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.
Retracing Darwin’s footsteps in South America and beyond, geologist Rob Wesson treks across the Andes, cruises waters charted by the Beagle, hunts for fossils in Uruguay and Argentina, and explores sites of long vanished glaciers in Scotland and Wales. As he follows Darwin’s path—literally and intellectually—Wesson experiences the land as Darwin did, engages with his observations, and tackles the same questions Darwin had about our ever-changing Earth.
Upon his return from his five-year journey aboard the Beagle, after examining the effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and more, Darwin conceived his theory of subsidence and uplift‚—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 Darwin’s subsequent discoveries in evolution. And this peculiar way of thinking remains vitally important today as we enter the human-dominated Anthropocene age.
Expertly interweaving science and adventure, Darwin’s First Theory is a riveting and revelatory journey around the world with one of the greatest scientific minds in history.
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About the Author
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
Photo Insert Credits 441