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Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough[ DARWIN AND THE BARNACLE: THE STORY OF ONE TINY CREATURE AND HISTORY'S MOST SPECTACULAR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH ] By Stott, Rebecca ( Author )Jun-17-2004 Paperback [Paperback]

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January 1822. Leith, the harbour town of Edinburgh. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Barnacle Makes Charles Darwin July 8 2003
Charles Darwin's contribution to science looms ever larger, as his work on evolution continues to be confirmed as elucidating the foundation of life on Earth. His account of his travels on the _Beagle_ are still enjoyed by readers looking to see how he began his insights, and his writings on the evolution of species and humans are of course well known and epochal. Less appreciated these days is that Darwin did not always write on the big subject, but he disciplined himself by writing on the small. In _Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough_ (Norton), Rebecca Stott has taken one important aspect of Darwin's long career, with the idea that the barnacles, in many ways, were the making of Darwin as a scientist. Much of this information is not particularly new and is covered, though in less depth, in the many Darwin biographies. However, Stott's attention to Darwin's barnacle work, his family issues of the time, and his growth as a biologist focuses welcome attention on an important part of his life and career.
After his return from the _Beagle_ voyage (and his first collection of a barnacle specimen), besides writing up his journals and discoveries from his voyage, Darwin formed his first ideas about the origin of species and evolution. He wrote up his ideas, but refrained from publishing; he not only knew how controversial evolution would be, but he realized he needed to issue these ideas after having more basic biological knowledge. So for eight years, from 1846 until 1854, Darwin worked on barnacles. He had to dissect hundreds of them under the microscope. He had to work with both the adult forms and the free-swimming larval forms. He corrected misconceptions and made startling discoveries about their sex lives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin and the Barnacle Jan. 3 2004
Stott brings Darwin to life! An extraordinary story, so well crafted it brings a wonderful sense of humanity to the history of science. Primarily, 'Darwin and the Barnacle' brings into focus the central essence of Darwin as a human being. It presents Darwin's raw excitement with life, seemingly ignited while strolling studiously (almost romantically) along the foreshores. Which in turn encouraged him to undertake his famous tour of discovery upon the Beagle.
The sensitivity of the author helped develop in me an understanding of and interest in Charles Darwin as a person. I was moved by learning more about the man and how he lived his life; by the grief he experienced as his beloved daughter died, how his wife and he read to one another, about his ill health, his day to day activities and about his dedication if not dogged determination of his scientific observations.
In reading this book I came to understand how much time and energy Darwin dedicated in undertaking his labourious investigations into barnacles, how this hard work paved the way for honing his monumental work on the 'Origin of the Species'. Yet for me it is not a defence of evolution, but rather its Darwin who is placed under the microscope. It was literally as if Stott breathed life back into Darwin - which suddenly took on more importance than the revolutionary achievements that he is so well regarded for. 'Darwin and the Barnacle' is a great book I only wish I had read this book when I was a geological student.
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I was prepared to really like this book. It is centered on Darwin's study of barnacles and their contribution to his evolutionary thinking. In some ways the author sort of got there, but along the way she often got off the track and uses some strange analogies in the process. There were several typos that were disturbing. Perhaps the worst is that we are told on page 21 that the marine segmented worm Aphrodita aculeata has stinging hairs (it does not! - see Sue Hubbell's excellent book "Waiting for Aphrodite"), and that it is parasitic (it is a carnivore, as Hubbell also noted). In stating that Aphrodita has stinging hairs Rebecca Stott was repeating an error that has come down to us through a book published in 1558 by Rondelet! Also "aculeata" does not mean, "stinging", but spiny! One would think that by now this misinformation would not continue to be repeated. However, the main problem is that the author rambles a bit too much and covers a lot of ground not pertinent to the subject. In fact she covers a lot of the ground in regard to Darwin's personal problems that is better explored in several other recent books. This is not a fatal flaw, but the book would have been more original if the focus had been kept on the barnacles rather than on background material that nearly every biographer of Darwin has investigated. As for the book being "lavishly illustrated," I am wondering what the writers of the dust jacket blurb meant! I would not have described it in that manner at all! Maybe "adequately illustrated" would have been better!
This book is worth reading and does give us some of the details left out of other books on Darwin, but the author has not answered the questions about Darwin's barnacles I would have liked to have had answered.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Disappointing June 23 2003
This book has several problems, the most noticeable one being that it doesn't even live up to its own subtitle- "The Story of One Tiny Creature and History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough." I think that, based on that subtitle, it is a reasonable assumption that the book is going to link Darwin's study of barnacles to his theory of evolution by natural selection. Well, I read all 261 pages of this book and let me state categorically that the author never makes the connection. We get a lot of information about barnacles, no doubt about it. We find out about barnacles that secrete their own shells, barnacles that burrow into other creatures' shells, barnacles that attach themselves to flesh, etc. We also get to know about hermaphroditical, bisexual, and unisexual barnacles. But the author never goes into specifics regarding why these variations developed, nor does she explain how the study of barnacles helped Darwin to further develop, or fine tune, "History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough." (A debatable assertion, by the way, but hyperbole in modern publishing is so prevalent that I guess we're not supposed to take these things too seriously.) I kept reading and reading and said to myself that the author must have a purpose in barraging us with all of this barnacle minutiae. Must be she'll have a chapter near the end where she'll explain the specific biological/environmental reasons for the variations and show how this helped Darwin to clarify his thinking. Well, sorry to say there is no such chapter in the book. It was sort of like reading a mystery and the author never tells you how the detective solved the crime. Another problem that this book has is that the narrative flow is disturbed by some very bizarre analogies. Read more ›
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