The Origin of Species

The Origin of Species

by Charles Darwin, Edward J. Larson

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Introduction by Edward J. Larson
Perhaps the most readable and accessible of the great works of scientific inquiry, The Origin of Species sold out its first printing on the very day it was published in 1859. Theologians quickly labeled Charles Darwin the most dangerous man in England and, as the Saturday Review noted, the uproar over the book quickly “passed beyond the bounds of the study and lecture-room into the drawing-room and the public street.” Based largely on Darwin’s experience as a naturalist while on a five-year voyage aboard H. M. S. Beagle, The Origin of Species set forth a theory of evolution and natural selection that challenged contemporary beliefs about divine providence and the immutability of species. This Modern Library edition includes a Foreword by the Pulitzer Prize–winning science historian Edward J. Larson, an introductory historical sketch, and a glossary Darwin later added to the original text.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679641308
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2000
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 720
File size: 794 KB

About the Author

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809--the same day that witnessed the birth of Abraham Lincoln--into a prominent middle-class family. His mother, who died when Darwin was eight, was the daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. His father was a wealthy doctor, and his grandfather Erasmus Darwin had been a celebrated physician and writer whose books about nature, written in heroic couplets, are often read as harbingers of his grandson's views. Yet for someone whose revolutionary writings would turn the scientific world upside down, Darwin's own youth was unmarked by the slightest trace of genius. 'I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my Father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect,' he later said. Darwin was an indifferent student and abandoned his medical studies at Edinburgh University. For years his one all-consuming passion was collecting beetles. ('I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects,' he once wrote to a cousin who was likewise obsessed. In 1831 Darwin graduated with a B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge, seemingly destined to pursue the one career his father had deemed appropriate--that of country parson.

But a quirk of fate soon intervened. John Henslow, a Cambridge botanist, recommended Darwin for an appointment (without pay) as naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a scientific vessel commissioned by the Admiralty to survey the east and west coasts of South America. Among the few belongings Darwin carried with him were two books that had greatly influenced him at Cambridge: Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, which posited radical changes in the possible estimates of the earth's age, and an edition of the travel writings of the early nineteenth-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth on December 27, 1831, and returned to England on October 2, 1836; the around-the-world voyage was the formative experience of Darwin's life and consolidated the young man's 'burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science.'

Darwin devoted the next few years to preparing his 'Transmutation Notebooks' and writing Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by the H.M.S. Beagle, 1832-1836 (1839) in which his beliefs about evolution and natural selection first began to take shape. In 1839 he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. They lived in London until 1842, when Darwin's chronic ill health forced the couple to move to Down House in Sussex, where he would spend virtually the rest of his life working in seclusion. There he soon completed the five-volume work Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle (1840-1843) and outlined from his hoard of notes an early draft of what was eventually to become The Origin of Species. Over the next decade he also produced a monograph on coral reefs, as well as extensive studies of variations in living and fossil barnacles.

In 1856 Sir Charles Lyell persuaded Darwin to write out his theory of evolution by natural selection, which he had recently buttressed with ingenious experiments in breeding pigeons. Halfway through the project, Darwin received an essay from naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace that presented an identical theory, though one unsupported by anything comparable to Darwin's massive accumulation of data. Wracked by doubts and indecision, and fearful of the controversy his theories might unleash, Darwin nevertheless pushed forward to finish The Origin of Species. Published on November 24, 1859, the book forever demolished the premise that God had created the earth precisely at 9:00 A.M. on October 23, 4004 B.C.--and that all species of living creatures had been immutably produced during the following six days--as seventeenth-century churchmen had so carefully formulated.

Although he did write one sequel and amplification of his theory of evolution, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin dedicated most of his remaining years to botanical studies. Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882, following a series of heart attacks. He had wished to be interred in the quiet churchyard close to the house in which he had lived and worked for so long, but the sentiment of educated men demanded a place in Westminster Abbey, where Darwin lies buried a few feet away from the grave of Isaac Newton.

Date of Birth:

February 12, 1809

Date of Death:

April 19, 1882

Place of Birth:

Shrewsbury, England

Place of Death:

London, England


B.A. in Theology, Christ¿s College, Cambridge University, 1831

Read an Excerpt

When we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent species had been exposed under nature. There is, also, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to new conditions to cause any great amount of variation; and that, when the organisation has once begun to vary, it generally continues varying for many generations. No case is on record of a variable organism ceasing to vary under cultivation. Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still yield new varieties: our oldest domesticated animals are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.

As far as I am able to judge, after long attending to the subject, the conditions of life appear to act in two ways,—directly on the whole organisation or on certain parts alone, and indirectly by affecting the reproductive system. With respect to the direct action, we must bear in mind that in every case, as Professor Weismann has lately insisted, and as I have incidentally shown in my work on 'Variation under Domestication,' there are two factors: namely, the nature of the organism, and the nature of the conditions. The former seems to be much the more important; for nearly similar variations sometimes arise under, as far as we can judge, dissimilar conditions; and, on the other hand, dissimilar variations arise under conditions which appear to be nearly uniform. The effects on the offspring are either definite or indefinite. They may be considered as definite when all or nearly all the offspring of individuals exposed to certain conditions during several generations are modified in the same manner. It is extremely difficult to come to any conclusion in regard to the extent of the changes which have been thus definitely induced. There can, however, be little doubt about many slight changes,—such as size from the amount of food, colour from the nature of the food, thickness of the skin and hair from climate, &c. Each of the endless variations which we see in the plumage of our fowls must have had some efficient cause; and if the same cause were to act uniformly during a long series of generations on many individuals, all probably would be modified in the same manner. Such facts as the complex and extraordinary out-growths which variably follow from the insertion of a minute drop of poison by a gall-producing insect, show us what singular modifications might result in the case of plants from a chemical change in the nature of the sap.

Indefinite variability is a much more common result of changed conditions than definite variability, and has probably played a more important part in the formation of our domestic races. We see indefinite variability in the endless slight peculiarities which distinguish the individuals of the same species, and which cannot be accounted for by inheritance from either parent or from some more remote ancestor. Even strongly marked differences occasionally appear in the young of the same litter, and in seedlings from the same seed-capsule. At long intervals of time, out of millions of individuals reared in the same country and fed on nearly the same food, deviations of structure so strongly pronounced as to deserve to be called monstrosities arise; but monstrosities cannot be separated by any distinct line from slighter variations. All such changes of structure, whether extremely slight or strongly marked, which appear amongst many individuals living together, may be considered as the indefinite effects of the conditions of life on each individual organism, in nearly the same manner as the chill affects different men in an indefinite manner, according to their state of body or constitution, causing coughs or colds, rheumatism, or inflammation of various organs.

With respect to what I have called the indirect action of changed conditions, namely, through the reproductive system of being affected, we may infer that variability is thus induced, partly from the fact of this system being extremely sensitive to any change in the conditions, and partly from the similarity, as Kolreuter and others have remarked, between the variability which follows from the crossing of distinct species, and that which may be observed with plants and animals when reared under new or unnatural conditions. Many facts clearly show how eminently susceptible the reproductive system is to very slight changes in the surrounding conditions. Nothing is more easy than to tame an animal, and few things more difficult than to get it to breed freely under confinement, even when the male and female unite. How many animals there are which will not breed, though kept in an almost free state in their native country! This is generally, but erroneously, attributed to vitiated instincts. Many cultivated plants display the utmost vigour, and yet rarely or never seed! In some few cases it has been discovered that a very trifling change, such as a little more or less water at some particular period of growth, will determine whether or not a plant will produce seeds. I cannot here give the details which I have collected and elsewhere published on this curious subject; but to show how singular the laws are which determine the reproduction of animals under confinement, I may mention that carnivorous animals, even from the tropics, breed in this country pretty freely under confinement, with the exception of the plantigrades or bear family, which seldom produce young; whereas carnivorous birds, with the rarest exceptions, hardly ever lay fertile eggs. Many exotic plants have pollen utterly worthless, in the same condition as in the most sterile hybrids. When, on the one hand, we see domesticated animals and plants, though often weak and sickly, breeding freely under confinement; and when, on the other hand, we see individuals, though taken young from a state of nature perfectly tamed, long-lived and healthy (of which I could give numerous instances), yet having their reproductive system so seriously affected by unperceived causes as to fail to act, we need not be surprised at this system, when it does act under confinement, acting irregularly, and producing offspring somewhat unlike their parents. I may add, that as some organisms breed freely under the most unnatural conditions (for instance, rabbits and ferrets kept in hutches), showing that their reproductive organs are not easily affected; so will some animals and plants withstand domestication or cultivation, and vary very slightly—perhaps hardly more than in a state of nature.

Some naturalists have maintained that all variations are connected with the act of sexual reproduction; but this is certainly an error; for I have given in another work a long list of 'sporting plants,' as they are called by gardeners;—that is, of plants which have suddenly produced a single bud with a new and sometimes widely different character from that of the other buds on the same plant. These bud variations, as they may be named, can be propagated by grafts, offsets, &c., and sometimes by seed. They occur rarely under nature, but are far from rare under culture. As a single bud out of the many thousands, produced year after year on the same tree under uniform conditions, has been known suddenly to assume a new character; and as buds on distinct trees, growing under different conditions, have sometimes yielded nearly the same variety—for instance, buds on peach-trees producing nectarines, and buds on common roses producing moss-roses—we clearly see that the nature of the conditions is of subordinate importance in comparison with the nature of the organism in determining each particular form of variation;—perhaps of not more importance than the nature of the spark, by which a mass of combustible matter is ignited, has in determining the nature of the flames.

Effects of Habit and of the Use or Disuse of Parts; Correlated Variation; Inheritance

Changed habits produce an inherited effect, as in the period of the flowering of plants when transported from one climate to another. With animals the increased use or disuse of parts has had a more marked influence; thus I find in the domestic duck that the bones of the wing weigh less and the bones of the leg more, in proportion to the whole skeleton, than do the same bones in the wild-duck; and this change may be safely attributed to the domestic duck flying much less, and walking more, than its wild parents. The great and inherited development of the udders in cows and goats in countries where they are habitually milked, in comparison with these organs in other countries, is probably another instance of the effects of use. Not one of our domestic animals can be named which has not in some country drooping ears; and the view which has been suggested that the drooping is due to disuse of the muscles of the ear, from the animals being seldom much alarmed, seems probable.

Many laws regulate variation, some few of which can be dimly seen, and will hereafter be briefly discussed. I will here only allude to what may be called correlated variation. Important changes in the embryo or larva will probably entail changes in the mature animal. In monstrosities, the correlations between quite distinct parts are very curious; and many instances are given in Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire's great work on this subject. Breeders believe that long limbs are almost always accompanied by an elongated head. Some instances of correlation are quite whimsical: thus cats which are entirely white and have blue eyes are generally deaf; but it has been lately stated by Mr. Tait that this is confined to the males. Colour and constitutional peculiarities go together, of which many remarkable cases could be given amongst animals and plants. From facts collected by Heusinger, it appears that white sheep and pigs are injured by certain plants, whilst dark-coloured individuals escape: Professor Wyman has recently communicated to me a good illustration of this fact; on asking some farmers in Virginia how it was that all their pigs were black, they informed him that the pigs ate the paint-root (Lachnanthes), which coloured their bones pink, and which caused the hoofs of all but the black varieties to drop off; and one of the 'crackers' (i.e. Virginia squatters) added, 'we select the black members of a litter for raising, as they alone have a good chance of living.' Hairless dogs have imperfect teeth; long-haired and coarse-haired animals are apt to have, as is asserted, long or many horns: pigeons with feathered feet have skin between their outer toes; pigeons with short beaks have small feet, and those with long beaks large feet. Hence if man goes on selecting, and thus augmenting, any peculiarity, he will almost certainly modify unintentionally other parts of the structure, owing to the mysterious laws of correlation.

The results of the various, unknown, or but dimly understood laws of variation are infinitely complex and diversified. It is well worth while carefully to study the several treatises on some of our old cultivated plants, as on the hyacinth, potato, even the dahlia, &c.; and it is really surprising to note the endless points of structure and constitution in which the varieties and sub-varieties differ slightly from each other. The whole organisation seems to have become plastic, and departs in a slight degree from that of the parental type.

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The Origin of Species 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 96 reviews.
Coda1229 More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book for anyone interested in the origins of the current biological theories. It is well written and very convincing, and quite impressive, considering that it was written well before modern genetics provided such voluminous evidence for his conclusions. Have a wonderful day!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is slow to read, but very interesting. Darwin and his theory of evolution have been so currupted by modern teaching. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the actual history and the original theory as it was first presented. Take your time and digest this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great piece of work and will give you a better understanding of natural selection. I have heard darwins name mentioned for years in school but they never tell what he said in his own words and how he said them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the great minds among Newton, and Einstein, that history has misbelieved and forgotten.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First off i didn't read this edition of the book I read 'Origin of Species' a Facsimilie of the original edition. By Charles Darwin which is basically the same book except it is completely unaltered from the original edition. It is an excelent book and gives proof beyond any reasonable doubt that evolution is a fact. But nowhere in this book by Darwin does it say anywhere that Man came from apes. Though the entire theory of evolution suggests it, it isn't anywhere in this book.That information is in another book by Charles Darwin called 'The Descent of man' which mainly deals with sexual selection. What is in the book is a spectactularly written step by step play by play look at why he and his coleagues were lead to believe beyond any doubt that evolution really is the mechanism which nature uses to create new species and get rid of other ones. Darwin gives countless examples from species around the world and explains the overwhelming evidence in support of his theory. The detail given by Darwin far exceeds any found in any text book anywhere on the subject. This is the single best book available anywhere in the world on the subject and a total must read. Some of his explanations are kind of long and the book can get overwhelming and boring from time to time but you have to keep in mind while reading it that it isn't just a book it is a complete scientific explanation of how evolution works , why it works, and the problems with it and other scientific theories. I don't think it was originally published for the layman to read. It is a true scientific work and should be read like one. If you plan on readling this book Plan on reading something that is like a 500 page scientific theory. Don't expect it to be really easy to read because it is not. You wouldn't read through 'Einsteins Theory of Relativity' by Max Borne in a few days and fully understand it. The same goes for this book. Evolution in general is fairly easy to understand in Highschool Biology class but they don't give the kind of detail that Darwin gives. keep that in mind when reading this book. It is fairly easy to understand if you take your time with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with it all. I hate black people and enyone not like me. Hahahaha!!! Right?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The pages are all over the place. Some looked like a scanned copy and others looked like regular ebook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I ordered this book, it came up on my Nook as the book "Your Guide to Flatter Abs; Tips That Work." Yes, really. I had to call customer serivice and they were able to eventually send the The Orgin of Species to my Nook. Buyer Beware!
T-Eagle More than 1 year ago
We all know who Darwin was, and many will quote this work without ever reading it in its entirety. I think that everyone should read this amazing book, and you may even gain a new perspective on the world around you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book to be used as reference material for my zoology paper. The observations of Charles Darwin have long been pilars of biology as we know it today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to do a report on Darwin, and this really helped me understand the stuff he did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Darwin's Origin of Species is an excellent book. The ideas immersed within the text are essential to life today. But Darwin is dense and a horrible writer, so this book is a hard read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I consider Charles Darwin to be among the most important scientific thinkers in history. His theory set the stage for a revolution of thought, and more than a century of continually groundbreaking evidence and exciting revisions. Without Darwin, the majority of us might still be stuck in the primitive, ignorant belief in creationism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
origon of species is a great book on were species came from and how they evoleved into the present day creatures that you see today i recomend that all animal lovers and scientists,bioligists anone that studies or loves or wants to know about the evelution of animals should get this book
lpg3d on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's amazing to me how much Darwin got right in this book, and also all that he got wrong.
Lammers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Facsimile of first edition, with "An Historical Sketch" and "Glossary" from sixth edition.
TheCrow2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Origin of Species:This groundbreaking 150 years old book is simply one of the most important book ever written. Changed the science and the way mankind looks and analyse the world so much it was impossible to even imagine before. Well written, easy to understand and stunning that it explains clearly many things which dumbhead creationists debating even today. A must read to everyone who wants to understand the basics of biology and wants to call himself/herself an open-minded and learned person
brose72 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The journey of Charles Darwin on the H.M.S. Beagle and his reports, discoveries and observations relating to natural science and evolution. Fairly interesting for a book on science even though it is rather dated. The stir it caused in the mid 1800s no longer carries the same groundbreaking impact.
psiloiordinary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not what I was expecting at all.Here we have a very readable if thorough going explanation of his theory of descent with modification through variation and natural selection. I have seen comments such as dry and stodgy but did not find this to be the case to any great extent.I must confess to skimming a total of about three pages out of nearly five hundred. I did this because I had already got the point and he was listing in minute detail the implications of this or that on his famous "tree of life diagram" a to a' etc. etc.Apart from the exposition of such a simple theory the two main things I enjoyed most about the book were as follows;Firstly, just how much evidence in favour of evolution he did not have an inkling about. He bases his theory on how it explains the geographical distribution of life on the earth, variation, fertility, vestigial organs, eyes on cave dwellers, webbed feet on mountain ducks etc. It is therefore surprising just how much he got right and how little has since been shown to be wrong. Remember he had no idea of DNA or the molecular side of reproduction at all and yet he predicts a good deal of it.Secondly, his forays into experiment. Ranging from the counting of plant species in cleared ground, measuring and comparison of greyhound and bulldog puppies and adult dogs, to the immersal of seeds in sea-water and so on.The book is written for the lay audience and should be accessible, with a little patience, to most.Despite what many Creationists have told me there is nothing I could find about the origin of life, support for the Nazi's, reasons in favour of the Holocaust or the futility of existence at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Surprisingly readable despite being written mid-19th century.
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