Don's Reviews > The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen
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Feb 19, 12

really liked it
Read from January 22 to February 19, 2012

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

David Quammen once again hits the ball out of the park, a park unlike one you've ever seen. The Reluctant Mr. Darwin seeks to follow the life of Charles Darwin after his voyage aboard the Beagle and before publishing The Origin of Species. While David Quammen is an accomplished, well known author of biologic topic, what is particularly interesting about him having written this book was that David Quammen himself was reluctant to tackle a subject so thoroughly and expertly covered by so many great naturalists and scientist. In spite of his initial hesitation, Quammen delivers his usual sideways glance at what would normally be considered the dry, yet charged topic of Charles Darwin.

I've long been a student of the natural sciences and a vocal fan of Stephen J. Gould who himself had written extensively on the topic of Darwin and Origin of Species. Nonetheless, I have myself been reluctant for some years, and for whatever reason, to dive into any meaty and meaningful digestion of that great and pivotal scientific work. I have absolutely no explanation other than I may fear it's intellectual challenge and challenge. The Reluctant Mr. Darwin is not only a thin, short read, it's also pedestrianly accessible to the likes of me, to whom the term "armchair naturalist" would be very generous to say the least. As much of a Gould fan as I am, I struggle through every essay.

To my delight, I learned a great deal about Mr. Darwin I re-learned and reinforced my knowledge of bio-geography and evolutionary biology. I don't want to give away any of the juice tidbits of Darwin's life, work, or personality that made this such a delightful read for me. I will say this, I was unaware of his tortured struggle to reconcile his previously trenchant religious beliefs with his meticulously complied scientific data. I never considered how wrought with anguish he must have been given the time in history that he and a few others like him reached the epiphanic conclusion about the diversity of life.

Darwin lead an interesting, secluded, afflicted life. He held back coalescing his thoughts until he was nearly scooped by an amateur footnote on the topic of evolutionary biology, Alfred Wallace. Footnote or not, Wallace has been cited in every single essay or book I've ever read on this topic.

On a personal note, it is disappointing, to say the least, that this brilliant and detailed provision of historic biological significance has been cheapened and relegated to such a derisive ideological argument. It makes me sad that the nuance of evolutionary biology has been sacrificed by the few who do not endeavor to digest it's potential. Darwin's work is so completely misunderstood and vilified by such a strong an vocal few that, to this day, it comes under attack for what it is not. If you have any interest in the topic, any whatever… Please read The Reluctant Mr. Darwin and know the man behind the science.
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