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The Origin of Species (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

The Origin of Species

Most people are at least familiar with the theory of natural selection, but that is not to say that they are familiar with what Darwin actually said in Origin and how he said it. Thus I agree with the reviewers who say this is essential reading.

Although Darwin sa...
Most people are at least familiar with the theory of natural selection, but that is not to say that they are familiar with what Darwin actually said in Origin and how he said it. Thus I agree with the reviewers who say this is essential reading.

Although Darwin says it is "one long argument", it is in fact two: that the diversity of life shares a common ancestry, and second that this divergence came about primarily as a result of natural selection. One other reviewer said it was hard to keep focussed on the argument, if this is the case I recommend you start with Darwin's intro, chapters 3, 4, 6 and 14. This gives the basic argument. You might then go back and fill in.

There are a number of re-editions of Origin out there, especially given the recent 150th anniversary of its publication, so why choose this one?

Above all it is an ideal student edition (and I include here anyone who reads critically): it is cheap, has abundant margins for notes, and is as lightweight a paperback as you will find for a 400 page book. The type is large and accessible, and the introduction by George Levine is, at 20 pages, short enough to hold one's interest while with enough content to warrant its inclusion. Also, given all the recent re-editions available there are few that provide the 1859 text of the first edition. This one does.

This is important if you want to know how Darwin originally presented his ideas. Later editions (there were six in total, the last published in 1876) included clarifications and answers to specific later objections. As a result the first edition reads better and is a more straightforward argument. If you are a Darwin scholar you will probably want to engage with these later editions - the sixth is widely available, for the others you can find them in specialist libraries (the University of Oklahoma has the lot!), or now also in beautifully scanned editions through the Darwin online website.

This is not the place to go into the detail of what gets added to the later editions, but if this book gets you hooked you might want to take your Darwin studies further. Perhaps the most notable and certainly the most famous addition is the insertion from the second edition onwards of the words "by the Creator" into the poetic last paragraph of the book (There is grandeur in this view of life... ) This is interesting stuff: was Darwin seeking to clarify that he saw evolution as God's mechanism for creating the awesome diversity of life that we see around us? Or, was this a judicious attempt to allay theological concerns that distracted his readers from the science? The jury is still out on this. Darwin certainly wrote to his friend and confidante Joseph Hooker that he later regretted "truckling to public opinion", but he did not remove the insertion from later editions. In his autobiography, written towards the end of his life, he confided that while he had gradually lost his faith in a personal God, he recognized that others had found natural selection quite compatible with religious belief, most notably the Anglican theologian Charles Kingsley and the American botanist and Presbyterian, Asa Gray.

There is so much in this book that it will keep you coming back. You might also want to take this further: Although Darwin only hinted at human evolution in Origin, he addressed that hot potato explicitly in Descent of Man.

posted by Piers on April 15, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

a great scientific information compilation, just too confusing.

This book is STRICTLY for professors or science scholars whom may wish to broaden their horizons on the THEORY, not fact, of evolution. As a matter of fact, the word "evolved" is only mentioned 1 time throughout the book, being the very last word of the book. He talks m...
This book is STRICTLY for professors or science scholars whom may wish to broaden their horizons on the THEORY, not fact, of evolution. As a matter of fact, the word "evolved" is only mentioned 1 time throughout the book, being the very last word of the book. He talks more on the difficulties on his theory rather than the "facts" on his theory; he has at least 3 chapters that are strictly and solely devoted to the refuting of evolution. Unless you are a science whiz or professor, you ARE going to get lost on more than one occasion throughout this volume. The beginning chapters are fairly easy to understand, but at about chapter 5 you can get lost rather quickly because he jumps from subject to subject that are completely irrelevant. Overall, this book is a great scientific compilation of information and scrutinizingly pain-staking experiments through trial and error and is recommended for those who can distinguish between ammonites, batrachians, cirripedes, hemiptera, and the many other scientific terms he may use without looking at the glossary of terms in the back, which I must say does come in handy after the 2nd chapter.

posted by thirsting_for_knowledge on January 10, 2009

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