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Wednesday, 25 November 2009


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The Kindle version sounds like even more of a bargain when you've seen this: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iW5Q6oq3wcjyEn2SZgYVrlcZ70ZQ

A good book to contemplate in those more private moments.

"Surely the most influential book of the nineteenth century"???. Well... surely it is the most influential book of any century!!!

In my opinion Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", along with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, represent man's highest intellectual achievement. These two men, using only the power of observation, reasoning and the application of pure intellect, transformed our understanding of our world and our universe. The conclusions derived from their works have withstood every challenge, and these works continue to offer insight and understanding of the natural world. It is a sad thing that some in organized religion feel that they must make a demon of Charles Darwin in order to justify their own ideas about man and his origins, sad indeed.

Right on, Mike! 1st edition is definitely the way to go with OtOotS. It is a great, great book. As a supplement I suggest Ghiselin's Triumph of the Darwinian Method.

Mike, I've also been hearing recently that there is a new edition which is being offered for free, but to continue on your anachronistic analogy with the blog, I would say this one has been hacked, and someone added 50 pages of their own to it.

Thanks for the link to the first edition. It is a shame that even as a practicing biologist I am yet to read the classic. I did make an attempt once, but could not go beyond the first few pages. I got to tell you how happy I am that you showcased this book on its 150th anniversary on the year of Darwin's 200th birthday. This is a good time to make a second attempt.

The first edition is available free from the Gutenberg project.


The copyright on this book has expired so it's in the public domain.

I listened to an interesting story about this on NPR last evening. Seems that when the book was first released only very affluent people could afford it (it cost the equivalent of a week’s wages for most people). Compare that to the price of the Kindle version and it is truly amazing..
read at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120751039

Entirely coincidentally, I'm currently halfway through 'The Voyage of the Beagle' - which I began in slight trepidation, only to discover that Darwin was:
1. a wondrously humane and liberal person
2. hugely entertaining and incredibly brave
3. extremely witty, and occasionally downright hilarious

The "free" version not only had 50 pages of nonsense added as an introduction, it had lots of the original material *removed*. This vandalized copy was handed out on University campuses by creationists.

Darwin's writing is typical dense 19th century prose, and can be challenging to read, but it is well worth it. There are many moments when the mind boggles because the ultimate proof (the genetic code) won't be discovered for another century.

Can someone clearly state Darwin's contribution in a few sentences? What did he do that hadn't been done before? I'm not being facetious. As far as I know, the notion of biological change over time had been around for a while, as well as natural selection. Was he just the first to wrap it all up in one package?

Here's my first (American) edition. It came out in 1860, but what's a year between friends? :)


Um, WOW.


In Australia, a 3 part made-for-TV series has just finished screening. It is a co-production with Canada.


Wikipedia has some good articles on the topic (Darwin, Origin of Species, evolution etc).

In short, prior to Darwin (and his contemporaries like Wallace) the prevailing view was that God created every animal and placed them in their habitat. Darwin showed how animals evolved as a consequence of their habitat. This evolution went as far as creating different species, which was the key stumbling block for most naturalists of the time.

Buorquek, You are quite correct that the notion of "biological change over time" and the concept of "selection" have been proposed by philosophers in ancient Greece as well as in ancient India, and these were not unheard of in pre-Darwin's Europe though quite unpopular. But a clear exposition, with supporting evidence, of three key ideas--that *all extant creatures* on earth are related by descent, that variation of living form is *spontaneous and independent of selection*, and that *change over time in natural selection* provides a competitive advantage to a few rare spontaneous variants leading to speciation--was the novel and original contribution.

Here's to the most famous pigeon fancier of all time!

Animesh's distillation is a good one.

I would add only that -- although he never used the word -- Darwin's proposal was that biological form is shaped by an algorithm that acts on populations. Indeed, a widely accepted definition of evolution is: the change in frequencies of genetic variants in a population over time.

The key insight, missed by many who don't understand his theory, is that there are sequential rounds of descent with modification (reproduction with mutation of many individuals), followed by rounds of natural selection. This is is an iterative process.

It is no exaggeration to say that if one does not understand Darwin in terms of what we today call population genetics, one doesn't understand Darwin at all.

Living in the town of Darwin's birth (www.darwinshrewsbury.org/), this year has been rather special for local fans of the great man. I am planning to get hold of the audio CD of 'Origins', read by Richard Dawkins, having read that it is quite enjoyable and for some people easier to absorb than the original text.

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