Footnotes: On The Origin of Species by Sabina Radeva

On Charles Darwin Day, we look at a modern-day retelling of Darwin’s game-changing theory of evolution, which sparked fierce scientific and religious debate back in the 19th century. 

Donna Mackay
On The Origins of Species by Sabina Radeva
Illustration: Sabina Radeva

What's the book?

On the Origin of Species is Sabina Radeva’s first picturebook, an adaption of Darwin’s world-changing 1859 look at the laws of nature. It’s an illustrated explainer to the theory of natural selection, updated and retold for the noughties generation. Initially funded by Kickstarter, the project was a sensation and raised over £50k to fund its publication.

Interestingly, Radeva began her working life in molecular biology, graduating with an M.Sc. from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, a society for the advancement of science. She then decided to swap her lab coat for a painting shirt and retrain as a graphic designer, with a passion for blending science and art: ‘I am always looking for ways to bridge my background as a molecular biologist with my creative career’ she told us when we spoke in 2019.

While there’s no doubting the importance of Darwin’s work, it’s hardly bedtime reading. The Origin of Species is a dense, academic number that only the most dedicated of readers could make headway in. While his discoveries remain fascinating, Darwin's language, to the contemporary reader, is often outdated. 

That's what makes this such a great idea. Radeva creates everything from dinosaurs to big cats to exotic birds in a beautiful depiction of the complexities of the environment, at a time when human impact on the Earth has reached a tipping point. But what this edition hasn’t lost is the flavour of Darwin’s original behemoth, paying homage with explanations and quotes from the great man himself. It's also just the ticket if you have a curious kid full of questions on how the natural world works.

Why talk about it now?

This week saw Charles Darwin Day (he was born on 12 February 1809), so it’s the perfect moment to revisit the impact his theories had. It was also, on the 11 February, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so what better moment to spotlight the work of an upcoming female author and designer too.


Darwin described writing The Origin of Species as 'living in Hell', and was worried of the repercussions of going public with it at a time when many still believed the world, and everything in it, was created all at once. He did it anyway, and shook the foundations of Victorian Britain – and Western civilisation itself – in the process.


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