Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth

Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth

by Rob Wesson

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Overview

An acclaimed geologist leads the reader on an adventure through the landscape that absorbed and inspired Charles Darwin.

Everybody knows—or thinks they know—Charles Darwin, the father of evolution and the man who altered the way we view our place in the world. But what most people do not know is that Darwin was on board the HMS Beagle as a geologist—on a mission to examine the land, not flora and fauna.

Tracing Darwin’s footsteps in South America and beyond, geologist Rob Wesson sets out on a trek across the Andes, repeating the nautical surveys made by the Beagle’s crew, hunting for fossils in Uruguay and Argentina, and explores traces of long vanished glaciers in Scotland and Wales. By following Darwin’s path literally and intellectually, Rob experiences the landscape that absorbed Darwin, followed his reasoning about what he saw, and immerses himself in the same questions about the earth.

Upon Darwin’s return from the five-year journey, he conceived his theory of tectonics—his first theory. These concepts and attitudes—the vastness of time; the enormous cumulative impact of almost imperceptibly slow change; change as a constant feature of the environment—underlie his subsequent discoveries in evolution. And this peculiar way of thinking remains vitally important today as we enter the Anthropocene.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781681773162
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Rob Wesson received a BS in earth science from MIT, and an MS and PhD in geophysics from Stanford University. His career in earthquake research with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) spans four decades. He is currently a Scientist Emeritus at the USGS and his work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. When not traveling to South America or elsewhere, Rob divides his time between his home in Evergreen, Colorado, and the cabin he built near McCarthy, Alaska.

Table of Contents

A Note on Quotations, Spelling, and Names xi

Prologue: A Peculiar Obsession xiii

Part 1 Darwin in Tine Field 1

1 The Lieutenant and the Beetle Collector 3

2 Field Trip with a Master: The State of Geology 25

3 Setting Out: The Adventures Begin 43

4 The First Years of the Voyage 63

5 Patagonia: The Great Workshop of Nature 85

6 Maria Graham and the Debate on the Causes of Elevation 111

7 Darwin's Earthquake 129

8 The Andes Arising 147

9 Coral Reefs and the Sinking Bottom of the Sea 169

Part 2 Darwin Theorizing 187

10 Faith Comforts, Facts Persuade 189

11 The Theory Comes Together 209

12 Extending the Theory: The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy 227

Part 3 Back on Darwin's Trail 249

13 From Uplift to Evolution 251

14 From Natural Selection to Plate Tectonics 273

15 In the Beagle's Wake 297

16 The Chilean Earthquake of 2010 319

17 Now You See Them, Now You Don't 341

18 Reflections: What Does It All Mean? 361

Notes 385

Bibliography 419

Photo Insert Credits 441

Acknowledgments 445

Index 449

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