Review: ‘The Evolution of Charles Darwin’ by Diana Preston | The Star

Charles darwin biography

Acclaimed narrative historian Diana Preston (“Eight Days in Yalta”; “Lusitania”; “Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima”), Emma’s first cousin, wife of Charles Darwin, “Many Generations Later” returns with this captivating, meticulously researched narrative of a well-known tale.

while darwin’s nearly five-year journey on the h.m.s. beagle and its impact on his theory of evolution is widely recognized, it was also, notes preston in his introduction, “an evolution in darwin himself” as he embraced new experiences ranging from eating his first banana in cape verde to drinking urine turtle in the Galapagos, the place most associated with it in the public mind.

charles darwin, born in 1809 the same day as abraham lincoln, was sent to boarding school at age nine, shortly after the death of his mother, susannah wedgwood. There, he writes Preston, “he became an enthusiastic collector of everything from coins to shells.”

Later, he followed his older brother Erasmus to medical school in Edinburgh, where he took taxidermy lessons from John Edmonstone, a former slave. After moving to Cambridge, where he studied with the intention of becoming a country parson, Darwin spent three years that he referred to as “the happiest of my happy life.” studying with geologist rev. Adam Sedgwick In the summer of 1831 he learned to mark layered rocks on a map and to look for fossils in rock specimens, skills that became essential on his epic expedition.

Selected by the beagle’s captain, Robert Fitzroy, to be his intellectual companion on board, Darwin wrote him an enthusiastic letter in November 1831 about being invited to join the crew of 70: “Then my second life will begin, and it will be like a birthday for the rest of my life.”

It was also an unpaid internship during which he was expected to pay for his share of food. on her first day at sea, dec. On January 28, Darwin suffered seasickness, a malaise aggravated by the screams of several crewmates tied to vertical poles and brutally whipped by Fitzroy as punishment for his Christmas binge.

relying heavily on firsthand accounts from 26-year-old Darwin and Fitzroy (a traditional creationist who would blame himself for allowing 22-year-old Darwin to develop heretical theories), Preston draws from his journals and correspondence remarkable details that surprise and delight almost 200 years later.

there is a built-in library with 400 volumes; the first sensation of tropical warmth he noted in his journal of “doing everything possible to soothe our pain”, and the welcome “mindlessness” of darwin’s doodles as a stream of consciousness. In Patagonia, when a kaleidoscope of white butterflies invaded the ship, she wrote that several crew members exclaimed with delight, “It’s snowing butterflies.” When he disembarked (where he spent three-fifths of the voyage exploring, drawing and collecting more than 5,400 specimens), Darwin always carried Milton’s copy of “Paradise Lost” as his company.

Of the many letters he wrote during the voyage, only two are to his domineering physician father, one in which Darwin hoped he “might do some original work in natural history,” an unintentionally ironic understatement of what he would accomplish.

However, letters to and from others upheld it. In the early months of the voyage, he wrote to one of his sisters: “No half-starved wretch ever swallowed food more greedily than I.” In January 1836, he wrote to another sister, Susan, that deprived of correspondence for 18 months he felt “much inclined to sit down and have a good cry.”

after the beagle anchored on oct. On January 2, 1836, back in England, Darwin was one of the first to land. he would never go abroad again. he developed his detailed observations into 189 handwritten pages that became a summary of his theory of species, which he confided to a cousin who was “the cause… the chief part of the evils of which my flesh is heiress”.

As a result, out of necessity he installed in his studio, Preston explains, “a curtained alcove containing a makeshift toilet… where he could throw up when he got sick.” she did it frequently. concerned about her sudden death, he wrote a letter to his wife explaining his desire that she dedicate £400 to the publication of her theory and also that he “both bother to promote it”.

two decades later “on the origin of species” was published. the 1,250 copies of the first edition sold out on the first day. Anthropologist Thomas Henry Huxley correctly predicted to Darwin that he would have “the rare happiness” of seeing his ideas triumph in his time.

Diana Preston’s vibrant reconstruction of Darwin’s extraordinary journey, the work that changed the world, and the consequences he experienced makes everything accessible and new in her storytelling.

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