Encyclopedie van de evolutiebiologie (Nico van Straalen)

A Dutch encyclopaedia about evolution biology with special focus on human evolution

By Sonja van Scheijen

When I was younger, my parents gave me an encyclopaedia for children (clearly I was already the biology nerd I am today). Eager to learn as much as I could, I started at page one and continued page by page until I finished the entire book. This is still my preferred way of reading any book, so when the “Encyclopedie van de evolutiebiologie” (Encyclopaedia of the evolution biology) arrived in the mail, I started again on the first page and continued reading until the book was almost finished (…or rather until a certain highly-evolved, domesticated feline started demanding dinner). Ok, enough about my reading habits, what is this new Dutch encyclopaedia all about?

A dictionary of evolution

In this encyclopaedia, Nico van Straalen explains concepts of evolutionary biology term by term, with a special focus on human evolution. Every explanation covers exactly one page with some additional figures. It starts with a dictionary-style definition, followed by a more in-depth discussion about this specific topic. So whether you need a quick reminder of what a certain term in evolutionary biology means (e.g. what was meiosis versus mitosis, again?) or a more in-depth explanation (e.g. what does kenyanthropus* mean?), this is the book for you. These features make all the explanations very easy to read, although the language is a bit above ‘entry-level’ Dutch. If you already know some basics about (human) biology and evolution, this will give you no trouble, but I can imagine that it can be a tough read for, for instance, my parents who lack this knowledge.

An excerpt from ‘Encyclopedie van de evolutiebiologie’

The encyclopaedia is written in Dutch and van Straalen makes a brave attempt to translate the typical English jargon into my mother-tongue; I think he actually succeeds. Personally, I find this the hardest part when explaining to my family members what I study at university: half of my explanations are filled with English words, for which I wish I could find the neat Dutch translation. Now I’ve found my companion.

Whether you need a quick reminder of what a certain term in evolutionary biology means, or a more in-depth explanation about something, this is the book for you.

Nico van Straalen is an Emeritus Professor of Animal Ecology, who started as a Biology student in 1970 at VU Amsterdam. During and after his studies, he worked (among others) as a researcher, lecturer, and (vice) dean at VU Amsterdam until 2017. He has a special interest in human evolution, which is why this encyclopaedia has a focus on this subject. At this moment, van Straalen is already working on part II (1).

If you have a special interest in evolutionary biology, especially human evolution, this encyclopaedia will be interesting for you. Every day you can read a little more about a specific concept and steadily broaden your knowledge on the subject, or you can do it my style: read the whole book in one sitting, while the cat lurks impatiently.

How can I find this book?

Encyclopedie van de evolutiebiologie, written by Nico van Straalen is published by Ensie.

* Kenyanthropus is an extinct ape-humanlike creature, known for the found fossil skull, 3.5 million years old, difficult to place in the family tree of the hominins (2).

About the writer

Sonja is studying both the Biomolecular Sciences and the Philosophy, Bioethics, and Health master degree at VU. She enjoys doing many things at the same time: her interests range from the influence of literature on society (and vice versa) to the molecular basis of rare genetic diseases.

Further reading

1. Nico van Straalen. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://www.nicovanstraalen.nl/

2. van Straalen, N. (2019). Encyclopedie van de evolutiebiologie. Met speciale aandacht voor de evolutie van de mens. Nijmegen: Ensie.