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The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the 'Beagle'
Cover of The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the 'Beagle'
The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the 'Beagle'
Introduction by Richard Dawkins
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[Illustrated jacket]

Introduced by Richard Dawkins.

Easily the most influential book published in the nineteenth century, Darwin's The Origin of Species is also that most unusual phenomenon, an altogether readable discussion of a scientific subject. On its appearance in 1859 it was immediately recognized by enthusiasts and detractors alike as a work of the greatest importance: its revolutionary theory of evolution by means of natural selection provoked a furious reaction that continues to this day.

The Origin of Species is here published together with Darwin's earlier Voyage of the 'Beagle.' This 1839 account of the journeys to South America and the Pacific islands that first put Darwin on the track of his remarkable theories derives an added charm from his vivid description of his travels in exotic places and his eye for the piquant detail.

[Illustrated jacket]

Introduced by Richard Dawkins.

Easily the most influential book published in the nineteenth century, Darwin's The Origin of Species is also that most unusual phenomenon, an altogether readable discussion of a scientific subject. On its appearance in 1859 it was immediately recognized by enthusiasts and detractors alike as a work of the greatest importance: its revolutionary theory of evolution by means of natural selection provoked a furious reaction that continues to this day.

The Origin of Species is here published together with Darwin's earlier Voyage of the 'Beagle.' This 1839 account of the journeys to South America and the Pacific islands that first put Darwin on the track of his remarkable theories derives an added charm from his vivid description of his travels in exotic places and his eye for the piquant detail.

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  • From the book Suppose we measure the power of a scientific theory as a ratio: how much it explains divided by how much it needs to assume in order to do that explaining. By this criterion, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is second to none. Think of what it explains — and I really mean explains in the fullest sense of the word: your existence and mine; the form, diversity, and apparently designed complexity and elegance of all living things, not only on this planet but probably wherever in the universe organized complexity may be found. The explanatory work that the theory does, then — the numerator of the ratio — is immense. But the theory itself — the denominator — could hardly be smaller or more simple; you can write it out in a phrase: ‘Non-random survival of randomly varying hereditary elements.’ That isn’t quite how Darwin himself would have put it (he phrased it in terms of the survival and reproduction of individual organisms). But it captures the essence of his idea in a way that — I am convinced — he would recognize and, indeed, enjoy if he were alive today.We can probably pare the denominator down even further, to a single essential: heredity. Given that there exists a system of high fidelity copying, two things will follow immediately: there will be a population of the entities copied; and, since no copying process is perfect (there is mutation, in other words), they won’t all be exactly the same. It then follows that successful hereditary types will tend to increase in number at the expense of unsuccessful hereditary types. That is probably all that is needed for life to get going and, given enough time, to evolve living machinery whose complexity and diversity progresses without obvious limit.Consider where we would be without Darwin’s idea. We’d presumably have some sort of science of biology. Students would take degrees in the subject, books would be written, Nobel prizes in physiology and medicine would be won. We might know in some detail how living organisms work; we’d know that a human body is a teeming army of cells, a thousand times more numerous than the people in the world; we’d know that every one of these cells is a mass-production moleculefactory packed with the membranous equivalent of miles of sophisticated conveyor belt. We’d know a great deal about how our bodies work, and how the bodies of shrimps, elephants and redwood trees work. We’d be compelled to recognize how complicatedly organisms are fitted to survive in their particular worlds. But we wouldn’t have the foggiest idea why. We’d read volumes about living things but we wouldn’t have a clue about where they came from originally nor why they work so efficiently and purposefully. It would undoubtedly be the most baffling problem in biology — probably in the whole of science and the whole of philosophy. This was the problem that Darwin decisively solved. We are now as certain as one can ever be in science that a version of Darwin’s solution is the correct one.The Darwinian solution to the riddle of existence is so powerfully simple, so felicitous to the modern mind, that it is hard for us to understand why it had to wait until the midnineteenth century before anyone thought of it. It is further surprising — and probably telling — that this great inspiration, which looks so elegant from the modern armchair, eluded centuries of philosophers, mathematicians and polymaths. Plato and Aristotle never even got close, fooling about with ‘essences’ and ‘ideal forms’; Leibnitz and Newton gave us calculus (which might seem a more...
About the Author-
  • CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, to a wealthy intellectual family, his grandfather being the famous physician Erasmus Darwin. At Cambridge University he formed a friendship with J. S. Henslow, a professor of botany, and that association, along with his enthusiasm for collecting beetles, led to "a burning zeal," as he wrote in his Autobiography, for the natural sciences. When Henslow obtained for him the post of naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle, the course of his life was fixed. The five-year-long voyage to the Southern Hemisphere between 1831 and 1836 would lay the foundation for his ideas about evolution and natural selection. Upon his return Darwin lived in London before retiring to his residence at Down, a secluded village in Kent. For the next forty years he conducted his research there and wrote the works that would change human understanding forever. Knowing of the resistance from the orthodox scientific and religious communities, Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 only when another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently reached the same conclusions. His other works include The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and Recollections of My Mind and Character, also titled Autobiography (1887). Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle was published posthumously in 1933. Darwin died in 1882; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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Introduction by Richard Dawkins
Charles Darwin
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