From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books

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Overview

Hailed as "superior" by Nature, this landmark volume is available in a collectible, boxed edition.
Never before have the four great works of Charles Darwin—Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845), The Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)—been collected under one cover. Undertaking this challenging endeavor 123 years after Darwin's death, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson has written an introductory essay for the occasion, while providing new, insightful introductions to each of the four volumes and an afterword that examines the fate of evolutionary theory in an era of religious resistance. In addition, Wilson has crafted a creative new index to accompany these four texts, which links the nineteenth-century, Darwinian evolutionary concepts to contemporary biological thought. Beautifully slipcased, and including restored versions of the original illustrations, From So Simple a Beginning turns our attention to the astounding power of the natural creative process and the magnificence of its products.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
To call the concurrent publication of these bulky twin volumes examples of parallel evolution would literally be incorrect in the Darwinian sense-but maybe not as it applies to the natural selection of the publishing marketplace. Imagine the synchronicity in the board rooms of two major publishers who decided, independently yet almost simultaneously, to commemorate Darwin's upcoming 200th birthday (in 2009) by repackaging his most important works in a single volume and inviting a major celebrity scientist to contribute running commentary, thus creating a keepsake that is both quaint and contemporary. All in time for the holidays! Commonalities make up the vast substance of each volume. Darwin's four major works, The Voyage of the Beagle, On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of Emotion in Men and Animals, are all reproduced, although the absolute completeness of each version may be questioned. Introducing each volume and each of its four books, the guest scientist provides brief, cursory, sometimes perhaps mildly self-serving commentary; both are equally incriminated. Nobel laureate Watson's and Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson's unique narrative contributions to each volume can be read in half an hour, with precious little insight gained from either. Furthermore, neither textual volume should be regarded as unerringly faithful to the primary sources, as there are disparities between them. For example, Chapter 2 from The Descent of Man reads differently in each, and several illustrations are placed or numbered differently. Darwin's own footnotes are egregiously stripped from the text of the reading copy of Wilson's version. Even at these densities, some editorial discretion is evident in space allocation. However, sidebars note that selected content has been omitted from both reading copies, so no final verdict on the fidelity of either version is possible on the basis of this level of analysis. Regardless, these volumes appear to have negligible scholarly value. The publisher of Wilson's version promises a "creative new index" (not seen by reviewer) to accompany these four texts, one linking Darwin's terminology to modern times. Since Watson's book has no index, that might make a difference. Either way, the market for these books is individual buyers, not libraries. [For From So Simple a Beginning, see Prepub Alert, LJ 7/05.]-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY Albany Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061345
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/7/2005
  • Edition description: Slipcased Edition
  • Pages: 1712
  • Sales rank: 320,414
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 3.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Darwin

Naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is the father of evolution. His groundbreaking The Origin of Species argued that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection. As much as anyone in the modern era, Darwin has changed the course of human thought.

Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Biography

Robert Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809, into a wealthy and highly respected family. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a doctor and the author of many works, including his well-known Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life, which suggested a theory of evolution. Charles's father, Robert Waring Darwin, was also a prosperous doctor; his mother, Susannah, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the renowned Wedgwood potteries. The Darwins and the Wedgwoods had close and long-standing relations, and Charles was to marry his cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

In 1825 at age sixteen, Darwin matriculated at Edinburgh University to study medicine. There, his early interest in natural history developed, and he studied particularly crustaceans, sea creatures, and beetles. Nauseated by the sight of blood, however, he decided that medicine was not his vocation, left Edinburgh in 1827 and entered Christ's College, Cambridge University, with no clear sense of possible vocation, theology itself being an option. At Cambridge he became friends with J. S. Henslow, a clergyman who was also professor of botany. Although Darwin was to graduate from Cambridge with a B.A. in theology, he spent much time with Henslow, developing his interest in natural science. It was Henslow who secured a position for Darwin on an exploratory expedition aboard the HMS Beagle.

In December 1831, the year he graduated from Cambridge, Darwin embarked upon a five-year voyage to Africa and South America, acting as a companion to the captain, Robert Fitzroy. Darwin spent more time in land expeditions than at sea, where he was always seasick, but during the long voyages he continued his collecting and, cramped in his tiny cabin, meticulously wrote up his ideas. Several years after his return, at the time of the birth of his first son, William, Darwin fell ill. It is conjectured that while in South America he had contracted Chagas's disease, but whatever the cause, the effects were debilitating for the rest of Darwin's life.

By the time he returned to London in 1835, many of his letters, some to scientists like Charles Lyell and Adam Sedgwick, had been read before scientific societies, and he was already a well known and respected naturalist. His first published book, an account of his voyage aboard the Beagle, entitled Journal of Researches, appeared in 1839 and was widely popular. He married the same year; soon after, the family moved from London to a secluded house at Down, in Kent, where Darwin wrote initial sketches of his theory and then preparing himself for the full exposition, spent eight years writing a detailed set of definitive monographs on barnacles.

In 1858, when Darwin was halfway through writing his book, "Natural Selection," A. R. Wallace sent him a paper called, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type." In language similar to Darwin's own, Wallace laid out the argument for natural selection. Wallace asked Darwin to help get the paper published -- obviously an alarming development for a man who had given twenty years of his life to getting the argument for natural selection right. Darwin's scientific friends advised him to gather materials giving evidence of his priority but to have the Wallace paper read before the Linnaean Society, along with a brief account of his own ideas. Immediately after the reading, Darwin began work on his "abstract" of "Natural Selection." The result was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859. Despite the controversy it generated, it was an immense success and went through five more editions in Darwin's lifetime.

Darwin devoted the rest of his life to researching and writing scientific treatises, drawing on his notebooks and corresponding with scientists all over the world, and thus developing and modifying parts of his larger argument.

Darwin never traveled again and much of his scientific work was done in his own garden and study at home. Others, particularly his "bulldog," T. H. Huxley, fought the battle for evolution publicly, and as Darwin remained quietly ailing at home, his family grew -- he had ten children -- and so did his reputation. Although he was always ill with symptoms that made it impossible for him to work full days, he produced an enormous volume of work. His death, on April 19, 1882, was a national event. Despite the piety of his wife, Emma, Darwin had fallen away from religion as he reflected both on the way nature worked and on the way his favorite daughter, Annie, died painfully from an unknown feverish illness, when she was ten. Nevertheless, ironically, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Origin of Species.

Good To Know

Darwin was born on the same day as U.S. president Abraham Lincoln.

He broke his longtime snuff habit by keeping his snuff box in the basement and the key to it in the attic.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      February 12, 1809
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shrewsbury, England
    1. Date of Death:
      April 19, 1882
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Theology, Christ’s College, Cambridge University, 1831

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