sure, you might want to see what started it all, read the words of the most influential book of our time etc, but seriously, don't. The Origin is painfully dry and dull.
darwin was a careful and thorough man. he put off publishing The Origin for many many years, carefully revising and editing, making sure his points were clear and that his observations could be seen to directly lead to each conclusion. he had an idea of how controversial his book might be, so he held off publishing until he had written it in a way that very slowly and cautiously, with no shocks or surprises, leads the reader by the hand through very well accepted facts, through concrete examples and field observations to the conclusion that natural selection is the means of evolutionary change.
as a result of his careful and cautious writing, it's boring. SO BORING.
darwin put off publishing it until 1859, when alfred russel walace struck upon the same idea, prompting darwin to present his theory together with wallace and finally prepare The Origin for publication.
it's also not the best book to turn to if you want to get your first primer in evolution. much of what darwin posits has been added to, revised and improved thanks to more recent experiments and observations. we also know now the actual mechanism for inheritance, DNA.
to celebrate darwin and this year of darwin's bicentennial, i recommend turning to his other book, The Voyage of the Beagle. this is a much better read. The Voyage is his adventure book, the travelogue, the story. this book is the tale of his adventures. it's way more interesting. it is not a cautious scientific piece, but a story of young darwin as he voyaged around the world. it is full of his wonder, full of his excitement. it is also full of crazy anecdotes like the time he had to stop dinner mid-drumstick and drag the remains of the bird now called darwin's rhea, out of the cooking pot so he would have a specimen of it to prove it's existence.
my very favourite book about darwin is by lyandra lynne hopt, it is called "Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent, or The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks" this is full of amazing stories of the bird life in south america as illustrated by excerpt from his notebooks. so many great portraits of darwin, lying in the grass of the pampas, shoes off, waving his feet in the air to try and entice a herd of guanacos to come closer so he could see them.
it really gives you a clear picture of darwin as a young man, who wasn't actually on board the beagle as the naturalist, he was there as a sort of chaperone and dinner companion to keep captain fitzroy from being unduly influenced by the common sailors on board. darwin took up the post of naturalist when the actual naturalist got sick and left the boat. darwin eagerly rose to the challenge and collected, observed, bought fossils and shot specimens which were all sent back to england. as darwin's experts and friends sent back their identifications and the taxonomy became clear, darwin began to piece together the core of the theory.
new scientist has a feature full of their favourite books about darwin.
give it a look for more amazing stories of science and adventure.
and, if you are like me, an affectionate fan of natural history, and swoon at the thought of a scientist voyaging around the world, join the friends of charles darwin.
xox misslake, FCD
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