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The Origin of Species is the landmark book that, for better or worse, puts science and religion at odds. Very few people have read this book and come away not believing in evolution. The detail of research is even by today's standards stunning; and the writing is still eminently readable. Second only to the Bible in its scope of influence, this book is a pertinent today as when it was first written.
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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.more
"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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
It's amazing to me how much Darwin got right in this book, and also all that he got wrong.more
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.more
Example after example for the explanation of life and how it has evolved. From plants to animals and everything in between. How climate and geography plays a role in the evolutionary process. He goes into many details that can be lengthy but overall a good representation of different species and their origin.more
I recommend reading of this book because of the importance of it. When Charles Darwin published this in 1859 it rocked the English speaking world. Up to that point the religious idea of creation was unquestionably accepted. Religion held a lot of power over people and their lives. Then this book came out, and it put into question all that the English world held dear about God and creation. I don't know if any piece of literature has had such a profound affect on society and its beliefs. When I read it, I thought that it might be boring because of the scope of the work, but it's actually not boring because it's simply and plainly written. Remember the whole theory of evolution originated from this one work.more
Facsimile of first edition, with "An Historical Sketch" and "Glossary" from sixth edition.more
To begin with, a note on the edition. This Barnes & Noble Classics series version is based on the first edition of The Origin of Species, which is actually nice for a couple of reasons. First, it allows the reader to experience the book as it originally appeared. This is not only interesting historically, but a nearly unmitigated virtue because of the second reason: The core content of the book remained essentially the same throughout the later revisions Darwin made in his lifetime, but such changes as he did make were for the most part unnecessary or even (in retrospect) unfortunate---mainly minor concessions to skeptics (religious and otherwise) and to the Lamarckian theory of evolution (as opposed to natural selection as the basic mechanism driving evolutionary change).That said, there are several things to say about the book itself. First, it is extremely readable. Modern audiences (especially those educated in the American government schools, which almost certainly failed to introduce them to this material) might be intimidated by the prospect of tackling a somewhat technical scientific volume of this size written a century and a half ago. Those who attempt it, however, will be pleasantly surprised to find that Darwin's presentation is extremely clear and intelligible, at times even beautiful. This admirable writing style is in large part due to his scientific method, which leads me to the book's next great virtue.Darwin's approach is primarily inductive---that is, he was not some armchair philosopher abstractly theorizing off in an ivory tower somewhere, as one might suspect from the photograph of him as a bearded old man with which we are usually presented. In other words, evolution is not "just a theory," precisely because Darwin was not just a theorist. Rather, Darwin gathered massive amounts of evidence on his Beagle voyage, and continued to accumulate ever more (with the help of his scientific colleagues in various related disciplines) for decades before he felt ready to publish his theory (and he still felt rushed into it). (Indeed, for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or in epistemology in general, On the Origin of Species should be the textbook case of scientific induction.) Darwin then presents all of this evidence to us piece by piece, building up his case from the ground, as it were, and in effect recreating his own line of thinking for his reader making it incredibly easy to follow his case.Which brings us to the third point: What kinds of evidence does Darwin draw on? Intriguingly, Darwin did not begin his career as a biologist aiming to solve the species question. He boarded the Beagle as a brilliant amateur natural scientist generally with an inclination toward geology. Perhaps this is why he was able to draw so widely on various fields in making his case for evolution when that question did become his main interest. From Lyell's theories and his own geological observations, Darwin concluded that the period of time available actually allowed for a very (previously unthinkably) slow process of evolution. From this geological perspective, he naturally was able to look at various pieces of evidence more directly bearing on the species question, such as the fossil record and (more importantly) the geographical distribution of species. After the Beagle voyage, he was able to conduct experiments in many other areas (and correspond with colleagues about the results of their experiments), including artificial selection (Darwin's pigeons being the most famous example of this) which became important as an analogy for the process of natural selection; the means of the geographical distribution and isolation of species (including seeing whether seeds can germinate after extended periods of submersion in salt water or passing through the digestive tracts of birds); and even the sex lives of barnacles. All of these experiments are described at some length in The Origin of Species.But Darwin, ever the scientist, was in fact cautious not to overstep the limits of what he could prove. The Origin of Species contains an excellent chapter anticipating and answering possible objections to his theory, and acknowledging its shortcomings. For instance, Darwin acknowledges that the fossil record at the time did not tend to show gradual progression from one species to another, and offers an explanation as to why the fossil record might be so incomplete. He also acknowledges that while he found the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection to be overwhelming, he did not know the actual physical, biological mechanism by which this takes place (as genes had not been discovered and the discipline of genetics created at that time), but he does briefly mention a hypothesis that was actually sort of on the right track. In fact, in all of these weak areas, subsequent history has borne Darwin and his theory out remarkably well.And finally, in addition to being a masterpiece of scientific thought, The Origin of Species is also a work of, at times, almost poetic beauty, and deserves praise for its literary merit. After presenting or indicating all the evidence in a specific area throughout each section, Darwin ends each chapter by summing it up in an eloquent statement naming the general principle to be derived from this vast array of specific evidence, often employing an apt and evocative metaphor. The most famous of these passages is of course the one with which he concludes the book: "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. 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."You cannot legitimately consider yourself an educated person if you haven't read this wonderful book, and yet a shockingly small percentage of Americans (including even those who claim to believe in evolution) have read it. But you will find that to do so is not a chore, but one of life's great pleasures.more
This is a wonderful and very readable book that truly changed the way we look at the world. It sold out on the day it was published in 1859 and created both friends and enemies of the theories discussed still to this day. There have been modifications of Darwin's theory of the origin of species (notably the Mendellian synthesis that incorporated genetics into the theory), but it stands to this day as the foundation of our understanding of the evolution. Surprisingly the only time evolution is mentioned is in the last paragraph of the book.This is a good book for anyone who once to read a classic text of science.more
Quite stunning in its way - but surely in need of an update in the light of genetics, DNA and plate techtonics. Not that the conclusions need to be changed, just that te argument becomes easier. That said, in the absence of knowledge on those points: that's what makes for the stunning.more
Finally read after decades of good intentions. For a recondite classic it is full of surprises, mostly pleasant; its supposed impenetrability largely confined to parts we already knew were directed at specialists—I admit to slogging through the section on barnacles, for example. But Origins is highly readable, pleasurable even, almost in the way of an Edmund Wilson essay. Darwin proceeds deliberately through the mountain of evidence he collected over twenty years as he constructs a virtually unassailable intellectual structure. Freely recognizing arguments against natural selection—the central thread of the book—he gives his best arguments based on the knowledge of his day while carefully pointing out its limitations. I was not prepared for how well he anticipated later discoveries—Mendel’s pioneering work in genetics didn’t see publication until the early 20th century yet dovetails almost seamlessly into Origins exposition, as does the Modern Synthesis. If you’re interested in any of the broad fields of biology-evolution, taxonomy, genetics—The Origin of Species is a must read. If you are a creationist, even in its deceptive guise of intelligent design, you are not intellectually honest if you have not read and honestly come to grips with this book; which gives the lie to the railings of a few misguided Christians and Muslims who seem to think it a product of their devil. Yet, so thoughtful and measured a book makes it clear any devils are in the eye of the beholdermore
The best science book ever written. It is amazingly easy reading - very compelling and still fascinating. Darwin put forth a powerful case even without knowing about genes etc. Before you repeat the knuckleheads out there who want to denigrate Darwin and evolution, read this book first (and maybe follow with something a bit more modern, such as Carl Zimmer: Evolution - the triumph of an idea).more
It's been criticized as unscientific, evil, and dry. I found it quite impressive. Though there are places where the detail might be too much for the casual reader, it is a very solid scientific work. He presents a hypothesis, shows significant supporting evidence, and defends it against the most common criticisms. It is not possible to prove that everything started from something simpler but it is now hard to refute that the natural process of natural selection is working on today's species. He leads his argument by showing the effectiveness that domestic breeders have achieved in altering species and guiding that process. Other highlights either new to me or especially interesting: the uniformity gained by consistent inter-crossing, the underlying ability of genetics to allow breakthrough changes and yet also to maintain uniformity, the complexity of larger areas in producing stronger more adaptable species, the effect of geographic changes (elevation, land forms, glaciers) on migration of living species and archival of fossil record, that fossils tend only to be saved during subsidence so only that direction of change is recorded, the species do not reappear once extinct (this seems to be in refutation of Lamarck), the phrase "grain in balance" to show the impact of small differences in the competition for survival, that it is the other species more than anything that determines a given organisms ability to survive in an area. Imagine his chart demonstrating how branching might work if he had had a PC at the time.more
Not what I was expecting at all.Here we have a very readable if thorough going explanation of his theory of descent with modification through variation and natural selection. I have seen comments such as dry and stodgy but did not find this to be the case to any great extent.I must confess to skimming a total of about three pages out of nearly five hundred. I did this because I had already got the point and he was listing in minute detail the implications of this or that on his famous "tree of life diagram" a to a' etc. etc.Apart from the exposition of such a simple theory the two main things I enjoyed most about the book were as follows;Firstly, just how much evidence in favour of evolution he did not have an inkling about. He bases his theory on how it explains the geographical distribution of life on the earth, variation, fertility, vestigial organs, eyes on cave dwellers, webbed feet on mountain ducks etc. It is therefore surprising just how much he got right and how little has since been shown to be wrong. Remember he had no idea of DNA or the molecular side of reproduction at all and yet he predicts a good deal of it.Secondly, his forays into experiment. Ranging from the counting of plant species in cleared ground, measuring and comparison of greyhound and bulldog puppies and adult dogs, to the immersal of seeds in sea-water and so on.The book is written for the lay audience and should be accessible, with a little patience, to most.Despite what many Creationists have told me there is nothing I could find about the origin of life, support for the Nazi's, reasons in favour of the Holocaust or the futility of existence at all.more
The journey of Charles Darwin on the H.M.S. Beagle and his reports, discoveries and observations relating to natural science and evolution. Fairly interesting for a book on science even though it is rather dated. The stir it caused in the mid 1800s no longer carries the same groundbreaking impact.more
evolution has gone through many changes since darwin's original writing, but it is always good to go back to the source. darwin may not have been the first person to conceive of evolution, but he was the first to delineate it in such a complete form.more
Darwin wrote that , "When the views entertained in this volume on the origin of species, or when analogous views are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history".With the advantages of hindsight we can see that this was an understatement. The book has had an enormous impact , probably appearing in the indexes of more recent academic publications than any other 19th century text.To answer the question of why, the reason is no doubt the same as when it was first published in 1859. His discovery combines simplicity with great explanatory power in an area of critical interest, namely the natural world and our place in it. In contrast to the texts of today there are no formulas and only one diagram. The chapters have quick summaries and the whole thing has an easy flowing discursive style that is very accessible despite being a distillate of a large amount of widely differing knowledge. He starts by looking at selection under domestication (i.e. not in nature) of animals, with special reference to the pigeon, showing how desired characteristics can be chosen by the breeder. In this respect after a discussion about pigeons and pigeon breeding in general, he can quote the skilled breeder Sir John Sebright as saying that, "he would produce any given feather in three years, but it would take him six years to obtain a head or a beak". He goes on to extend the idea of selection to the natural state where nature takes the place of the breeder in selecting which variants breed successfully and which do not. The controller is not now the breeder with the feather or beak that he wants but rather the environment itself. Nature allows certain birds to reproduce that have the optimum colouring to avoid predators or attract mates or a beak type that best fits the most common functions. The idea is developed in the chapters entitled Struggle for Existence and Natural Selection . As he puts it: "In the case of every species, many different checks, acting at different periods of life, and during different seasons or years, probably come into play; some one check or some few being generally the most potent, but all concurring in determining the average number or even the existence of the species". There are many examples with studies of special cases such as isolation, intercrossing, convergence and divergence of characteristics, and the competition between individuals and varieties of the same species. He clearly states that the environment is the guide : "...the structure of every organic being is related, in the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from which it has to escape, or on which it preys".He speculates on the characteristics of variation without knowing of Mendels identification of particles (genes from each parent that could be dominant or recessive). Mendel only published in 1866 with his work not being rediscovered until 1900 so Darwin leaves this as somewhat of a grey area. He observes variation and catalogues it stating that it changes in small increments over time and is subject to selection pressure.He is the first critic of his own work, highlighting for example the patchiness of the geological record :"Why does not every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of forms of life?" In the event these problems are being tackled a century later reinforcing his insight of any organ or instinct arriving at it's present state through many graduated steps.The high scientific reputation and social position of Darwin (needed to launch his ideas successfully) is covered in an excellent new biography by Janet Browne entitled Voyaging.more
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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.more
"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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
It's amazing to me how much Darwin got right in this book, and also all that he got wrong.more
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.more
Example after example for the explanation of life and how it has evolved. From plants to animals and everything in between. How climate and geography plays a role in the evolutionary process. He goes into many details that can be lengthy but overall a good representation of different species and their origin.more
I recommend reading of this book because of the importance of it. When Charles Darwin published this in 1859 it rocked the English speaking world. Up to that point the religious idea of creation was unquestionably accepted. Religion held a lot of power over people and their lives. Then this book came out, and it put into question all that the English world held dear about God and creation. I don't know if any piece of literature has had such a profound affect on society and its beliefs. When I read it, I thought that it might be boring because of the scope of the work, but it's actually not boring because it's simply and plainly written. Remember the whole theory of evolution originated from this one work.more
Facsimile of first edition, with "An Historical Sketch" and "Glossary" from sixth edition.more
To begin with, a note on the edition. This Barnes & Noble Classics series version is based on the first edition of The Origin of Species, which is actually nice for a couple of reasons. First, it allows the reader to experience the book as it originally appeared. This is not only interesting historically, but a nearly unmitigated virtue because of the second reason: The core content of the book remained essentially the same throughout the later revisions Darwin made in his lifetime, but such changes as he did make were for the most part unnecessary or even (in retrospect) unfortunate---mainly minor concessions to skeptics (religious and otherwise) and to the Lamarckian theory of evolution (as opposed to natural selection as the basic mechanism driving evolutionary change).That said, there are several things to say about the book itself. First, it is extremely readable. Modern audiences (especially those educated in the American government schools, which almost certainly failed to introduce them to this material) might be intimidated by the prospect of tackling a somewhat technical scientific volume of this size written a century and a half ago. Those who attempt it, however, will be pleasantly surprised to find that Darwin's presentation is extremely clear and intelligible, at times even beautiful. This admirable writing style is in large part due to his scientific method, which leads me to the book's next great virtue.Darwin's approach is primarily inductive---that is, he was not some armchair philosopher abstractly theorizing off in an ivory tower somewhere, as one might suspect from the photograph of him as a bearded old man with which we are usually presented. In other words, evolution is not "just a theory," precisely because Darwin was not just a theorist. Rather, Darwin gathered massive amounts of evidence on his Beagle voyage, and continued to accumulate ever more (with the help of his scientific colleagues in various related disciplines) for decades before he felt ready to publish his theory (and he still felt rushed into it). (Indeed, for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or in epistemology in general, On the Origin of Species should be the textbook case of scientific induction.) Darwin then presents all of this evidence to us piece by piece, building up his case from the ground, as it were, and in effect recreating his own line of thinking for his reader making it incredibly easy to follow his case.Which brings us to the third point: What kinds of evidence does Darwin draw on? Intriguingly, Darwin did not begin his career as a biologist aiming to solve the species question. He boarded the Beagle as a brilliant amateur natural scientist generally with an inclination toward geology. Perhaps this is why he was able to draw so widely on various fields in making his case for evolution when that question did become his main interest. From Lyell's theories and his own geological observations, Darwin concluded that the period of time available actually allowed for a very (previously unthinkably) slow process of evolution. From this geological perspective, he naturally was able to look at various pieces of evidence more directly bearing on the species question, such as the fossil record and (more importantly) the geographical distribution of species. After the Beagle voyage, he was able to conduct experiments in many other areas (and correspond with colleagues about the results of their experiments), including artificial selection (Darwin's pigeons being the most famous example of this) which became important as an analogy for the process of natural selection; the means of the geographical distribution and isolation of species (including seeing whether seeds can germinate after extended periods of submersion in salt water or passing through the digestive tracts of birds); and even the sex lives of barnacles. All of these experiments are described at some length in The Origin of Species.But Darwin, ever the scientist, was in fact cautious not to overstep the limits of what he could prove. The Origin of Species contains an excellent chapter anticipating and answering possible objections to his theory, and acknowledging its shortcomings. For instance, Darwin acknowledges that the fossil record at the time did not tend to show gradual progression from one species to another, and offers an explanation as to why the fossil record might be so incomplete. He also acknowledges that while he found the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection to be overwhelming, he did not know the actual physical, biological mechanism by which this takes place (as genes had not been discovered and the discipline of genetics created at that time), but he does briefly mention a hypothesis that was actually sort of on the right track. In fact, in all of these weak areas, subsequent history has borne Darwin and his theory out remarkably well.And finally, in addition to being a masterpiece of scientific thought, The Origin of Species is also a work of, at times, almost poetic beauty, and deserves praise for its literary merit. After presenting or indicating all the evidence in a specific area throughout each section, Darwin ends each chapter by summing it up in an eloquent statement naming the general principle to be derived from this vast array of specific evidence, often employing an apt and evocative metaphor. The most famous of these passages is of course the one with which he concludes the book: "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. 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."You cannot legitimately consider yourself an educated person if you haven't read this wonderful book, and yet a shockingly small percentage of Americans (including even those who claim to believe in evolution) have read it. But you will find that to do so is not a chore, but one of life's great pleasures.more
This is a wonderful and very readable book that truly changed the way we look at the world. It sold out on the day it was published in 1859 and created both friends and enemies of the theories discussed still to this day. There have been modifications of Darwin's theory of the origin of species (notably the Mendellian synthesis that incorporated genetics into the theory), but it stands to this day as the foundation of our understanding of the evolution. Surprisingly the only time evolution is mentioned is in the last paragraph of the book.This is a good book for anyone who once to read a classic text of science.more
Quite stunning in its way - but surely in need of an update in the light of genetics, DNA and plate techtonics. Not that the conclusions need to be changed, just that te argument becomes easier. That said, in the absence of knowledge on those points: that's what makes for the stunning.more
Finally read after decades of good intentions. For a recondite classic it is full of surprises, mostly pleasant; its supposed impenetrability largely confined to parts we already knew were directed at specialists—I admit to slogging through the section on barnacles, for example. But Origins is highly readable, pleasurable even, almost in the way of an Edmund Wilson essay. Darwin proceeds deliberately through the mountain of evidence he collected over twenty years as he constructs a virtually unassailable intellectual structure. Freely recognizing arguments against natural selection—the central thread of the book—he gives his best arguments based on the knowledge of his day while carefully pointing out its limitations. I was not prepared for how well he anticipated later discoveries—Mendel’s pioneering work in genetics didn’t see publication until the early 20th century yet dovetails almost seamlessly into Origins exposition, as does the Modern Synthesis. If you’re interested in any of the broad fields of biology-evolution, taxonomy, genetics—The Origin of Species is a must read. If you are a creationist, even in its deceptive guise of intelligent design, you are not intellectually honest if you have not read and honestly come to grips with this book; which gives the lie to the railings of a few misguided Christians and Muslims who seem to think it a product of their devil. Yet, so thoughtful and measured a book makes it clear any devils are in the eye of the beholdermore
The best science book ever written. It is amazingly easy reading - very compelling and still fascinating. Darwin put forth a powerful case even without knowing about genes etc. Before you repeat the knuckleheads out there who want to denigrate Darwin and evolution, read this book first (and maybe follow with something a bit more modern, such as Carl Zimmer: Evolution - the triumph of an idea).more
It's been criticized as unscientific, evil, and dry. I found it quite impressive. Though there are places where the detail might be too much for the casual reader, it is a very solid scientific work. He presents a hypothesis, shows significant supporting evidence, and defends it against the most common criticisms. It is not possible to prove that everything started from something simpler but it is now hard to refute that the natural process of natural selection is working on today's species. He leads his argument by showing the effectiveness that domestic breeders have achieved in altering species and guiding that process. Other highlights either new to me or especially interesting: the uniformity gained by consistent inter-crossing, the underlying ability of genetics to allow breakthrough changes and yet also to maintain uniformity, the complexity of larger areas in producing stronger more adaptable species, the effect of geographic changes (elevation, land forms, glaciers) on migration of living species and archival of fossil record, that fossils tend only to be saved during subsidence so only that direction of change is recorded, the species do not reappear once extinct (this seems to be in refutation of Lamarck), the phrase "grain in balance" to show the impact of small differences in the competition for survival, that it is the other species more than anything that determines a given organisms ability to survive in an area. Imagine his chart demonstrating how branching might work if he had had a PC at the time.more
Not what I was expecting at all.Here we have a very readable if thorough going explanation of his theory of descent with modification through variation and natural selection. I have seen comments such as dry and stodgy but did not find this to be the case to any great extent.I must confess to skimming a total of about three pages out of nearly five hundred. I did this because I had already got the point and he was listing in minute detail the implications of this or that on his famous "tree of life diagram" a to a' etc. etc.Apart from the exposition of such a simple theory the two main things I enjoyed most about the book were as follows;Firstly, just how much evidence in favour of evolution he did not have an inkling about. He bases his theory on how it explains the geographical distribution of life on the earth, variation, fertility, vestigial organs, eyes on cave dwellers, webbed feet on mountain ducks etc. It is therefore surprising just how much he got right and how little has since been shown to be wrong. Remember he had no idea of DNA or the molecular side of reproduction at all and yet he predicts a good deal of it.Secondly, his forays into experiment. Ranging from the counting of plant species in cleared ground, measuring and comparison of greyhound and bulldog puppies and adult dogs, to the immersal of seeds in sea-water and so on.The book is written for the lay audience and should be accessible, with a little patience, to most.Despite what many Creationists have told me there is nothing I could find about the origin of life, support for the Nazi's, reasons in favour of the Holocaust or the futility of existence at all.more
The journey of Charles Darwin on the H.M.S. Beagle and his reports, discoveries and observations relating to natural science and evolution. Fairly interesting for a book on science even though it is rather dated. The stir it caused in the mid 1800s no longer carries the same groundbreaking impact.more
evolution has gone through many changes since darwin's original writing, but it is always good to go back to the source. darwin may not have been the first person to conceive of evolution, but he was the first to delineate it in such a complete form.more
Darwin wrote that , "When the views entertained in this volume on the origin of species, or when analogous views are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history".With the advantages of hindsight we can see that this was an understatement. The book has had an enormous impact , probably appearing in the indexes of more recent academic publications than any other 19th century text.To answer the question of why, the reason is no doubt the same as when it was first published in 1859. His discovery combines simplicity with great explanatory power in an area of critical interest, namely the natural world and our place in it. In contrast to the texts of today there are no formulas and only one diagram. The chapters have quick summaries and the whole thing has an easy flowing discursive style that is very accessible despite being a distillate of a large amount of widely differing knowledge. He starts by looking at selection under domestication (i.e. not in nature) of animals, with special reference to the pigeon, showing how desired characteristics can be chosen by the breeder. In this respect after a discussion about pigeons and pigeon breeding in general, he can quote the skilled breeder Sir John Sebright as saying that, "he would produce any given feather in three years, but it would take him six years to obtain a head or a beak". He goes on to extend the idea of selection to the natural state where nature takes the place of the breeder in selecting which variants breed successfully and which do not. The controller is not now the breeder with the feather or beak that he wants but rather the environment itself. Nature allows certain birds to reproduce that have the optimum colouring to avoid predators or attract mates or a beak type that best fits the most common functions. The idea is developed in the chapters entitled Struggle for Existence and Natural Selection . As he puts it: "In the case of every species, many different checks, acting at different periods of life, and during different seasons or years, probably come into play; some one check or some few being generally the most potent, but all concurring in determining the average number or even the existence of the species". There are many examples with studies of special cases such as isolation, intercrossing, convergence and divergence of characteristics, and the competition between individuals and varieties of the same species. He clearly states that the environment is the guide : "...the structure of every organic being is related, in the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from which it has to escape, or on which it preys".He speculates on the characteristics of variation without knowing of Mendels identification of particles (genes from each parent that could be dominant or recessive). Mendel only published in 1866 with his work not being rediscovered until 1900 so Darwin leaves this as somewhat of a grey area. He observes variation and catalogues it stating that it changes in small increments over time and is subject to selection pressure.He is the first critic of his own work, highlighting for example the patchiness of the geological record :"Why does not every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of forms of life?" In the event these problems are being tackled a century later reinforcing his insight of any organ or instinct arriving at it's present state through many graduated steps.The high scientific reputation and social position of Darwin (needed to launch his ideas successfully) is covered in an excellent new biography by Janet Browne entitled Voyaging.more
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