Home Authors Books Subjects Events Software Features Links Newsletter Gifts Blog Write Review What's New

Review - The Autobiography - Charles Darwin

 

Visit bookshop

I have to confess to putting off reading this book until the last moment, as I expected it to be a typical piece of Victorian sentimental unreadable stodge. I was wrong.

Darwin's little book (only 150 small pages with appendices) was originally written for his own children, and displays a very personal style of writing - though, as son Francis comments, his style was always more populist than was common then: "In writing he sometimes showed the same strong tendency to strong expressions that he did in conversation. Thus in the Origin, p440, there is a description of a larvel [sic] cirripede 'with six pairs of beautifully constructed natatory legs, a pair of magnificent compound eyes and extremely complex antennae'. We used to laugh at him for this sentence, which we compared to an advertisement."

The main book is delightful because it demonstrates Darwin's self-depreciating modesty, and the fascinating path he took from enthusiastic shooter of game, to amateur geologist (still his main interest when he set out on the Beagle) and self-taught naturalist. He does not describe the voyage of the Beagle at all, leaving that to his published journal, but does describe how, on his return he attempted to apply the scientific rigour of Lyell in geology and Francis Bacon's concept of collecting all the facts together without hypothesis before going any further, in the process of coming to his ideas on natural selection and evolution.

The main text is supported ably by a pair of appendices added by Francis (or Frank, as Darwin refers to him). The first is Francis' recollections of life with Darwin, what Darwin was like (he as described as being so ruddy in the face that people thought him very healthy when he wasn't), and what his days at Down involved.

The second appendix is equally fascinating as it deals with Darwin's religious beliefs, which have been much misreported, and were important given the on-going clash between some churchgoers and those who support evolution. Early on Darwin was a Christian, but he ended up, in his own words, not an atheist but an agnostic. He says that he could not believe in a revealed religion like Christianity, but that religious beliefs were in no way incompatible with evolutionary theory - there was only a problem if you believed in direct divine design. He seemed to base his agnosticism more on the existence of human suffering than anything deduced from evolution - so creationists, please leave off!

All in all, a pleasant surprise.

Only in hardback.  

Reviewed by Jo Reed                          

DISCLAIMERS

This site has no connection with Popular Science magazine or other sites and publications with a similar name.

Much of the content of this site is written by popular science writers or friends of popular science writers. Inevitably many of the reviews in such a small community are written by or about someone we know. We always aim to be impartial in our reviews, but there is a connection which we need make clear, as there is no intention to deceive. The content of any review or article is solely the opinion of the author and should not be read or understood on any other basis. The site exists to promote popular science writing and popular science authors and for this reason should be considered promotional material, just as the editorial reviews in an online bookshop or the blurb on the back of a book should be considered promotional.

The website should not be eaten or used where it can come into contact with water.

Disagree with our review? Want to comment on a feature? Contact us at info@ popularscience.co.uk - have your say!

Part of the Popular Science  site

Copyright Creativity Unleashed Limited 2005
Last update 05 June 2007