"When on board [Her Majesty's Ship] 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants [that is, plants and animals] of South America, and the geologic relations of the present to past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species--that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers."
The above are the first two sentences that begin what many describe as a seminal work in scientific literature and a landmark work in evolutionary biology. This book (whose full title is "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life") was written by Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) and this first edition was published in November 1859. This illustrated edition was edited by David Quammen, an author and recognized writer.
But you'll find more (much more!!) between the covers of this illustrated edition than just the original text of Darwin's great book. In it are written excerpts from the following books:
(1) "The Voyage of the Beagle"
(2) "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin"
(3) "The Autobiography of Charles Darwin"
From these major sources (and other sources) are included, as well, images of some of the places Darwin visited, some of the creatures he saw, and the ship itself. Included is a gallery of reproductions of photographs, oil portraits, oil woodcuts, sketches, cartoons, coloured lithographs from the book "The Zoology of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle," etc. (Thus, when they say this is "The Illustrated Edition," they're not kidding!!)
There is also a chronology that tracks Darwin's life as well as images or pictures related to him as a man and to concepts of his great work. Those major persons for and against Darwin's ideas are also shown.
Editor Quammen describes the "On the Origin of Species" text (which I'll refer as the 1859 TEXT):
"[It] wasn't written for experts. It was written for everybody who reads, thinks, and wonders. The prose is sometimes laborious and often elegant; the details are fascinating, the logic is lucid and firm; and the voice...is the voice of an affable English gentleman."
This book can be read in one of two ways:
(1) You can read the book from start to finish. As you come to the written excerpts, sketches, photos, etc., you can divert your attention from reading the 1859 TEXT, read or look over these, and then continue reading the 1859 TEXT.
(2) You can read and look over all the written excerpts, sketches, photos, etc. first. Then go back to the beginning and read the 1859 TEXT.
Personally, I chose method (2). I found that when I did this that I learned much about Charles Darwin, the man and scientist. I found that after I had learned something about Darwin himself, that my interest in the 1859 TEXT was piqued and I wanted to read it since, for some reason, it didn't seem so intimidating.
When reading the 1859 TEXT, you may find the prose difficult to read at first. I found that as I kept reading, I got used to the prose style, and the reading actually got easier. Also, it seems to me that Darwin has bent over backwards to make his 1859 TEXT easy to read because he provides many summaries at the beginning of each chapter. The last chapter is actually a summary of the entire text.
The chapter titles of the 1859 TEXT (which are the same for this illustrated edition) are as follows:
(1) Variation under domestication
(2) Variation under nature
(3) Struggle for existence
(4) Natural selection
(5) Laws of variation
(6) Difficulties [with my] theory
(9) On the imperfection of the geological record
(10) On the geological succession of organic beings
(11) Geographical distribution
(12) Geographical distribution [continued]
(13) Mutual affinities of organic beings: morphology: embryology: rudimentary organs
(14) Recapitulation and conclusion
There is a fascinating appendix to this book entitled "An historical sketch of the progress of opinion of On The Origin of Species." This appendix was added as a foreword to the third edition, published in 1861. (Note that there were six editions of "Origin" published in Darwin's lifetime.)
Finally, there is a glossary in this illustrated edition. It aids tremendously in the understanding the 1859 TEXT. (Note that the 1859 TEXT did not have a glossary.)
In conclusion, with all the extras included to compliment Charles Darwin's masterpiece of observation and deduction, this book is truly a pleasure to read. I leave you with Darwin's final words:
"There is grandeur in this view of life [that is, grandeur in the laws of nature], with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms [of life] or into one [form of life]; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
(illustrated edition first published 2008; introduction (to this book by David Quammen); introduction (to "On the Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin); 14 chapters; main narrative 515 pages; appendix; glossary; picture credits; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>