Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “This Thing of Darkness” as Want to Read:
This Thing of Darkness
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

This Thing of Darkness

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  2,395 ratings  ·  301 reviews
1828 - Brilliant young naval officer Robert FitzRoy is given the captaincy of HMS Beagle, surveying the wilds of Tierra del Fuego, aged just twenty-three. He takes a passenger: a young trainee cleric and amateur geologist named Charles Darwin. This is the story of a deep friendship between two men, and the twin obsessions that tore it apart, leading one to triumph and the ...more
Paperback, 626 pages
Published 2005 by Review
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about This Thing of Darkness, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about This Thing of Darkness

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,395 ratings  ·  301 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of This Thing of Darkness
Andy Marr
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, fascinating and sadly underrated novel. One of the finest books I've read in the past five years. ...more
This book has been on my to-read list for a few years, because it is quite highly placed in the Mookse group's rankings of Booker longlisted and shortlisted books, and Thompson's name was familiar to me from his television work, and his cricket book Penguins Stopped Play. This was his only novel before his tragically early death, and deserves all of the plaudits it attracted.

The main part of the book is a retelling of the famous voyage of the Beagle, and Darwin obviously plays an important role,
B Schrodinger
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
'This Thing of Darkness' tells the story of Robert FitzRoy, brilliant naval man, father of meteorology and friend of Charles Darwin.This is technically a fictional account of his life, but it really is a novel written around factual sources from FitzRoy's logs, Darwin's writings and other historical data. Thompson has written a magnificent character piece around this historical data.Thompson goes on to write an afterword that outlines exactly how little he embellished the story, in most instance ...more
Nancy Oakes
not a spoiler; a synopsis:

I don't care what Anyone says about this book -- it was phenomenal. I read someone's take on the book, noting (negatively) that Charles Darwin doesn't put in an appearance until late in the book, but that's because this book is NOT about Charles Darwin, but rather about Robert FitzRoy, the commander of the HMS Beagle, who took on Charles Darwin as a naturalist and companion. Obviously, it has to deal with Darwin, but the true story is that of FitzRoy's.

The book begins
Gabrielle regam
May 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: My dad (the old sea dog) and my bookclub
Just finished this book and was so moved I went straight to Wiki to find out about all the characters. When I first took up the book I thought, oh dear, first novel and a biggie at that, hope he doesn't ramble. However, every page was necessary to weave this extraordinary story. The prose was just beautiful (reminded me of Star of the Sea).

Such a tragedy that Thompson died the year of its publication at the early age of 45. His first and only novel - I would have looked forward to reading much m
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nautical
Though I am not part of a nation that ever succeeded in forming an empire, and which, historically, has been a victim more often than an oppressor, I am nevertheless a citizen of modern Europe and reaping the benefits of Western, Christian-rooted civilisation - as well as the privileges my skin colour offers. I mention this because as I read Thompson's book, the overwhelming and recurring emotions were embarrassment and dismay at the destruction white man has brought upon nations of a darker ski ...more
Gilly McGillicuddy
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Gilly by: Halfpint Jack
If I could give it six, seven, eight stars I would.

A whopper of a book but an absolutely amazing one. It's Darwin and Robert FitzRoy's life story, immaculately well researched, beautifully written and absolutely on a par with the O'Brian, Barrett and you know... God.
Very warmly recommended.
Kylie H
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have had this book on my shelf for a few years, being quite a tome I kept putting it off. However, having a week at the beach seemed like the perfect opportunity to tackle it, so I did.
Wow! I was in hook, line and sinker. This is the story of Captain Robert Fitzroy, who at the ripe old age of 23 was made Captain of the 'Beagle' and sent to assist with charting the coast of South America. He also on one of his voyages took a young Charles Darwin with him as the ships naturalist and more importa
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Story about the voyage of the Beagle – its captain Fitzroy and its naturalist – Charles Darwin.

This is Thompson’s first novel (and last – he died of cancer shortly after publication) after non-fiction travel books and a biography (of Peter Cook).

The story combined: travelogue; biographical detail; Patrick O’Brien type epic seafaring adventure (which I found hard to follow and uninteresting); and philosophical debates.

Latter is particularly and explicitly around Evolution but also about:

Race an
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Harry Thompson’s To the Edge of the World (originally published as This Thing of Darkness) was longlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize. The 2005 winner was John Banville’s The Sea; the 2005 shortlist included Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Ali Smith’s The Accidental, and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. For Booker obsessives like me, 2005 serves as an helpful and instructive corrective. Having read the 2005 shortlist in its entirety and without commenting on the winner, I can comfortably say that To the ...more
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When I finished reading this book, the first statement that made it through my mind was something said by Morgan Freeman's character Detective Somerset by the end of the movie Se7en:

'Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for."

I agree with the second part.'

This book chronicles the adventure of Captain Robert FitzRoy and the crew of HMS Beagle, joined by Charles Darwin later on as the ship's naturalist-cum-village-idiot, as they traversed the Atlantic to the
May 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs, tales of sea voyages, Charles Darwin, naturalists.....
Loved it, loved it, loved it!! This is by far my all time favorite book. It's a 10 for sure. It's very accurate and well researched account of Captain Robert Fitzroy and his voyage mapping out the South American coast, on the HMS Beagle. After finding natives he returns to England with them in an effort to civilize them. About a year later, he makes a second voyage returning them believing they can in turn civilize their own, with tragic results. It's on this second trip he commissions a young a ...more
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I really enjoyed this book much to my surprise!
About Captain Robert Fitzroy, (a man plagued by what would be called today Bipolor disorder )commisioned by the government to navigate and map South America and Tierra del Fuego, He takes along a young naturalist one Charles Darwin. They are on completely opposite sides of an argument. Fitzroy being a commited christian believing that every human and creature on earth has been created by the grace of God, an argument still under discussion by some
Absolutely brilliant - totally captivating, couldn't put it down! There are so many wonderful aspects to this book: the scene setting of the period it's set in, the moral and religious issues covered, learning more about Darwin and Fitzroy and just the incredible story told.

I am fascinated by these clever Victorians who were ahead of their time and pushed the boundaries like no others and faced ridicule from the general public. But at the same time quite disgusted and saddened by the thinking o
Nov 20, 2018 marked it as abandoned
I abandoned this fairly early on, in large part because it has the single most boring storm at sea I've ever read in the first 40 pages. ...more
Maria Thermann
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book and thought it well written, very thought-provoking and one that stayed with me for a long time. It shows "everybody's hero" Charles Darwin in quite a different light, in fact, I won't ever hear his name in the future and think, hey he was an all-round good egg - far from it! Thompson is a spell-binding storyteller and Robert FitzRoy's "thing of darkness" certainly struck a chord with me, a fellow sufferer.

I didn't want the novel to end, when it did, I felt bereavement, especi
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow...I didn't just love this book, I lived it. It spoke to me in a very special way, about life, death, love, hope, despair and the inner turmoils and emotions that accompany us through the journeys we make, both physical and metaphorical. This book had everything; action and excitement, science and religion, love and war. I cannot recommend this book enough. It became my companion and I am feeling very lonely now that I have finished it. ...more
James Barnard
It is a shame that Harry Thompson’s untimely death, not long after his one and only novel was published, robbed us of what would undoubtedly have been a phenomenal body of work. However, This Thing of Darkness stands – along with his exceptional status as a comedy producer par excellence, and his insightful journalism – as a wonderful legacy.

It is a shame this didn’t make it onto the Man Booker Prize shortlist, as it certainly deserved to do – but then as a first time author he’d have needed mo
Jane Lythell
Jun 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Majestic. A doorstep of a book that vividly brings to life Robert FitzRoy the Captain of the Beagle and his five year voyage with Charles Darwin to Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, the Galapagos and beyond. The two men became close during the voyage but differences in their beliefs started as a crack and widened to a chasm. There are some marvellous discussions between the two men on whether the Biblical Flood ever happened and whether species can transmute. The book has two magnificent descript ...more
Darrell Woods
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
A strange novel, that if entirely fictional you would say was a bit, well, odd. To then find out that the entire core narrative is based on real life transforms this into a book that stays with you.
Poor Fitzroy - an extremely talented naval officer, always seeking to do the right thing, while surrounded by shady unscrupulous characters. Darwin of course is the famous one, but he flits in and out if the tale, and it is always to Fitzroy that we return.
Not an adventure novel, despite the packaging
Matt Cooley
May 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At times brutal.
Well written.
Delves deep into Fitzroy's character, his state of mind, his successes and setbacks, his perseverance in the face of ignorance, dirty politics, nepotism and cronyism.
An under appreciated steadfast hero.
Melissa Kane
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant! What an amazing book. 744 pages, all told, but well worth the three weeks it took me to read. What an incredible piece of scholarship and of writing. Bravo!
Elle Tyler
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely colossal, astounding, and devastating work. I have a new hero, and his name is Robert FitzRoy.
Kirstie Jones
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I struggled slightly with this book - it is huge and the subject matter isn’t something I would normally read, however it was recommended to me by a friend who said it was one of the greatest books she had ever read. There were times when I found it slow and hard going and other times when I got quite engrossed. I would say it is between a 3.5 and a 4 and I feel a sense of achievement at having finished it (as it took me sooo long).
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Whilst the cover of the book would lead you to believe that this is a nautical adventure in the style of Forester's 'Hornblower', the title hints at the real subject of the novel. This is not to say that Harry Thompson does not weave a convincing portrait of life at sea; he does (at least to this layman) and the extensive bibliography at the back hints at a deep scholarship underlying the narrative. Yet it is the 'Thing of Darkness' that pervades the story, as the protagonist FitzRoy struggles w ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is why historical fiction is my favourite genre. Thompson recounts the stories of two great men - Captain Robert Fitzroy of the Beagle and Charles Darwin - through detailing their adventures, friendship, philosophies and demons. I was astonished at how little I knew about these hugely influential Brits. Thompson's ability to describe detailed and technical discoveries and profound ideas surrounding science and religion in an utterly readable and absorbing way, along with his creative and im ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is primarily the story of the life of Robert Fitzroy, Captain of the Beagle, and covers the time directly preceding the second voyage, on which Darwin became a passenger, and the years following, as the significance of the trip played out for all those concerned.
I was utterly captivated by this from start to finish. It is well researched, carefully and intelligently written, pacy, exciting, thoughtful, and sad. The tension which arises between Darwin and Fitzroy and their differing pe
Aug 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
I don't usually write reviews but -
this book. this book.

it's one of those I didn't expect to, but
holds a piece of my heart now. it got me pretty teared up.

so underrated, honestly. 

the prose is beautiful, the dialogues work so. well. it's a brilliant fusion of history (which manages to never result boring here), philosophy and humanity. also, the right dose of good old adventure. (little tip: have fun with Google maps whilst reading. I was constantly checking out the places they were passing
May 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is the story of two people on an incredible voyage -- the voyage of the Beagle -- and the impact of the voyage on their subsequent lives. Robert Fitzroy is captain of the Beagle, and Darwin joins as the naturalist for its second voyage. Darwin's experience on the voyage shaped his theory of evolution (among other things). Fitzroy's Naval career never recovered from the trip. This novel is carefully-researched, and gives a remarkable dual view of the lives of these two men. While Darwin's st ...more
Nanette Tredoux
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those mind-expanding books that also touch the heart. Meticulously researched and faithful to the characters, it draws a vivid historical picture and transports the reader to another time. I read the book because Darwin features in it, and in the process discovered Fitzroy's important and poignant story. I also reflected critically on my cultural heritage and I hope I am a better person for having read this.

Highly recommended for readers interested in science, history and religion
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
21st Century Lite...: This Thing of Darkness: General Discussion (please use spoiler tags) 23 51 Jun 01, 2021 01:59PM  
THE LISTS: Novel # 2 11 26 Jan 17, 2013 05:53PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History
  • The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
  • Star of the Sea
  • Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition
  • English Passengers
  • And Then You Die (Aurelio Zen, #8)
  • Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife
  • The Life of an Unknown Man
  • Tretze tristos tràngols
  • The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
  • Voyage de classes
  • The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)
  • La trilogía de Nueva York (Biblioteca Formentor)
  • My Old Man and the Sea
  • The Book of Lost Tales, Part One (The History of Middle-Earth, #1)
  • The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two (The History of Middle-Earth, #2)
  • Gods in Everyman
  • Encantado de conocerme
See similar books…
Harry William Thompson was an English radio and television producer, comedy writer, novelist and biographer. Early in his career Thompson produced the radio comedy programmes The News Quiz and The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Following his move into television, he produced Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, Harry Enfield and Chums and Monkey Dust, and co-produced Never Mind The Buzzcocks. In 1998 he was ...more

News & Interviews

When author TJ Klune was growing up, he never saw queer characters in books in a way that felt true to his experience.  “They were the...
233 likes · 14 comments
“Starving lynch mobs might well have been roaming the fields of southern England demanding reform, but here within its heavily policed boundaries, London pursued its pushing, shoving, shouting commercial life without shame, without hindrance, without distraction.” 0 likes
More quotes…