Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries)” as Want to Read:
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution

(Great Discoveries)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,074 ratings  ·  333 reviews
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries)
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 31st 2006 by W. W. Norton (first published 2006)
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 The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Coral I don't see why not. My evolution course is required to read it. We are suppose to highlight and turn in anything that moves or stands out to us,…more I don't see why not. My evolution course is required to read it. We are suppose to highlight and turn in anything that moves or stands out to us, along with writing a paper based on these "highlights". Easy for kindle editions, for hardcopy books, people have to type them up. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,074 ratings  ·  333 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries)
May 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Darwin or Natural Selection
Shelves: science
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin presents Charles Darwin the man in relief against the simplicity and near perfection of his most lasting ideas. Using Darwin’s own journals and correspondence David Quammen, brings the father of evolution to life. He illustrates beautifully the birth and development of the then shocking concept of natural selection. He asserts that natural selection, not evolution is Darwin’s major contribution. Quammen defines and differentiates between evolution and its mechanism ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I never realized that 80-87% of Americans reject what Darwin discovered about the evolution of species. How this careful, thoughtful scientist worked his way toward a persuasive and coherent theory makes suspenseful reading. He was a religious skeptic but no radical. A persistent curious thinker. Quammen is also a wonderful writer. There's nothing dry about this book.
Jun 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
With his usual elegant use of language David Quammen takes us through a brief tour of the influences that lead Charles Darwin to his insight into the natural world. Darwin, we learn, was enamored with the complexity of a species before his auspicious voyage on the Beagle. This spirited admiration settled into skilled but enthusiastic observation of life and remained with him even after he returned to Britain. This continued dedication to study and a desire to perfect his theory kept him from ...more
Full disclosure: Charles Darwin is my favorite historical figure. Learning about evolution (finally) as a freshman in college and reading from On the Origin of Species exposed me to an aspect of science that was severely lacking in my earlier education and made it clear to me that there was no place for a higher power or supernatural explanations in the natural world. It is shocking that in America, that the acceptance of evolution is so low, amongst the lowest of the industrialized nations, in ...more
This book is not an biography, but rather a description of the thought process that brought Darwin to his natural selection theory. That was exactly what I was looking for, and exactly what I got. The author has succeeded in describing why a reluctant Darwin - he rarely left his house, not even for the funerals of his daughter and father - eventually was able to comprise his different topics into a general theory, enabling him to write his groundbreaking book The Origin of Species and what the ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable look at Darwin post-Beagle. To be sure, Darwin isn't a very exciting person, unless you enjoy vomiting and rest cures, but Quammen does his best to gin up the dull spots and delays. The book gets going with the writing of On the Origin of Species and Quammen does an excellent job summarizing, elucidating, and criticizing it. There is also a good sidelong view of Alfred Russel Wallace and a nice introduction to genetics and how it and natural selection all tie together. I learned a lot ...more
Nancy Mills
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting and well written. More biography than science. But then, as the author strongly suggests, I should read "Origin of Species" and Darwin's other works, instead of just reading ABOUT Darwin.
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it

I think Quammen is introducing persons to Darwin and encouraging them to read The Origin of the Species. Having read the original, I found the book sometimes redundant but enjoyable and a delight to read.
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A fascinating and charming book. Recommended not as an introduction to evolution, but to someone pursuing an interest in it.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
While most people have at least a cursory understanding of the debate that continues to rage in America’s schools, many have not actually read the original hypothesis set forth by Darwin (and Wallace). Fewer probably still have read anything about Darwin’s life. I would guess that, for most, an opinion has formed in support or against this hypothesis based on assumptions posited from someone else. I have not read the full Origin of the Species. I have read Darwin’s autobiographical account of ...more
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good overview of Darwin and his work. Provides evidence as to why he was much more important than Wallace: discovered natural selection before Wallace; Wallace thought the human brain couldn't be a result of evolution (uses same bad logic as those who say the eye couldn't have evolved); Darwin came up with sexual selection whereas Wallace assumes natural selection is always a result of survival (we KNOW Wallace is wrong - go check out spiders that sacrifice themselves knowingly whilst getting ...more
Lisa Berry-Koeppen
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful personal book about the struggles everyone goes through even famous scientists. Some parts were difficult to push through because they were so intricate and detailed, which is weird because I love that science stuff, but you can take only so much talk of mollusk sexual life and organs.
Bob Schmitz
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Very interesting book that takes Charles Darwin's life from after he returns from the voyage of the Beagle to his death. I figured that Darwin got back from his trip and wrote The Origin of the Species and that was that. Not so it was 21 years later! I didn't realize that when he returned Darwin turned his samples over to taxonomists who noted that different species of birds and animals were located exclusively on different islands in the Galapagos and elsewhere. They notified him and he then ...more
Mar 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Bravo! Superb! A remarkable story told wonderfully. David Quammen is a skilled craftsman. He’s created an intimate portrait about a most reluctant and highly methodical genius, who ranks beside the likes of Copernicus, Newton and Einstein.

Quammen tells the story of Charles Darwin from the time he ends his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle until and through the publication of his most famous work: "On the Origin of the Species." How the young bible-quoting ship’s naturalist noted for his piety
Danny Ferguson
To me Charles Darwin is one of the coolest people to learn about. He had an easy yet pretty difficult life. He never really seemed to struggle with money and other expenses because of his wealthy father, and then from the money from his books. But when realized that natural selection was how the many organism came about, I mean it took like 20 years to publish his book because he didn't want to upset people, which in my opinion is what made him sick for all those years. Plus he lost a few kids, ...more
Clif Hostetler
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I felt as though Charles Darwin was a personal acquaintance of mine by the time I finished this book. It is a very readable and colorfully written study of the great evolutionist Charles Darwin. It focuses on the period just after Darwin’s work aboard the Beagle, and sheds light on his work habits, personal life, and development as a thinker. The author brings to life both the man and his ideas.

Readers who make it all the way to the end of the book will be treated with a heart warming story

The Reluctant Mr Darwin

autumn 2012
partial biography

I know, there are lies, lies and lies, and then there are statistics; unhappily though, it is very scary the number of Americans
who do not go along with materialistic evolution.

Is there room for yet another book on Darwin? As it turns out, there is, when it is laid out for brevity, incorporates modern
language and only dealing with Darwin's mental processes in the years after the field work. Whilst
Cierra Hirst
i enjoyed this book i think it gave a new look at Charles Darwin, a more personal look. it was a journey you where the partner as Charles Darwin as he deals with the true implication of his theory and gaining the courage necessary to publish it. however i struggled with David quammen mostly because of the every so skillfully places jabs at religion. I'm very religious and i believe in evolution there is no contradiction. Mr. Quammen on one page would state that evolution is no replacement for ...more
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific way to lean about Darwin. Having recently read the much longer biography by Desmond and Moore, I was impressed by how well Quammen presented the life and, more important, the work in such a limited space.
This is the Darwin book to read first. Although it doesn't feel cursory, Quammen skips over the first 30 or so years of Darwin's life and begins his story after the travels aboard The Beagle. Quammen says that those adventures are well known and that he thinks the
Apr 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Despite my adoration for Darwin and his theory, before I read this book I knew little about his process from discovery to publication. I still can not believe that he came up with naural selection and survival of the fittest BEFORE the discovery of MEndelian genetics. I enjoyed this read, and the bibliography has added more titles to my "to read" list at home.
Dec 11, 2013 rated it liked it
I couldn't rate too high. The writing is good and the history is solid, but I've read better and more interesting biographies about Darwin. I suppose that's the curse of picking such a famous man as your biography subject.
Abdulrahman Kauther
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book is very exciting and engaging. It shows more of Darwin's working life than his personal life. Still, it is very interesting to see how the greatest theory of biology was conceived, incubated, and, subsequently, born.
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The reading was fun and easy. I enjoyed learning the process of Darwin's Transmutation theory and learning about him personally and a little bit about it his biography.
I cant listen to the speaker of this book. He should never be paid for this. Awful voice. I'll have to read the written book.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A brief outline of Darwin and Wallace's scientific thought mostly from after the Beagle voyage until the publication of On the Origins of Species. A good book. Seems fair.

However after reading this, I still don't understand what exactly Darwin discovered. Evolutionary thought is a descriptive science, not a mathematical or experimental science. At least not in Darwin's day. Evolution had been posited for millennia since Aristotle. The mechanism of natural selection had been published already by
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Tremendous book -- perfect blend of sophistication but understandable explanation for the newcomer to the topic. The author makes a really smart decision by starting in the middle so to speak, after Darwin has done his field work that will lead him to his amazing ideas. This speeds up the process of getting to the intellectual heart of Darwin's evolutionary-revolutionary concepts. (There's nothing wrong with learning about his work on the HMS Beagle, by the way, or reading Darwin's famed book ...more
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
A really pleasant account of Charles Darwin’s academic life and the process by which he eventually published one of the most impactful books in human history – The Origin of Species, in which he postulated the theory of natural selection, or as it is known today, evolution. He later expanded his theories to include homo sapiens in The Descent of Man. What is really terrific about this book is that it presents a Charles Darwin completely devoid of the stereotypes of him we are familiar with ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Most people are at least familiar with Darwin's theory of evolution at its most basic level: that all creatures have evolved from a common ancestor. Unfortunately, this loose understanding leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Misconceptions run rampant in our current era, the most popular being that humans were once monkeys. Enough people feel uncomfortable with the idea of evolution by natural selection that as recently as 2005, there were still laws on the books requiring public schools ...more
Janet Lavine
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very well written and easily accessible biography of Charles Darwin. Tracing his life from his youth -- when he was a seemingly aimless young man who couldn't find a profession -- to his acclaim and vilification as the author of On the Origin of Species (and then many later books), I enjoyed learning about the politics and the religious conservatism of 19th C England. Darwin approached his theory of natural selection very defensively -- he knew it would be controversial and perhaps heretical, ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellent.

I read it a few years ago and I do not recall all of the details. But what struck me was how clearly he described not just Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection (which at least at a general level is likely already understood by most of the readers of this book), but why this idea is so scandalous and terrifying to many people.
To be clear, I am a firm believer in Mr. Darwin's theory. But after reading this book and better understanding the implications of the
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Nederlands en Bel...: The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (David Quammen) 1 5 Jul 31, 2018 12:04PM  
Cedar City Librar...: Cedar Reads Oct - Nov 2015 1 3 Oct 20, 2015 08:52AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA
  • Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud
  • The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
  • The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind
  • The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
  • The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs
  • Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior
  • The Dragon Seekers: How An Extraordinary Circle Of Fossilists Discovered The Dinosaurs And Paved The Way For Darwin
  • Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance
  • The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
  • A Most Elegant Equation: Euler’s Formula and the Beauty of Mathematics
  • The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square
  • Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World
  • Out of the Shadow of a Giant: Hooke, Halley, and the Birth of Science
  • Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World
  • Why Evolution Is True
  • المعذبون في الأرض
  • A Short History of Man: Progress and Decline
See similar books…
David Quammen (born February 1948) is an award-winning science, nature and travel writer whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Outside, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review; he has also written fiction. He wrote a column called "Natural Acts" for Outside magazine for fifteen years. Quammen lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Other books in the series

Great Discoveries (1 - 10 of 14 books)
  • Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity
  • The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis
  • Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time
  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie
  • Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries)
  • Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe
  • Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer
  • Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
  • A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford
“بعد أسبوع من موت آني " ابنة داروين" بينماالصورة لا تزال حاضرة في الذاكرة، كتب داروين مذكرة خاصة قصيرة تسجل القليل من مفاتنها، وعاداتها، وسماتها، ورقصاتها حوله بطول الممشى الرملي، وتدقيقها صعب الإرضاء، وحبها للأطفال الأصغر سنًا، وموهبتها الموسيقية، وحماسها للقواميش والخرائط . كتب داروين أنه فقد هو وايما "زوجته" متعة دارهما وأنيسة وحدتهما في عمرهما المتقدم. لا شك أن الفتاة الصغيرة كانت تدرك لأي مدى كانت محبوبة.
ثم ينهي داروين ما كتبه بقوله : "فلتحل عليها البركات"، وقد أسقط هذه المرة, على نحو مبهم .. ذكر اسم الرب !”
More quotes…