Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On the Origin of Species, 6th Edition (Charles Darwin)

On the Origin of Species, 6th Edition
Charles Darwin
Project Gutenberg
Nonfiction, Science
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: As far back as ancient Greece, some had observed the seeming relation of Earth's many species, but the idea of divine creation of Life - each species created spontaneously and individually, separated by divine mandate from others - held popular sway for centuries. By the mid-1800's, some had begun to question this idea. In this landmark book. naturalist Charles Darwin outlines the theory of evolution by natural selection... a theory counter to the then-accepted "fact" of spontaneous creation.

REVIEW: I'll admit that many of the details were beyond my undereducated brain (and beyond my Nook dictionary's capacity), and some of Darwin's specific conclusions have been altered by new evidence in the hundred-odd years since this book first appeared, but the overall idea of evolution is explained repeatedly and clearly. Here was a man whose observations did not coincide with the common rationale at the time (spontaneous creation of species, alongside the idea of a relatively young planet), and who undertook extensive studies and personal experiments to arrive at a theory that, while initially unpopular, better explained many things about the natural world, past and present. To support his findings, Darwin delves into the well-documented lineages of domestic pigeons, the geologic record of fossils and glacial action, embryonic development, the variable fertility of hybrids, and more, a very broad base of research touching on many fields and all appearing to point to the same conclusions.  Darwin's observations in the Galapagos Islands aboard the Beagle, which spurred this search, actually occupy surprisingly little space. This sixth edition addresses many challenges raised to his theory, giving his own explanations and defenses. This was not an armchair theory, in other words, but the work of a dedicated man unafraid of asking questions that "everyone" already knew the answers to... and unafraid to present his own findings, even when they differed from the status quo among many (but not all) learned men of his day. This is what the scientific process is supposed to be about - sadly, a method that seems threatened in today's world, when the same country that first put a man on the moon now shies from teaching science in its own classrooms when it might threaten the faith of a vocal minority. He was not seeking to prove or disprove the existence of a Creator with the theory of evolution, but to understand the relationships of life on Earth. In 1872, Darwin wrote: "Great is the power of steady misrepresentation: but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure." If only... Overall, though this was a long and, at times, tedious read, with some outdated hypotheses, it is nevertheless still an important book, well worth the time and effort. (It might have gone a little easier had my e-book edition not inexplicably cut the diagrams and illustrations referred to in the text...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow) - My Review
Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin) - My Review

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