From the Los Angeles Times Book Prize–winning historian, the colourful, dramatic story of Charles Darwin's journey on HMS Beagle that inspired the evolutionary theories in his path-breaking books On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man.
When twenty-two-year-old aspiring geologist Charles Darwin boarded HMS Beagle in 1831 with his microscopes and specimen bottles – invited by ship's captain Robert FitzRoy who wanted a travel companion at least as much as a ship's naturalist – he hardly thought he was embarking on what would become perhaps the most important and epoch-changing voyage in scientific history. Nonetheless, over the course of the five-year journey around the globe in often hard and hazardous conditions, Darwin would make observations and gather samples that would form the basis of his revolutionary theories about the origin of species and natural selection.
Drawing on a rich range of revealing letters, diary entries, recollections of those who encountered him, and Darwin's and FitzRoy's own accounts of what transpired, Diana Preston chronicles the epic voyage as it unfolded, tracing Darwin's growth from untested young man to accomplished adventurer and natural scientist in his own right. Darwin often left the ship to climb mountains, navigate rivers, or ride hundreds of miles, accompanied by local guides whose languages he barely understood, across pampas and through rainforests in search of further unique specimens. From the wilds of Patagonia to the Galápagos and other Atlantic and Pacific islands, as Preston vibrantly relates, Darwin collected and contrasted volcanic rocks and fossils large and small, witnessed an earthquake, and encountered the Argentinian rhea, Falklands fox, and Galápagos finch, through which he began to discern connections between deep past and present.
Darwin never left Britain again after his return in 1836, though his mind journeyed far and wide to develop the theories that were first revealed, after great delay and with trepidation about their reception, in 1859 with the publication of his epochal book On the Origin of Species. Offering a unique portrait of one of history's most consequential figures, The Evolution of Charles Darwin is a vital contribution to our understanding of life on Earth.
Diana Preston is a prize-winning historian and the author of Eight Days at Yalta, A Higher Form of Killing, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology), The Boxer Rebellion, Paradise in Chains, and A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, among other works of acclaimed narrative history. She and her husband, Michael, live in London.
– Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews (Nonfiction)
"Fascinating [...] A beautifully told coming-of-age story focused on Darwin's psychological transmutation from a diffident specimen collector expecting to become a country parson to a novice scientist climbing the career ladder in London's private and prestigious clubs and societies [...] Offer[s] new and exciting ideas that will likely beat out the competition."
– Robert M. Thorson, Wall Street Journal
"[Preston's] books are always entertaining [...] This book fits that mould; it's an adventure story [...] The author has chosen the perfect topic. It's nearly impossible to write a dull book about Darwin [...] The real attraction of this book lies in the way it turns the development of evolutionary theory into a personal story."
– Gerald DeGroot, Times (UK)
"[A] meticulously researched compelling narrative [...] Diana Preston's vibrant reconstruction of Darwin's extraordinary journey, world-changing work and the consequences he experienced makes it all accessible and new in her telling."
– Janet Somerville, Toronto Star
"An exciting biography of the immortal naturalist's legendary journey [...] It was well into the 20th century before essentially all scientists agreed that Darwin was on the right track. Since then, biographies have poured off the presses, but readers cannot go wrong with this expert account. An irresistible scientific biography and adventure story with a happy ending."
– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"While much has been written about Darwin's revolutionary scientific achievements on this journey, historian Preston sheds light on the voyage itself, its captain and crew, and the Native populations they encountered."
– Booklist (starred review)
"A brisk and accessible account of how Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection [...] A rewarding look at the development of an earth-shattering idea."
– Publishers Weekly
"Darwin was only 22 when he boarded the HMS Beagle in 1830 under the command of Robert FitzRoy as a 'gentleman naturalist', unaware his name would one day grace an award honouring humans who remove themselves from the gene pool through misadventure. Drawing on the naturalist's diaries, Preston's biography reveals a man who, in his chauvinism and blind patriotism, was typical of his time – but in his liberal- and abolition-mindedness, atypical as well."
– Globe and Mail