Darwin and the Beagleby Alan Moorehead
But everything he encountered on the voyage -- from the primitive people of Tierra del Fuego to the finches of the Galapagos Islands, from earthquakes and eruptions to
When the Beagle sailed in 1831, she carried a young naturalist, Charles Darwin, at age 22 still unknown. Destined for the church, Darwin was cozily at ease with creation as explained in Genesis.
But everything he encountered on the voyage -- from the primitive people of Tierra del Fuego to the finches of the Galapagos Islands, from earthquakes and eruptions to fossil seashells gathered at 12,000 feet in the Andes -- challenged biblical assumptions and led finally to ORIGIN OF SPECIES.
"Mr. Moorehead's admirable prose style, his entrancing narrative...are beyond praise." (The London Times)
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Many people know more about Charles Darwin's hypothesis about the origin of species than about how he arrived at his conclusions. Unless you are a devoted scientist, you will probably never read his book, The Origin of Species, his journals, or his autobiography. Alan Moorehead has done a valuable service in providing an entertaining popular introduction to Darwin's work in this book (available now as an audio cassette). Darwin's life is full of ironies, which are nicely developed in this book. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a well-known physician who espoused some elementary ideas about biological evolution. Is finding evolution a heritable trait? Charles Darwin had been a poor student, and seemed only competent to become a country curate. The position of naturalist on the Beagle was cooked up because the captain was subject to mental illness, and hoped the companionship of another educated person would help him keep his senses. Darwin initially turned the job down because his father was opposed, and was only able to persuade his father to let him pursue this when a relative aggressively intervened. Darwin's main qualification for the position was that his family could afford the 500 pounds it would cost to be on the voyage while conducting this unpaid position. Also, Darwin got horribly sea sick, which meant that he sought out opportunities to be on land as much as possible (this was fortunate for the future of biology). Finally, Darwin was a believer in strict creationism when he started the voyage. He saw his job, in part, as finding evidence for Noah's flood. The voyage of the Beagle lasted five years, and involved circumnavigating the globe. The primary purpose of the Beagle's trip was to map coastlines for the admiralty. Most people know about Darwin's finches (whose beaks developed in different ways in various islands in the Galapagos to reflect the local food supplies), but do not realize that he only spent a few days in the Galapagos. He had many other important experiences in South America and on other Pacific islands that led him to appreciate how geological processes of mountain building and ocean depressing impacted species. The fossils he found in Uraguay and Argentina of extinct animals began to undermine his belief in the literal meaning of the Bible on these points. Finding other fossils from ocean creatures at 12,000 feet high in the Andes further stretched his mind. Seeing extreme volcanic action and the effects of tidal waves in Chile added to the picture. This material would be ideal for a young person trying to find what interests them. It will encourage the idea of being open to new experiences, and learning from what you observe. Many young people would like scientific careers if they ever tried one. High school and college science classes give an incomplete and poor impression of what working in science is all about. This book nicely captures the excitement of field work and trying to figure out what the data mean. I graded the book down for being too popularized and a little too repetitive. Readers can absorb more substantive information than Mr. Moorehead include