Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Darwin’s Island

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that aside from relevant natural history books, I am also very fond of reading books on the history of science. In this book, evolutionary biologist Steve Jones celebrates the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth as well as the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species back in 1859. The title of the book highlights the fact that the majority of the work Darwin achieved in his life was based here in the UK, not in the Galapagos or further afield as most people believe. Yes this journal was pivotal but his return from that formative voyage on the Beagle set up the rest of his life’s work.

Some of Darwin’s less known works include his four volume work on barnacles, Expressions of Emotions and the Formation of Vegetable Mould by Earthworms. Each of these are and were a notable scientific contribution in their own right but neither were as groundbreaking as On the Origin of Species. Jones starts out by introducing this wide range of other works that Darwin produced as a way of demonstrating why many believe him to the the greatest biologist of his day. Jones dedicates a chapter to each of Darwin’s many topics of interest whilst also updating the reader on the current understanding of them.

Darwin inherited a large wealth and so could have led a more sedentary life, instead he was driven to discover as much as possible about the natural world. He was an eccentric individual whom immersed himself into every aspect of scientific research where possible whilst also performing experiments as well as reading. As a modern-day geneticist, Jones knows only too well how much Darwin had to guess when it comes to hereditary and descent. If only he’d learned German and corresponded with Gregor Mendel! Darwin was able to understand and postulate the way things work in the natural world without any knowledge of the basic mechanism of inheritance as expressed in genetics. Imagine how much his mind would be blown by what we know today!

Jones is one of those authors that likes to research and write on the topic of Darwin, if you want to know more about such a brilliant science I happily recommend this book.

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