Charles Darwin: Voyaging
by Janet Browne
Voyaging is volume one of Harvard historian Janet Browne’s biography of Charles Darwin. Part two is called Charles Darwin: The Power of Place.
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“This book may be the best scientific biography that I’ve ever read. I was quite surprised, as Janet’s previous publications have been largely scholarly ones, though well written. Then, somehow, when she wrote this biography she came into her own. She was able to write in an almost novelistic way, except this is fact and not fiction. It’s just absolutely engrossing. The first volume, Voyaging, is about Darwin’s early life and the voyage of the Beagle. In the first part of his life, he is a man of action. He’s catching beetles as a kid, he’s travelling around England trying to study theology and failing to do so. Finally he becomes the companion to the ship’s captain, Captain Fitzroy – not the naturalist on the Beagle, that was someone else. On the voyage he did a lot of collecting, he rode into South America. He left the ship as often as he could as he had terrible seasickness. He collected fossils, he shot animals and so on. Then he got back to England in 1836 and basically sat in his study for the rest of his life. The second volume is called The Power of Place, and it’s about his life at Down House where he stayed permanently after then. He never left England again. He just sat there and produced this magnificent theory. It shows the power of the life of the mind. Despite not being peripatetic, he had an extremely rich life through his correspondence, his children, his family. Also a slightly tragic existence, with the death of his beloved daughter. But he continued the adventure in his head, and produced not only The Origin but a number of other books, many of which are quite good.” Read more...
Jerry Coyne, Biologist