year about his traveling one man show, “Charles Darwin: Live and in Concert”. Of his unabashed love of Darwin Milner told the paper, “Everyone should find his own Darwin. The man was so large. He was a zoologist, botanist, an explorer, a travel writer, a philosopher, an abolitionist, a doting father, a radical intellectual revolutionary with an utterly conservative and blemish-free lifestyle. He revolutionized every field he touched, and was trained in none of them.”

Milner himself could be described as a radical intellectual revolutionary. He was kicked out of UC Berkeley doctoral program in anthropology in the 1960’s for writing a gritty book of urban anthropology “Black Players: the Secret World of Black Pimps”, a book that would be lauded in current academia for its thorough research and unflinching portrayal.

Milner_AuPhotoBut it is in his devotion to scientific history, and specifically to the life and work of Charles Darwin that Milner truly shines. Expanding from a grad school hobby of writing musical numbers about evolution, Milner has gone on to produce extraordinary musical reviews and several engaging books on Darwin and evolution. It’s the complexity with which Milner portrays Darwin that is most exceptional. Not only does he show the man of science, the famous white beard, the trappings of Darwin; he shows the die-hard anti-slavery proponent, the indignant anti-psychic buster, the devoted father of 10.

Milner’s own largeness as a man and scholar does not end at his famous friendships and eclectic curriculum vitae. Milner, unlike the legendarily introverted Darwin, is expansive and direct. His songs (think classic Broadway and the Rat Pack) are boisterous, crooning, hilarious, witty, punctuatingly articulate by turn. His voice is broad and clear. His website is cheerful, brimming with enthusiasm and tour dates. Much like Darwin’s out spoken friend, Thomas Huxley, who acted as Darwin’s advocate and bullhorn throughout much of his career, Milner gives booming voice to Darwin’s ideas.

It’s not hard to see why Milner would be drawn to Darwin, the similarities in their methodology is striking. They are both known for the painstaking accuracy of their research. They both show an unbridled joy and wonder in their work. Milner alludes to the connection, “As Darwin himself said, I am a millionaire in odd and useless facts.”

To hear Milner interviewed about performing and his new book, Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A-Z, visit our podcast page, episode #19, or see below. You may subscribe to the monthly podcast feed that contains the individual episodes using your RSS aggregator or directly via the iTunes store. You can listen to individual author interviews from the episodes at our podcast page.

Listen to the podcast with Richard Milner:  

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2 thoughts on “Richard Milner, Singing Darwin

  1. “He was a zoologist, botanist, an explorer, a travel writer, a philosopher, an abolitionist, a doting father, a radical intellectual……and was trained in none of them.”

    I think I’m on this road, haha, sometimes I think I have to many passions and maybe if I focused on one I would actually be good at it. To be able to achieve greatness in all of them is something. I think I have only found mediocrity so far.

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