Friday, March 8, 2013

On the Origin of Species: Beginning

The next book I'm tackling is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (or just On the Origin of Species for short!) by Charles Darwin. I'm taking (well, just finishing) a cellular biology class this quarter and we have been discussing some of Darwin's theories, etc. in class so I felt this was a good time to read this one.  We have also been studying Mendel's theories of genetic inheritance, information which Darwin did not have access to at the time he wrote this book, but which would have helped him to explain some of the mysteries of genetic transmission that he didn't fully understand. 
Charles Darwin was twenty-two years old when he took the post of naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle which sailed from England to explore South America in 1831.  The evidence Darwin collected on this trip, specifically his study of the finches on the islands of the Galapagos, was influential in establishing his future theories.
Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 and although it was not the first suggestion of natural selection or of this process of evolution, it was one of the most influential on the scientific community. 
One funny anecdote about him: ever the methodical person, when he was contemplating marriage to his future wife Emma, he made a list of pros and cons for marriage.  Under the pros column, he wrote "constant companion and friend in old age...better than a dog anyhow" and under the cons: "less money for books" and "terrible loss of time."  Evidently "better than a dog" outweighed the loss of money for books!
Charles Darwin died in 1882 of congestive heart failure.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you how influential his work has been on the world or why I chose this book for the list.  An Examiner review of the book from December of 1859 says, "Much of Mr. Darwin's volume is what ordinary readers would call 'tough reading;' that is, writing which to comprehend requires concentrated attention and some preparation for the task. All, however, is by no means of this description, and many parts of the book abound in information, easy to comprehend and both instructive and entertaining."

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