The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory
Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights
In The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, Kenny Fries tells us two stories: the development of the theory of “survival of the fittest,” as articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace; and the history of his ever-changing, made-to-order, orthopedic shoes. The famously important first story, as told by Fries, is a colorful account of the race between Darwin and Wallace to formulate their groundbreaking theories. At the same time, Fries tells a deeply personal story of the evolving consciousness of his own “adaptations,” as represented by his shoes.
Although only the “fittest’ may survive, Fries learns that adaptation and variation are critical to survival. What is deemed normal, or even perfect, are passing phases of the ever-changing embodiment of nature in our world. In the end, Darwin and Wallace’s discoveries resonate with Fries’s own story, inextricably leading us into a new world where variety and difference are not only “normal,” but are the ingenious origins of survival itself.
“This is a gem of a story on biological research by Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin on adaptation, and interspersed within this is the author’s ways of adapting to the fibulae missing in both of his legs….Fries has written a truly distinctive philosophical and autobiographical examination of the social context of ability/disability. He draws the reader’s attention via his relationship with his partner to how society’s culture defines the limit of the body as much as a particular individual’s bodily condition. Read this dazzling book!”
— citation for the Myers Outstanding Book Award
"An irresistible title; I did not resist. I read this book with great pleasure, delighted by the unexpected yet perfectly apt conjunctions, by the grace and economy with which the episodes from Darwin’s life and key concepts of his work are transposed into a ‘natural history’ of the self with a poet’s sense of the telling detail.”
— Andrea Barrett, author, Ship Fever and Servants of the Map
“A beautiful and truly original book, for the quality of mind and language I found in it. Fries’s reflections on adaptation led me to think in a new way about my own life of adaptations.”
— Adrienne Rich
"A beautiful account blending memory, information and insight so elegantly and uniquely. Reading this book is a rewarding, absorbing experience."
—Joanna Scott, author,Various Antidotes
“Such an artful and compelling weaving together, such lovely writing. A really really great book."
— David Rakoff, author of Fraud
"Kenny Fries explores both ‘able-bodiedness’ and the legacies of Darwin’s theory while literally traveling the world. There is no book quite like this and no one who reads these pages will ever forget them. This is a history of our bodies and a travelogue through landscapes and cultural signs that everyone should read in our post-colonial millennium."
— Stephen Kuusisto, author, Planet of the Blind
“Not only is this book beautifully written, fascinating, incredibly original and with a great title, but it says something about the human race that is truly profound. I don’t know when I have read anything more pertinent or exciting.”
— Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author, The Hidden Lives of Dogs
“An unusual historian, Fries wears the story of his life on his feet in specially constructed orthopedic shoes…In Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, Fries recognizes a pair of intellectual adventurers whose research—now in isolation, now in concert, now in conflict—illuminates his own quest to adapt to an ever-shifting environment . . . Few are the writers who can so deftly weave science into personal reflections, compellingly reminding readers of the still unfathomable mystery of one terrestrial species.”
"In this quietly revolutionary book, Fries gives us his own story, side-by side with that of Darwin’s. The juxtaposition is startling, revelatory, and ultimately redemptive. Big-hearted, generous, deeply human, this is the next wave in identity politics, and you’re going to love it."
— Alison Smith, author, Name All the Animals
“Kenny Fries’ The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory is not so much about disability as it is about adaptation—but adaptation in the same way that X-Men’s mutations are adaptations…. Two things make this make this book remarkable: One is the bottom-line universality of human adaptation. The other is the gentle poetry of Fries’ narrative.. . . .Fries excels in making us stretch our thinking…Throughout, Fries keeps a level head and a clear confidence, but also a modesty that makes his story open to anyone who wants to reconsider some old assumptions—not just about disability, but also about who we are, and how we are, in our world.”
— Achy Obejas, In These Times
“If I had my way, New Mobility would print an excerpt from award-wining poet and nonfiction writer Kenny Fries’s The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory each month until the whole book was reprinted, and then I’d ask for a sequel. This book is that important, and that beautifully written.”
—Josie Byzek, New Mobility Magazine
“Thoroughly enjoyable….Told in a fresh and vigourous style, The History of My Shoes is reminiscent of one of those Alain de Botton books, the kind that massage the intellect by taking …. from the works of great thinkers and making them reverberate in the present. “
— Tom Eubanks, Lambda Book Report
“Kenny Fries’s extraordinary new book engages the reader in a journey that is both personal and universal, fusing the history of science and personal history, challenging readers to expand and investigate ideas of place and identity, a journey around the world, across oceans, jungles and mountains, a journey that spans centuries, wildly different perspectives and the arbitrary boundaries of genre.”
— Julia Bouwsma, The Progressive
“An idiosyncratic and fascinating reflection on disability and evolution. . . . an absorbing walk among questions and intriguing juxtapositions, a walk well worth taking.”
— Douglas Baynton, Disability History Association News
“Alternating between accounts of Charles Darwin's and Alfred Russel Wallace's investigations of adaptation and variation and his own challenging odyssey as a disabled man, the author offers us a unique take on the idea of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Not only a riveting and colorful account of Darwin's and Wallace's journeys and discoveries but a story of personal evolution and the capacity for change under duress, this is an unforgettable and inspiring book.
— L. Paus, Eliott Bay Book Company Book Notes
“The author’s journeys around the world echo and revitalize the explorations of Darwin and Wallace through Fries’s physical experience, memory, and lyric impulse. . . . Through accumulation of such narratives in association with the history of the world’s development, Fries reconfigures common notions of disability into new fluid shapes, necessary and universal. It is for this reason, a disability memoir breaking free of a single body into others, that The History of My Shoes truly becomes the history of all bodies.”
— Laurie Clements Lambeth, The Disability Studies Quarterly
“The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory is so lyrical, economically crafted, and engagingly peripatetic, that one wants to keep traveling with its author even after he ends his meditation. Part memoir, part history, part travel narrative, Fries’s book is an extended examination of his unique experience of disability, and it’s presented within the context of broader ideas about humanity’s place within the natural order.”
— Jim Nawrocki, Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide