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The Origin of Species

The Origin of Species

Written by Charles Darwin

Narrated by David Case


The Origin of Species

Written by Charles Darwin

Narrated by David Case

ratings:
4/5 (39 ratings)
Length:
17 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 18, 2008
ISBN:
9781400178643
Format:
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Description

On December 27, 1831, the young naturalist Charles Darwin left Plymouth Harbor aboard the HMS Beagle. For the next five years, he conducted research on plants and animals from around the globe, amassing a body of evidence that would culminate in one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind-the theory of evolution.



Darwin presented his stunning insights in a landmark book that forever altered the way human beings view themselves and the world they live in. In The Origin of Species, Darwin convincingly demonstrates the fact of evolution: that existing animals and plants cannot have appeared separately but must have slowly transformed from ancestral creatures. Most important, the book fully explains the mechanism that effects such a transformation: natural selection, the idea that made evolution scientifically intelligible for the first time.



One of the few revolutionary works of science that is readily accessible to the nonscientist, The Origin of Species not only launched the science of modern biology but has also influenced virtually all subsequent literary, philosophical, and religious thinking.
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 18, 2008
ISBN:
9781400178643
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist and author best-known for his revolutionary theories on the origin of species, human evolution, and natural selection. A life-long interest in the natural world led Darwin to neglect his medical studies and instead embark on a five-year scientific voyage on the HMS Beagle, where he established his reputation as a geologist and gathered much of the evidence that fuelled his later theories. A prolific writer, Darwin’s most famous published works include The Voyage of the Beagle, On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Darwin died in 1882, and in recognition of his contributions to science, is buried in Westminster Abbey along with John Herschel and Isaac Newton.


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4.2
39 ratings / 43 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    Charles Darwin was born at Shrewsbury, England in 1809, the son of a doctor, and grandson of Erasmus Darwin, the author of "The Botanic Garden". He compiled proof and documentation for explanations about living and nonliving things which exist. He begins with a simple, irrefutable, persuasive observation: "When we look to the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us, is, that they generally differ much more from each other, than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. When we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, I think we are driven to conclude that this greater variability is simply due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent-species have been exposed under nature."While this 1909 work has been challenged, the proof remains. Critics also remain, but they have not "read" even the first sentence of this work. It remains fact, not theory. Not speculation.
  • (5/5)
    OK, so maybe the book is a difficult read, as many Victorian books are. The language may strike a modern reader as a bit arcane, and the sheer length and breadth of the work may be staggering to those used to getting their information in short, pithy bits. Still, let's be honest. This is THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, and it completely revolutionized biology, so I think the least one can do is give it 5 stars (since that is all that's allowable). To anyone who really reads this book, it should be impossible to continue to parrot the popular canard that there is no evidence for evolution. In the days before DNA, and when hominid fossils were still fairly sparse, and we knew very little about the microscopic world, Darwin was able to compile an impressive array of evidence, most of it while sitting in his own library at Down House in England. This book is rightly considered a classic, not just for its style, but for its substance.
  • (5/5)
    Important foundation for knowledge. An interesting read for me the summer after 8th grade.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed reading the book that is the foundation of evolutionary biology, and it's fascinating to see what we used to believe and how far we've come.
  • (4/5)
    Easily the most difficult part of the book is Victorian logorrhea. The concepts are familiar enough to the interested not to be difficult any longer although I can imagine at the time that the average Joe would have had a tough time deciding, at best, what to believe and what not and, at worst, just railing against the book for its unpardonable blasphemy. Interestingly, Darwin seems to have had some trouble with math and elephants, and confirmed this issue on the internet. Also, on page 363 of this edition, Darwin, as best I can gather, seems to think that during an ice age the ocean will rise. Where did he think the water would come from for the ice? Advanced and certainly more developed thinking than Wallace had put together though both rather simultaneously developed the theory. A theory that saw its time a-coming. Very important book that is worth the wade through.
  • (4/5)
    There were significantly less pigeons than I expected. And a lot more pigeons. A LOT more. Thoroughly readable given its age and audience. Not too bad.
  • (5/5)
    Fantastic book.

    chapter 13 was probably my favorite chapter. Thats where everything comes to a head and he brings up the similarities between different species as well as vestigial organs and how it could have served previous generations but be rendered useless or redundant now.

    It was impressive that he noticed and brought up several things that would later be fully explained by science.

    One such thing was linked genes. When talking about pigeons he mentioned that beak size and foot size would always be correlated. He admits hes not sure why but in all cases with pigeon breeding if you have a small beak you have tiny feet.

    As an interesting note: he never brings up the finches. Ever. He hardly ever mentions the Galapagos. Mostly that he visited it and it had a small highly specialized group of species.

    For the most part he talks about fancy pigeons. So if you want an easier time reading the book go look up fancy pigeons, look at all the different breeds of domestic pigeons, memorize them, then read the book. Trust me he brings them up a lot.
  • (5/5)
    It's very discursive. You can almost hear Darwin pulling up a chair to the fireplace to discuss this idea he's had. And he's thought about it a lot.It's also very cleverly written, starting with something the reader knows about (the human breeding of pigeons) then expanding slowly from that to the new stuff, but returning to that base whenever Darwin needs a clear, easy-to-understand example.It's a complete refutation of the 'one great man makes a giant leap for human understanding' way of looking at scientific progress, with Darwin being very careful to say where and who he has got information from and whose ideas he's building on (even if he's retested as much of the info as he can and tested his theories as best as he can). He's also a lot nicer about his fellow scientists than a look of books today are.I like that Darwin states the parts where his theory might not explain everything, and that he uses observation to try to plug those gaps.He might have been able to cover more detail in the book if he stopped apologising for the amount of stuff he couldn't put in.Looking backwards from what we know now, it's amazing how close Darwin gets to being right about most of it, and a lot of his uncertainties could only have been cleared up once genes and sequencing were discovered.There's a couple of points where he wanders down paths that turned out to be dead ends (recapitulation theory is bunk) and we've still not got a 'how' of instincts, but given the information Darwin had to work with, he's right more than he's wrong.It's pretty much a must read for scientists, and it's reasonably accessible to non-scientists, and a fairly straight-forward read once you've got used to certain Victorian writing quirks.Definitely worth reading.
  • (5/5)
    I'm super glad to read this book - it was really enjoyable!One of the things I was struck by Darwin's writing was that it was eminently readable and was basically constructed as an essay with a prodigious amount of evidence lined up to back up the arguments made. I am impressed by his clarity in articulation that make his communication and message conveyable despite requisite nuance.The heart of this particular book is that animals and plants vary - that they are mutable over time via human control (i.e. breeding) but also do so naturally, and that selection pressures are the mechanism, and that over time variability, heredity, and selection are the underlying principles of evolution.It was quite clear that he was conscious of possible detractors - on both scientific and creationist grounds. And he readily admits that readers who simply are not already convinced of things like the vast age of the earth etc. are just not going to agree because of things like the imperfection of the geological record (which is still true, though some gaps have since been filled). This is still true today even with the accumulated knowledge of paleontology and geology due to (willful?) ignorance and/or disbelief regarding how fossils and rocks are aged.Aside from the assembly, synthesis, and description of a vast array of fascinating facts and evidence, was the ability to put forth a complicated argument fairly succinctly and then address potential detractions head on. What surprised me was that some of the things that he addressed were *still* being used as arguments against evolution of species via natural selection! For example I heard arguments by some espousing Intelligent Design talking about how the eye was something too complicated to have arisen or be selected for -- but Darwin addressed this fairly well (I thought!), noting several species that either had intermediate forms or uses for eyes and light sensitivity. The point being that for all the recent hubabaloo, we appear to be going around the same merry-go-round back and forth regarding whether or not we buy into this explanation of the natural world, without making much progress over the course of a century and a half.If you feel at all invested in the argument over evolution one way or the other, my feeling is that it's at least worth reading Darwin's original works rather than getting into a lather about bullet points that are only a poor shadow of their context.
  • (4/5)
    Rating this was not easy. I think this book is a 5 star for importance however this was a tough book to trudge through. I listened to it on audio and I don't think I could have finished it otherwise.
  • (2/5)
    I marked this as 'Read' which isn't wholly true. If there was a 'Kinda, Sorta, Read' button I would have clicked that. Wow, I'm in awe of anyone who did read this cover to cover. Kudos to you, kudos to you.
  • (5/5)
    What can one really say about this book?I found that this book, like most scientific books, well documented and referenced. The discussion related to domestication set the tone for much of the rest of the book by laying the ground work that most people know and believe but why do people doubt the rest of the book?I read this book due to the fact that many have made amazing claims about it and it has been clear that they had not read the book....Now that I have I can say that they did not.This should be required reading.
  • (4/5)
    A handsome boxed cover edition by the Heritage Press of one of the landmark works of science. I read the book in college and while now I remember only the broad outlines of Darwin's ideas, I was impressed with the clarity of his presentation of the evidence and the theory that arose from it. I have this book already in an earlier 1906 edition. I just couldn't resist this edition I found at an estate sale, because of the lovely wood engravings throughout the book by Paul Landacre. He is a favorite artist of mine; his "Sultry Day" print hangs in my living room.
  • (4/5)
    It is only fair that I divide my review into two parts: Writing and Content:Writing: Darwin is obviously writing from a different century. With complex syntax and extensive vocabulary, both scientific and non, his writing is dense, convoluted and so very boring. Even if one makes allowances for the difference in writing styles, I still find his writing to drag on and on. Darwin stated he wrote this work for the masses, and I grant that he gave it a valiant effort, however much he failed.Content: Brilliant. From someone who was raised (and remains) a believer in Creationism, I have to say his work is logical, scientific, and well-thought out. He answered well many of the main arguments against his ideas. He mentioned many experiments conducted to further study his findings, and mentioned many works by contemporary naturalist that he drew on to reach his conclusion. As someone trained in the sciences, this does much to improve my thoughts about his ideas. Despite what many people say - Evolutionist and Creationist alike - Darwin's work is factual and logical, and demands serious consideration from anyone claiming to want to know the truth. While I have not reconciled my belief in a creator-God and the evidence of evolution, reading Darwin is a start for me and I recommend it as a start for anyone wishing to find the truth.
  • (4/5)
    A Classic. One of the most pathbreaking books of all times. A book, which took me a little over a year to finish. "The" discourse on Evolution, the world of Darwin, which all of us are familiar with, we grew up in, with little understood or completely misunderstood and misused idioms like "Survival of the Fittest", which Darwin, interestingly attributes to Herbert Spencer.I am sure everyone reading this review knows what the book would generally be about, and therefore, I would like to discuss some other features, which struck me. The book has a strong defensive undercurrent, through which Darwin at times is more concerned with defending his position than asserting his viewpoint. Darwin's tone, at places, where there is little proof to propagate his theory, is almost apologetic. Then he writes that many naturalists have come to terms with natural selection, while ridiculing others, who may still believe in independent creation of species.Another most interesting observation was the glaring and most obvious absence of any definitive statement on the evolution of humans - a clear indication on Darwin's lack of willingness to rake up such a sensitive issue, his work being controversial enough as it already was. He touches upon this topic most superficially, carefully sandwiched in a para about Herbert Spencer and human psychology, "In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." Darwin revisited this topic 12 years later, in his The Descent of Man, by which time, the populace probably had enough time to digest and accept the basic tenets of evolution.A timeless book, even if now dated.
  • (5/5)
    I became vexed by the title, On the Origin of Species, right from the start. Just what, precisely, is a species? What’s more, no matter how we state our modern definition, what did the word mean to Charles Darwin and his contemporaries?Darwin, past 40 pages into the 1859 first edition, has this to say: “Nor shall I here discuss the various definitions which have been given of the term species. No one definition has as yet satisfied all naturalists; yet every naturalist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species.”Uh, not good enough, Charles. The meaning of “species” must be specified. Else what are we discussing? Visiting Wikipedia, I learned that “the difficulty of defining species is known as the ‘species problem’” and that this difficulty has led biologists to something they call the “species concept,” of which “there are at least 26.” 26? At least? There’s even a name for the study of species concepts: “Microtaxonomy,” a discipline “fraught with philosophical questions.” Not feeling fit to be fraught with philosophical fiddle-faddle, I was tempted to return the Darwinian colossus to the library. But fortune smiled: “For Darwin, the species problem was the question of how new species arose: speciation.” That is to say, whatever a species is, the point is to think about how it might become a different expression of that concept. Darwin’s revolutionary ideas, as a best result, ought to apply to any of the species concepts bouncing about among biologists. I could live with that. As for the rest, this is a book that earns the praise it has received. It is fascinating, philosophical, and surprisingly readable. Terminology is occasionally specialized so it helps, for example, to review the names of flower parts (sepal, stamen, pistil, etc.). Later, when Darwin discusses the fossil record, you might like to have at hand a table illustrating the scale of geologic time, with all those “oics” and “ocenes” and what all, though Darwin’s terminology here differs a bit from modern usage. A thought bound to occur after getting far in the text is that perhaps the title should have been On the Origin of Newer Species. I think, up to page 484 (of 490), I had seen nothing about the origin of the first species, the original origin. On that page Darwin addresses this issue in what is, to my mind, a startling passage for 1859:“I believe that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors and plants from an equal or lesser number.“Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype…all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their germinal vesicles, their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction…Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.” Respect that inference. It’s just the conclusion modern studies have led most biologists to accept.I like the candor with which Darwin faces criticisms. One difficulty was the fossil record, a point of contention for advocates of the biblical version of life’s origin. The issue is finding the intermediates the Origin posits once existed between known species. Darwin hoped the fossil record would remove doubt about his theory. For reasons he details at some length, he thought it unlikely evidence to do this could be preserved and found, and concedes the importance of the problem: “Geological research…has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate varieties; and this not having been effected, is probably the gravest and most obvious of all the many objections which may be urged against my views.”The editor of this volume, James T. Costa, adds: “Paleontologists…in the intervening century and a half since the Origin, [have found] a bounty of intermediate forms…in many groups. Nothing approaches the detailed chain of transition that Darwin lamented not having.”Advocates of the Creationist position must like that. But if the fossil record eventually were to demonstrate these “fine, intermediate” varieties despite Darwin’s argument that this is unlikely, how would Creationists react? By accepting his theory? Be that as it may, Darwin had a bundle of other evidence for his theory, which is why a book conceived as an “abstract” is 490 pages long. And here’s something surprising: “evolution” is used nowhere in the first edition. “Evolve” occurs just once, and that as the very final word (“evolved”). Lastly, let’s attend to Darwin’s final words in the first edition on the concern raised above about the concept and meaning of species. He writes: “In short, we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely artificial combinations made for convenience. This may not be a cheering prospect; but we shall at least be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable essence of the term species.”Sometimes words are surpassed by the better authority of nature.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    One of the most important scientific works ever written and a very impressive achievement.Darwin discusses his theory of the origin of species in a groundbreaking work that changed biology forever. I was very impressed with the way he expounds his theory. The novel takes you by the hand and explains different reasons why he believes this theory to be correct step by step. His work abounds in examples and evidence gathered by himself and other scientists, making it a very comprehensive and exhaustive work.Aside from discussing evidence in favour of his theory, Darwin also discusses many counterarguments. Some he refutes immediately, often with copious evidence, but others remain standing, even at the end of the book. Somehow, I actually rather liked this about him: he has a theory, he believes it to be true, but he is still aware that there are things that are problematic and isn't afraid to discuss them. It shows Darwin in a way that is simultaneously strong and convincing, as well as modest and almost fragile.Darwin was fully aware that there were problematic aspects to his theory - most notably the lack of genetic knowledge in his day - but still makes a convincing case based on the evidence he had available. He was also very much aware that people would disagree with his theory, which has made his discussion of facts very rigorous. He knew people would try to counter it, and spends a lot of time debunking any possible arguments they might give.I think for a person in our time it is somewhat difficult to truly comprehend the importance of Darwin's achievement. By now, evolutionary theory is so accepted that it is hard to imagine people ever believed otherwise. Reading Darwin's book you wonder that nobody saw this before - and some of the scientists in his own days felt the same way! Sure, there had been other theories and Wallace was proposing the same theory, so there definitely had been prior developments making this the logical next step, but it still remains an amazing thing that this book was written.A great work that anybody with an interest in biology and evolution should read.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)
    What ages would I recommend it too? – Ten and up.

    Length? – Several days to read.

    Characters? – No.

    Setting? – Real World 1858 and previous

    Written approximately? – reprint 1958.

    Does the story leave questions in the readers mind? – Ready to read more.

    Any issues the author (or a more recent publisher) should cover? A little clean up. Wouldn't it be nice to highlight and announce new findings either for, or against, his ideas?

    Short storyline: The original "The Origin of Species" in full detail.

    Notes for the reader: In almost every chapter, he says he doesn't have room to go into detail. And yet, this is thoroughly indepth. Maybe a bit much. Some things he said almost 200 years ago have only recently been proven by science.

    For low vision readers - Not an easy read. Microscopic font on tiny pages.
  • (3/5)
    In 1831, naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin joined the Beagle expedition to Tierra del Fuego. What he observed when he got to the new world would eventually lead him to formulate his theory of natural selection. Published in 1859, “On the Origin of the Species” is the controversial classic that revolutionized natural science and altered our understanding of the world.
  • (4/5)
    On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (free at Project Gutenberg).
    Drawing from my own reading library, this book a little like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in that the author is taking personal observations and anecdotes and developing a broader hypothesis as to how things work and how we got to where we are today. Many of the anecdotal observations and hypotheses have since been proven as false or mistaken, and we now know more about what was observed than the author possibly could have at the time, but the broader implications and the core of the central hypothesis remain intact.

    Darwin spends early part of the book discussing the difference between variations and species. Modern biological classification had not been completely developed at the time of publication. Genealogy was basically undeveloped, or is perhaps not Darwin's strong suit. His religious detractors at the time argued that species were immutable and that the geological record was perfect-- everything that could be known about the history of the earth was essentially already evident. I do not know how widespread the belief was at that time, but creation scientists today acknowledge mass migration, extinction, and "macroevolution," that from one species or phylum can come many different varieties.

    In Chapter 5, Darwin opines on why zebras have stripes in a greater context of how unique traits evolve in offspring and how offspring sometimes revert to the characteristics of their predecessors. There was no agreed-upon model of heredity back then. Scientists are still determining why zebras have stripes.

    Chapters 6 and 7 are interesting as Darwin pivots to address possible criticims of his theory of natural selection. development of organs and the imperfections in the fossil record. He admits that it's hard to believe that something as incredibly complex as the eye developed gradually, but contends that it is not impossible. He contends that whale's lungs developed from an organ that was originally a swim bladder. Since vertebrates have lungs, we must have all evolved from organisms that had swim bladders-- ie: sea-dwelling creatures:

    "The illustration of the swim bladder in fishes is a good one, because it shows us clearly the highly important fact that an organ originally constructed for one purpose, namely, flotation, may be converted into one for a widely different purpose, namely, respiration. The swim bladder has, also, been worked in as an accessory to the auditory organs of certain fishes. All physiologists admit that the swimbladder is homologous, or “ideally similar” in position and structure with the lungs of the higher vertebrate animals: hence there is no reason to doubt that the swim bladder has actually been converted into lungs, or an organ used exclusively for respiration. According to this view it may be inferred that all vertebrate animals with true lungs are descended by ordinary generation from an ancient and unknown prototype, which was furnished with a floating apparatus or swim bladder."



    In Chapter 7 Darwin writes that one discovery that would demolish Darwin's theory is if altruistic behavior were to be found in an organism-- if one species acted simply to benefit another. This would be impossible under natural selection since each species has developed by focusing on adapting solely on its own survival in the "battle for life." Some have purported that the behavior of one type of ant which serves as a slave to another type are an example of this. Darwin maintains that the enslaved variety is smaller and weaker, and kept alive by their masters due to their usefulness, and therefore acceptance of the slavery is necessary to their survival.

    One wonders, however, at the symbiotic relationships of many species. For example, I read an article recently about how botanists researching fungi have changed their belief in their relationship with trees:

    “The new theory pictures a more business-like relationship among multiple buyers and sellers connected in a network,” Franklin said in a press release. Instead of being a cooperative trade of carbon and nitrogen between organisms, trees are forced to export large amounts of carbon in order to unlock nitrogen stores from the fungi."


    The fact that mating behavior-- taking two to create offspring-- has evolved among so many species would seem to be problematic to natural selection. Wouldn't it be more efficient for survival if one could reproduce asexually with a relatively small gestation time? Why haven't the majority of species evolved that way? It seems that there are benefits to mating beyond reproduction. There is strength in symbiotic communal behavior, as Darwin gives the example of ants and hive bees. Since this behavior is so widespread, one can deduce that it is closer to the "perfection" eventually achieved by natural selection relative to the lower-order ancestors' way of producing.

    In Chapter 9 and onward, Darwin deals with the imperfection of the fossil record. We are missing transitional forms at every level to verify his theory. In some layers or time periods, species appear which do not appear in the previous time period. This would seem to suggest creation rather than systematic evolution. Darwin's response to such a criticism is :

    On this doctrine of the extermination of an infinitude of connecting links, between the living and extinct inhabitants of the world, and at each successive period between the extinct and still older species, why is not every geological formation charged with such links? Why does not every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of the forms of life? Although geological research has undoubtedly revealed the former existence of many links, bringing numerous forms of life much closer together, it does not yield the infinitely many fine gradations between past and present species required on the theory, and this is the most obvious of the many objections which may be urged against it. Why, again, do whole groups of allied species appear, though this appearance is often false, to have come in suddenly on the successive geological stages? Although we now know that organic beings appeared on this globe, at a period incalculably remote, long before the lowest bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, why do we not find beneath this system great piles of strata stored with the remains of the progenitors of the Cambrian fossils? For on the theory, such strata must somewhere have been deposited at these ancient and utterly unknown epochs of the world's history. I can answer these questions and objections only on the supposition that the geological record is far more imperfect than most geologists believe.


    Much has been undiscovered, much may lay under the oceans, and many layers may be compressed due to constantly having more sediment deposited.


    Darwin concludes:

    "Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled... There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling 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."


    Darwin's arguments still did not answer the question for me as to how the eye and other organs developed. How did the original cells know that that there were light and sound waves from which information could be gleaned if a complex structure were developed to capture it?

    Darwin either does not think about or chooses not to write about the ethical implications of his work. If we are not made in the image of God, do we have inalienable rights? Why should there be consequences if one murders another? The natural order is always engaged in a "struggle for life," and the end result is that it is leading us toward evolutionary "perfection." But what aspects of our society and behavior are evolutionary artifacts that will eventually die out and which are essential for our survival?

    I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Everyone should read it as it's a classic, definitely one of the most influential books on the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. I plan to read Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box before the end of the year.

    On another note, I listened to this book on the freely-available audio files on Gutenberg. The text was read by a computer, each chapter alternated between a male and a female voice. This made it hard to listen to at my usual 2X speed as the cadence was a bit...unnatural...and some of the pronunciations were butchered. But I found it definitely doable.
  • (1/5)
    In the past month I read three books that specifically mention Origin of the Species (including At Home and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.) I felt like I was being strongly nudged to check it out even though it’s a bit intimidating. I like reading classics that are influential pieces of our culture. I want to understand the background of books that are constantly being referenced and I want to have a working knowledge of them. So for those reason I'm glad I read it, but Darwin was no Mary Roach or Bill Bryson. He is a scientist, but writing an enthralling account of his research is not in his wheelhouse. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored reading a book before in my life. I’m talking mind-numbingly bored. Maybe that’s not fair, this isn’t a detective novel that’s supposed to speed along, but honestly I could hardly stand it. I listened to an audio version, which was read by David Case and that might have been part of the problem. I can’t stand his narration and he already ruined The Hunchback of Notre Dame for me. I do understand that this isn't a novel and it wasn't written to be entertaining, but I've read so many other nonfiction books that I loved. I'm not talking about the points he makes or what he's trying to prove, I'm talking only about the readability of the material. It was really hard for me to stay interested. BOTTOM LINE: Science is not my passion and I will never claim to be an expert in biology, but regardless this one was just not for me. It was like reading the driest of lab reports. I’m glad I read the work that is said to be the basis for evolutionary theory, but unless you love that subject I can’t say I’d recommend it. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; 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.” **Funny side note, I listened to this as an audiobook on CDs. In the middle of the 10th disc the narrator said, “This is the end of side A, please turn the cassette over and continue listening on side B.” Then a few second later, “This is side B of cassette 9.” That’s the one and only moment in the book that made me laugh.
  • (2/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I'm an enthusiast of evolutionary biology and I appreciate Darwin's enormous contribution to our understanding of the natural world. But somehow the Origin of Species wasn't very interesting to read. Maybe it's because most of what Darwin says has so thoroughly diffused itself into modern science that there's little new to find here.

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  • (5/5)
    This isn't a book you'd read for fun, but for understanding and enrichment. Personally, I found it edifying to understand Darwin's thinking. In his younger days, he had traveled much of the world, and was primarily employed in collecting specimens from each region he visited. Over the years, he connected with farmers to discuss how different plants and animals were bred for certain traits. He catalogued the variations in species he would find in different areas having different "conditions of life". He studied and experimented as to how seeds, eggs, larvae, and adult creatures could travel from one place to another. He looked into the geological record and the fossil remains of creatures now extinct. He studies the embryos of plants and animals, and found that embryos of creatures of the same class had the same appearance and features, regardless of how different these creatures came to appear as adults. From a lifetime's study of all these factors, he came up with a unified theory of natural selection. In brief, that a creature's offspring will vary minutely in each generation, and that these miniscule variations give advantages to some and disadvantages to others. The most successful of these variations are passed on.
  • (5/5)
    "The Origin of Species" like "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is a book that does not really repay a determined, linear reading. It is much better to pick up and put down the book, reading the different parts more or less at random. Like Gibbon, Darwin reiterates his argument over and over again, while passing in review an endless parade of supporting facts. In Darwin's case these facts are drawn from geology, geography, observation of different species and varieties, and experiments by himself and his many correspondents. His occasional digs at opponents or critics of his work leaven the work in just the same way as Gibbon's general remarks about human nature.Darwin was well read and an accomplished naturalist and his erudition is very much on display. His work was probably more accessible in his own day, when the majority of his readers spent more time in the country and would have been better acquainted with many of the wild animals that he describes and with the breeding of domestic animals.David Case's reading his excellent. His accent seems to me rather upper-class and a bit nasal, very appropriate for a book written by an upper-class Victorian man. His pronunciation of foreign names and words seem correct. He delivers Darwin's little digs at his opponents with great condescension.
  • (5/5)
    This remains one of my favourite books (not science books, but books in general) of all time. It is definitely worth while to get this edition. Others are sometimes abridged, or maybe taken from one of Darwin's earlier editions. The great thing about the final edition is that Darwin was able to explain things more clearly, by responding to the criticisms of the prior editions.Everyone should read this book. The thought process, and the simplicity of it all, makes the theory of natural selection one of the greatest scientific theories to date.
  • (4/5)
    Decry or applaud it, there's no question this work has had a profound effect not just on science, but the culture at large. What I wouldn't read this book for is the science, or in an effort to either defend or refute the argument for evolution. The core of Darwin's argument certainly is still what was taught in my Catholic high school biology class (taught by a nun). In a nutshell, the theory is that given there are wide-ranging subtle Variations among organisms, the Malthusian Struggle for Existence causes by means of Natural Selection of the inheritable traits that are the best Adaptations to the environment the Origin of Species or as Darwin calls it, the "theory of descent with modification."But, after all, this book is now over 150 years old. Science is about explaining natural phenomenon and correcting mistakes through observation, experimentation and falsification--not dogma--and so is always a moving target. I know that. But I still raised an eyebrow when in the first chapter of the book Darwin said he believed the "most frequent cause of variability" was caused by the experiences of the parents before conception--such as cows' udders being larger in countries where they're milked because the habit of milking by itself alters in the reproductive organs what is inherited by the next generation. WTF Darwin? When Darwin first propounded his theory of evolution (a word never used in the book by the way) through natural selection, Mendel had yet to discover the basic principles of genetics in his experiments with peas and Watson and Crick had yet to unravel the structure of DNA. Nor was continental drift known and understood, so there were notable gaps in Darwin's reasoning that has since been filled. Stephen Jay Gould, one of the staunchest defenders and popularizers of evolution is famous within science particularly for where he differs from Darwin. Darwin thought changes in species were very gradual. Gould favors "punctuated equilibrium" where there are rapid changes followed by long periods of stability. That's why scientists today talk of the "theory of evolution," not of "Darwinism" as if a scientific principle is an unchanging creed and Origin of Species scripture.So, the book is dated and filled with lots of details I'm sure are just plain wrong and might be onerous to unlearn. That does make me reluctant to give this book top marks despite its profound impact. Someone interested in modern evolutionary science would be better off picking up a copy of a book by Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan (although by now I suppose his very readable Dragons of Eden is dated) or Stephen Jay Gould. So, was there no value in reading On the Origin of Species? I wouldn't say that. It's surprisingly readable--or at least understandable. There are definitely dry passages that were a slog to get through, my eyes glazing over as Darwin gave example after exhaustive example to make his points. However, I couldn't help but be impressed by the knowledge of nature shown by his wide-ranging examples from every continent from ants and bees and algae to pigeons to zebras. Given the way he cited various authorities and spoke about his own experiments, I definitely felt that here was a master generalist and enthusiast on nature. Moreover Darwin does have a gift for metaphor and illustrative examples. I was particularly taken by his explanation of "inter-crossing" and the function of sex in creating biological diversity. I also was struck by how cautious and civil in tone Darwin is in his arguments, devoting an entire chapter on what he saw could be the flaws and holes in his theory--particularly the issues of transitions between species and intermediate forms. Bottom line? Arguably this specific book had as much influence on the literature and politics of the next century as Freud or Marx, so I think there is historical value in reading this, preferably in the first edition (which is what I read) that exploded upon the world in 1859.
  • (5/5)
    OK, so maybe the book is a difficult read, as many Victorian books are. The language may strike a modern reader as a bit arcane, and the sheer length and breadth of the work may be staggering to those used to getting their information in short, pithy bits. Still, let's be honest. This is THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, and it completely revolutionized biology, so I think the least one can do is give it 5 stars (since that is all that's allowable). To anyone who really reads this book, it should be impossible to continue to parrot the popular canard that there is no evidence for evolution. In the days before DNA, and when hominid fossils were still fairly sparse, and we knew very little about the microscopic world, Darwin was able to compile an impressive array of evidence, most of it while sitting in his own library at Down House in England. This book is rightly considered a classic, not just for its style, but for its substance.
  • (5/5)
    I'm super glad to read this book - it was really enjoyable!One of the things I was struck by Darwin's writing was that it was eminently readable and was basically constructed as an essay with a prodigious amount of evidence lined up to back up the arguments made. I am impressed by his clarity in articulation that make his communication and message conveyable despite requisite nuance.The heart of this particular book is that animals and plants vary - that they are mutable over time via human control (i.e. breeding) but also do so naturally, and that selection pressures are the mechanism, and that over time variability, heredity, and selection are the underlying principles of evolution.It was quite clear that he was conscious of possible detractors - on both scientific and creationist grounds. And he readily admits that readers who simply are not already convinced of things like the vast age of the earth etc. are just not going to agree because of things like the imperfection of the geological record (which is still true, though some gaps have since been filled). This is still true today even with the accumulated knowledge of paleontology and geology due to (willful?) ignorance and/or disbelief regarding how fossils and rocks are aged.Aside from the assembly, synthesis, and description of a vast array of fascinating facts and evidence, was the ability to put forth a complicated argument fairly succinctly and then address potential detractions head on. What surprised me was that some of the things that he addressed were *still* being used as arguments against evolution of species via natural selection! For example I heard arguments by some espousing Intelligent Design talking about how the eye was something too complicated to have arisen or be selected for -- but Darwin addressed this fairly well (I thought!), noting several species that either had intermediate forms or uses for eyes and light sensitivity. The point being that for all the recent hubabaloo, we appear to be going around the same merry-go-round back and forth regarding whether or not we buy into this explanation of the natural world, without making much progress over the course of a century and a half.If you feel at all invested in the argument over evolution one way or the other, my feeling is that it's at least worth reading Darwin's original works rather than getting into a lather about bullet points that are only a poor shadow of their context.
  • (4/5)
    It's amazing to me how much Darwin got right in this book, and also all that he got wrong.
  • (5/5)
    On the Origin of Species is one of the most influential and fact-proven books of all-time. Unfortunately, some people don't think so and want to discredit Charles Darwin's work. However, facts and reason will prevail.