Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New Worldby K. Thalia Grant, Gregory B. Estes
"Grant and Estes, the world's authorities on Darwin in Galpagos, put readers in young Darwin's mind and meticulously trace his every footstep. They have the most intimate knowledge about this archipelago and a heartfelt friendship with its most famous visitor. Darwin comes alive in this carefully researched book. A book every Galpagos traveler should read, as… See more details below
"Grant and Estes, the world's authorities on Darwin in Galpagos, put readers in young Darwin's mind and meticulously trace his every footstep. They have the most intimate knowledge about this archipelago and a heartfelt friendship with its most famous visitor. Darwin comes alive in this carefully researched book. A book every Galpagos traveler should read, as should anyone who wants to understand how Darwin became the first evolutionary biologist."Martin Wikelski, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Konstanz University
"This book is a tale of two journeys: Darwin's in the islands, and the authors' as they retraced his steps. Darwin's, of course, was one of the most important series of footsteps in the history of human exploration. And the journey that Thalia Grant and Greg Estes have made is impressive because they have done so much legwork in the islands and the libraries, and have spent so much of their lives working in the archipelago. Outdoors and indoors, it seems to have been a labor of love."Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch
"This volume provides a timely and interesting account of a key moment in Charles Darwin's lifeand, it might be said, in the history of evolutionary biology. It is especially valuable to encounter the deep local knowledge that the authors bring to the locations they describe. The route Darwin took around the islands comes alive in this book."Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: The Power of Place
"This is an engaging tour of Darwin's explorations on Galpagos. This book provides the best description yet of Darwin's trip through the islands. The authors have a remarkable familiarity with the places Darwin visited, and ably share that knowledge."Edward J. Larson, author of Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory
"Grant and Estes provide a vivid and accurate account of where Charles Darwin went on his 1835 visit to the Galpagos Islands. This is an important addition to the Darwin literature and to our knowledge of what Darwin did inand how he was affected byGalpagos."Duncan M. Porter, coeditor of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin
"The authors have provided a richly detailed and evocative description of Darwin's route and experiences in the Galpagos Islands. In doing so they have made a significant contribution to Darwin studies and to the enjoyment of anyone who visits these places with their book in hand."Sandra Herbert, author of Charles Darwin, Geologist
John van Wyhe
Alan C. Love
"In Darwin in Galapagos, authors K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, both naturalists who have conducted research in the Galapagos for decades, embark on a historic recreation of Darwin's 1835 visit in which they attempt to literally retrace his steps during the five weeks he spent there."Rick MacPherson, American Scientist
"A complement of 201 color and 73 black-and-white illustrations, not available for review, will most probably make this volume the fitting bibliographical capper to the 2009 Darwin bicentenary."Ray Olson, Booklist
"[T]he authors' contribution derives from their meticulous use of Darwin's notes and their intimate knowledge of the islands to reconstruct Darwin's experience there. . . . This book is a must for die-hard Darwin fans and will appeal to those who enjoyed [Jonathan] Weiner's book [The Beak of the Finch] and those by David Quammen (e.g., The Reluctant Mr. Darwin)."Walter L. Cressier, Library Journal
"In this work, naturalists Grant and Estes retrace Charles Darwin's steps in the Galapagos, a region he initially visited after nearly four years on HMS Beagle. The authors include a discussion of Darwin's early life and education, along with an account of his voyage before arriving on the islands. . . . The volume includes many excellent prints, photographs, and diagrams from Darwin's time as well as present-day photographs, which should appeal to historians and naturalists."Choice
"K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes' narrative reconstruction of Charles Darwin's 1835 exploration of the islands . . . is a remarkable work that expertly rejoins the man and the place, and adds to them both the results of recent scientific discoveries arising from his work to bring to readers one of the most intricate portraits of this pivotal moment in natural history yet written. . . . Should be considered an essential book by anyone hoping better to understand the man, his work, and his continuing influence upon the scientific world today."The Well-read Naturalist
"Readers feel they are walking in the steps of Darwin as he moves towards his radical ideas of natural selection and evolution. This is a model travel book. It contains all the Darwin-inspired traveller to the Galapagos Islands could want, including historic and contemporary illustrations and photos."Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald
"A good book should be based on first-hand knowledge of the subject and the authors offer an impressive combination of experiencea vast amount of information is marshaled to give readers a full picture. The book is well illustrated with a rich mixture of historical and modern images. Any reader seriously interested in Darwin and Galapagos will want to read this book."John van Wyhe, Galapagos News
"Even those familiar with the detailed landscape of Darwin's early years, so critical in the development of his evolutionary thinking, will find much to admire here. Grant and Estes have provided us with a historically rich and compelling, if necessarily imperfect, perspective on Darwin's Galapagos footsteps to a new world of evolutionary thinking."Alan C. Love, Metascience
"Grant and Estes have provided us with a historically rich and compelling, if necessarily imperfect, perspective on Darwin's Galapagos footsteps to a new world of evolutionary thinking. . . . [A] major achievement. It shows all the signs of long gestation (rather than hasty production)13 years from conception to outcome, but a lifetime in the making."Alan C. Love, Metascience
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Darwin in GalápagosFOOTSTEPS TO A NEW WORLD
By K. Thalia Grant Gregory B. Estes
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCurious Beginnings
I was born a naturalist. -Charles Darwin, Life
Born to Science
Darwin entered the world in Shrewsbury, England on February 12, 1809, with all the makings for a bright future. His father, Robert Waring Darwin, was an esteemed medical doctor and a fellow of the Royal Society. His mother, Susannah (Sukey), came from the affluent Wedgwood family, of pottery fame. Darwin had an older brother (Erasmus) and three older sisters (Marianne, Caroline, and Susan) to watch over him. He would soon have a younger sibling (Catherine) to play with. As for intellectual promise, his grandfathers on both sides of the family were famously intelligent. Erasmus Darwin was a physician, inventor, poet, and natural philosopher. He was also somewhat of a dissident, a "hard-headed free-thinker" who contributed some of the first speculations on evolution. Josiah Wedgwood was a celebrated potter, inventor, and patron of the arts. Both were founding members of the elite Lunar Society, a philosophers club for politically liberal scientists and industrialists.
The house itself was called The Mount, an appropriate name for a supportive family at the apex of success and respectability. But for Darwin the name's active definition would have more significance, for mount means to begin a course of action and to climb, and it was here that Darwin started his life as a naturalist and embarked on his journey of discovery to the heights of scientific fame.
For an eminent-scientist-to-be Darwin was certainly born in a propitious place. He also grew up at a favorable time. These were the early years of the Industrial Revolution, a period that smiled on the sciences. In the quest for new technology to improve manufacture and transport, knowledge and brainpower were seen as valuable as any raw material. It was an age that nurtured scientific thought and encouraged the discussion of innovative ideas through philosophical meetings (like the Lunar Society), scientific publications, study tours, and lectures.
There was also a lively interest in the natural sciences and a fascination with nature. Just seven years before Darwin's birth, Christian apologist William Paley published a book called Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature. It was an instant best seller. Amplifying and expanding upon the ideas of earlier natural theologians William Derham and John Ray, Paley wrote that the intricate and varied adaptations of organisms are clearly designed and sustained by an intelligent being. Nature was verification of God's existence, and "[t]o study nature was to study the work of the Lord." Paley evoked the now-famous watchmaker analogy to illustrate his point; behind the complex inner workings of a pocket watch is a watchmaker; therefore, behind the complex structures and adaptations of living things must be an intelligent designer. Paley's prose was so attractive and his arguments so persuasive that his book was instantly, hugely, and enduringly popular. His line of thinking became the dominant creed of the ruling classes for the first half of the 19th century and his book became standard university fare. Darwin would read it avidly when studying at the University of Cambridge.
Paley's view of life glorified nature and made it fashionable, but there was more motivating the study of nature in the early 19th century than just Natural Theology. There was the legacy and momentum of the previous century's Enlightenment.
The 18th century's Age of Enlightenment saw a huge expansion of natural history knowledge-the result of natural philosophers seeking rational answers for natural phenomena. Like their counterparts in previous centuries most of these 18th century "scientists" looked at nature and the world as having been created by God. But instead of using the traditional methods of intuition, superstition, faith, and divine revelation to explain natural phenomena they sought natural history knowledge and ways of organizing the knowledge in rational ways. The empirical methods of these men had the crucial effect of laying "a foundation for a science of biology."
One of the most important naturalists of the Enlightenment was Swedish botanist Carl von Linné. Three-quarters of a century before Darwin's birth, Linné (referred to hereafter by his better known, adopted scientific binomial Carolus Linnaeus) opened the floodgates to systematic biology. He developed a hierarchical system of taxonomy, based on the physical similarities of organisms, to classify life. He also established binomial nomenclature, the formal, scientific convention for naming organisms. Although Linnaeus was in his grave when Darwin arrived on the scene, his influence was very much alive. His book Systema Naturae, first published 74 years before Darwin's birth (and 100 years before Darwin's visit to Galápagos), inspired naturalists (including Darwin) to collect, describe, and systematically study all living species in a movement that swept through Europe, through the 18th century, and beyond.
As more was learned about the natural world in the 18th century, diverse ways of interpreting the facts arose. Some attempts were made to reconcile the new knowledge with the lore of the Bible, others to explain the phenomena in purely secular terms. Change was a common theme among the theorizers toward the end of the century for it became increasingly difficult to ignore the mounting fossil evidence showing the earth to have been populated by organisms that had changed over time. Nor was it possible to overlook the geological facts that showed the earth to be much older than previously thought. The traditional view of the world was a literal interpretation of the story of Genesis-a static earth only a few thousand years old whose plants and animals had been miraculously created in six days. God's creations were believed to form a perfect, unchanging, unbroken "ladder of life" or Scala Naturae; a hierarchy that started with the nonliving world and ascended "through [the] lower forms of life ... to the highest, most spiritual of beings." This worldview was now being challenged, and naturalists, religious thinkers, and secular philosophers alike had to adjust their views to accommodate the new facts. It was during this period of free and open speculation that evolutionary thought began to emerge and develop.
The earliest 18th century proto-evolutionists were materialist thinkers Benoît de Maillet, James Burnett, Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, and several other European philosophers who contemplated the origins of Earth's multifarious species and suggested, in vague and various terms that species adapt and change to survive. French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Compte de Buffon, organized his ideas in a more scientific light. He proposed that similar species-all members of the cat family, for example-are "degenerated" forms of a single ancestral species, whose "internal mold" had changed in response to various environmental conditions. Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin took the concept of organic change one step further by daring to imagine that everything now living had degenerated "from a single living filament."
The progression of these pre-Darwinian evolutionary ideas can be pictured as streams of thought, flowing along similar lines, "without quite coalescing into an organized whole." It was not until the 19th century that evolutionary thought became a cohesive idea. In 1809, the year Darwin was born, French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, published a book entitled Philosophie Zoologique, in which he presented the idea of evolution as a theory. His causal explanation for how species change was that characteristics acquired by an individual during its lifetime are then passed down to its offspring. In a now oft-repeated example, he proposed that giraffes had transmuted from short-necked ancestors simply by stretching their necks to reach the leaves on high branches. Anticipating quarrel over the argument that animals with broken limbs do not beget offspring with broken limbs, Lamarck made it clear that only beneficial traits are inherited. Animals change through individual effort, so injuries are not passed on and traits that are not useful disappear through disuse.
Darwin would learn about Lamarck's ideas at the University of Edinburgh, and would later in life accept a limited view of the inheritance of acquired characteristics as a possible explanation for evolution supplementary to his own theory of natural selection. But during Darwin's university years it was Lamarck's most severe critic, French Baron Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier, who had more concrete bearing on Darwin's scientific training. This was because Cuvier, a brilliant comparative anatomist and paleontologist, made numerous, important, and lasting contributions to the natural sciences. His career straddled the two centuries and many of his findings were made during Darwin's youth.
Two of Cuvier's most important contributions were to establish the fact of extinction and to fine tune Linnaeus's system of classification by comparing the internal structure of organisms. He proposed four distinct body types-vertebrates, invertebrates, radiates, and mollusks-and included extinct organisms as well as living in his classification of the animal kingdom. He accomplished these feats through rigorous comparison of the anatomy of living animals and fossil remains. By further examination of the fossil record he showed that species become increasingly complex and more diverse as they are replaced through time. Such facts point to evolution, but Cuvier firmly believed in the fixity of species and propounded a different interpretation. God had simply made successive creations of species suited to increasingly favorable conditions. As for the alternative idea that the new species had mutated from old species, Cuvier argued that organisms could not possibly change because body parts are so highly correlated that any alteration in one part would sabotage the functioning of the whole. Cuvier's ruthless attack on Lamarck and all forms of evolutionary thought discouraged scientists from further speculation about the transmutation of species, and gave room for Paley's God-driven view of life to prevail. Nonetheless, and most importantly for Darwin, Cuvier's rigorous scientific methods and important findings helped lay the evidentiary foundation for evolution's eventual acceptance.
Darwin thus grew up during a period when there was glorious and noble purpose to studying nature but when exciting discoveries were being made to the tune of discordant theories. Great strides were being made in all branches of natural history, from astronomy and geology to botany and zoology. With encouragement from industrialists eager for scientists to improve economy, it was truly a bustling time for science.
As demonstrated by Janet Browne in her Darwin biography, Darwin was well "seasoned with the vigorous intellectual activity" of this period during his school and university years. As a very young boy, however, Darwin was oblivious to all the noise the scientific community was making, much less to the reasons behind their racket. He was too busy creating his own hullabaloo at The Mount and causing his parents to fret over his future. For Darwin was "born a naturalist," but not in a way that reassured his father.
[S]chool as a means of education to me was simply a blank. -Charles Darwin, Autobiography
"Bobby," as Charles Darwin was affectionately called as a youngster, loved the outdoors. He was fond of climbing trees, examining flowers, taking long solitary walks, and collecting. He was also a mischievous little fellow, prone to fibbing, and "in many ways a naughty boy." He made games of stealing fruit and professed the ability to turn primroses and crocuses different colors simply by watering them with colored fluids. One of the few memories he retained of his mother, who died when he was eight years old, was her telling him that if she insisted he not do something, it was "solely for [his] own good." Before he went to school his teenage sister Caroline was in charge of his education. So zealously did she try to improve her rebellious little brother that Darwin remembered habitually thinking, "What will she blame me for now?" Soon after his eighth birthday, Darwin was sent to a local day school run by Unitarian minister Reverend George Case. There Darwin developed a passion for gardening and fishing for newts in the school pond, and after a close friend gave him a stone, he started rock collecting.
The following year Darwin was moved to a nearby boarding school (Shrewsbury School) but neither Darwin nor the headmaster, Reverend Samuel Butler, thought much of his attendance. Butler called him a "poco curante" or trifler, while Darwin silently countered, "Nothing could ... [be] worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school." Fortunately, Darwin did not let school interfere with his education, for he "had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever [he] observed" in the natural world. When he wasn't exploring out of doors he spent hours paging through a school friend's copy of C.C. Clarke's Wonders of the World, vicariously traveling to the remote places described within. He also escaped into the "pleasure [of] poetry," delighting in the works of William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and James Thomson.
Throughout his teens Darwin fostered his interest in natural history and cultivated his passion for collecting "all sorts of things," from shells and coins to birds' eggs and beetles. He remained a poor student but excelled at his hobbies, the pursuit of which would prove far more valuable to his later career than the classics he tediously studied at school. He loved dogs with a passion, and became "an adept in robbing their love from their masters." He enjoyed hunting, and learned to ride at the age of 11, and to shoot at 15. He carefully recorded all the birds he shot, and in doing so initiated a lifetime habit of meticulous note taking. During school term he often ran home in the evenings to spend the stolen hours conducting chemistry experiments with his older brother Erasmus (Ras) in the garden toolshed. The pastime earned him the unfortunate nickname "Gas," but Darwin proclaimed his hobby, "the best part of my education ... for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science."
Darwin's nonacademic talents were lost on his father. Robert Darwin, "the kindest man [Charles Darwin] ever knew" but also a formidably large man, standing over 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall and weighing 136 kilos (300 pounds), was driven to despair, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family."
My father ... declared that I should make a successful physician ... but what he saw in me which convinced him ... I know not. -Charles Darwin, Autobiography
In October 1825 Robert Darwin packed his son off to medical school at the University of Edinburgh. It was not a success. Not only were the lectures exceedingly dull, Darwin was horrified by the spectacle of surgery without anesthesia. Upon witnessing the amputation of a child's leg he ran from the operating theater before it was over. "Nor did I ever attend again," he wrote years later, "for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform."
Darwin quit medical school after two years, but his time at Edinburgh was far from wasted. It was here that Darwin, through an assortment of lectures, discussions, and books on meteorology, hydrography, mineralogy, geology, botany, and zoology, was baptized in contemporary scientific thinking and introduced to a full range of scientific theories. Some were steeped with biblical implication; others were more secular. Serving as examples are the opposing ideas of 18th century geologists Abraham Werner and James Hutton. Werner, with his Neptunism theory, argued that all rocks are the precipitates and crystallized minerals of an ocean that once covered the earth in the not too distant past. Werner's ideas were attractive for their religious compatibility and aura of stability and order.
Hutton, on the other hand, believed that most rocks are formed below the ground. With his Plutonic theory he suggested that Earth is in a perpetual state of change, with volcanoes, earthquakes, and erosion constantly altering its aspect. He introduced the idea of deep time-time that stretches so far in to the past and future that he could imagine "no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end."
Excerpted from Darwin in Galápagos by K. Thalia Grant Gregory B. Estes Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Edward J. Larson, author of "Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory"
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Duncan M. Porter, coeditor of "The Correspondence of Charles Darwin"
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