An esential read for any scientist.,
This review is from: Origin Of Species (Mass Market Paperback)
Darwin's "Origin of Species" is in fact an abstract of a 20 volume thesis containing the evidence gathered over many years which support the concept of evolution by natural selection. This way of describing the evolution of organisms on earth has by now become the standard and, in fact, one hardly ever thinks of evolution without automatically connecting it with Darwin's ideas.
At first, upon commencing reading this small book, I continued to ask `where is the evidence for that' but on realising that he had gathered a large volume of data to support this theory I simply continued to read on. Its not either an easy read or that complicated. Darwin looks at evolution in a very comprehensive way: first, linking the main idea with the variation of animals under domestication, something he himself had extensively studied in the case of pidgeons; second, associating this with variation under nature and the struggle for existence; he then goes on to describe in detail natural selection and the laws of variation. He follows this like any good scientist by an analysis of what may be the theory's weaknesses, such as the scarcity in the geological record and the lack of organisms in a state of gradation. He then applies the ideas to instinct, hybridism and then discusses in great depth the imperfections of the geological record. He also considers how geographical distribution can alter the results of evolution and how the embryos of various animals have a resemblance to that of other animals and how they also appear to repeat previous evolutionary steps as they mature.
Its too bad the 20 volume set was never published, even the incomplete version would have been better than only the abstract. Nonetheless it is well discussed and written as a comprehensive summary of the main thesis. At times the style can be repetitive and even dull but this is compensated for by fascinating little excerpts which are present throughout. This was, remarkably enough, my first reading of "The Origin of Species" and I do believe that every practicing scientist should read it as part of their education rather than accepting its tenets without question as is the wont. However rather than being a description of the true origin of species, it actually takes a change which occurs (by whatever means) and then describes the process the species undergoes from then on. Darwin never actually said anything about how new variations are formed, this was left for others to consider and eventually led to the modern Darwinian thesis including the idea of mutation caused by radiation, viruses or chemical agents. Much has also come to light over the last century such as the symbiosis of organisms producing the merger of cell and mitochondria seen in every cell today and similarly the recent evidence of gene swapping going on between bacteria and now also larger organisms, see "Lamarck's Signature" by Ted Steele. Since Darwin did also not explain form but rather the possibility of how form came about Brian Goodwin's Form and Transformation is a good place to start.
It must also be remembered that in his time the thesis was new even if many others were working on similar ideas Darwin was the first, in conjunction with Wallace, to expand on natural selection and obtain strong evidence for it. An essential read for any scientist.