On the Origin of Species

Darwin is one of those authors people pretend to have read, and speak as though they have grasped his fundamental point, when instead they are just expanding on a caricature that clouds about his book.  His idea, which was revolutionary at the time (although, even he points out, not original) was that species are created by the natural selection of individuals who have qualities which suit them best to survive in their environments. They were, conversely, not individual acts of creation, unchanged since their generation by mystical forces.

The way he structures his evidence is odd and engaging, giving a window into the techniques of a gentleman scientist of a bygone age. Darwin gathers his evidence from weird places, and in doing so, fills it with odd notes about natural history. I did not know about slave-taking ants, or that bears do impersonations of whales. I was unaware that pigeon fanciers are doing serious genetic science, and that their hobby was not just an endearing British eccentricity, like Morris dancing or trainspotting.

Charles Darwin’s writing has an archaic style which would not be approved of in a modern publication.  He does not omit needless words. He does not choose the concise word. He refuses to have a single idea in each sentence.  As such, much of his writing has the cadences of blank verse blank verse. This makes him a pleasure to read, or listen to.

As an example, if you grab a sentence at random and add some graphics, it looks surprisingly like a motivational poster or feelgood meme.


Now, it’s not particularly motivational, but you can see how the flowing cadences of it make Origin of the Species a little like an epic blank verse poem. I wasn’t expecting that, and its wonderful.

Recommended to those who enjoy natural history, nature documentaries, and Nineteenth Century literature. The Library Service has it in various formats.