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The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–82

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,260 ratings  ·  189 reviews
Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerized edition: Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Sp ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 17th 1993 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published 1887)
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Amanda Vallis Thompson No. He says very little about it other than mentioning the time he lost due to ill health.

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عماد العتيلي

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”

Oh, Darwin! I cannot understand how anyone could hate such a passionate and loving soul!
This memoir is a must-read for everyone. It teaches readers how the human-scientist should be: humble, honest and kind. Darwin is an excellent example of the true scientist.


I admit that I have skipped some parts – especially those in which Darwin talked about the details of hi
Kevin Shepherd
"...I could not employ my life better than in adding a little to natural science. This I have done to the best of my abilities, and critics may say what they like, but they cannot destroy this conviction." ~Charles Darwin (pg 104)

A very atypical autobiography, written more for the benefit of his children and grandchildren than for public consumption. He was indeed a very modest man, even his most prestigious achievements are recounted with gratitude and humility. He speaks very frankly about the
Roy Lotz
I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.

This is the quintessential scientific autobiography, a brief and charming book that Darwin wrote “for nearly an hour on most afternoons” for a little over two months. Originally published in 1887—five years after the naturalist’s death—it was somewhat c
Udit Nair
First of all for me Charles Darwin is indeed one of the most influential person to walk on this earth. And what makes this book extremely enjoyable is the fact that it is compiled from the letters which he himself wrote. Now the good part is that he has written this in hindsight and hence there is a sense of continuity and progress. ( pretty much like evolution)
He talks about several things such as early life, his publications, criticisms and further introspection.

There are some candid admissio
Erik Graff
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Bill Ellos
Shelves: biography
One of the best ways to disarm critics of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection would be to get them to read his posthumous autobiography, originally edited by his son, then rereleased in an unexpurgated version by his granddaughter. Whatever one might believe about the bible, or punctuated equilibrium for that matter, one cannot read this memoir without coming to like this man. This was, after all, a fellow who dug an enormous hole in order to calculate earthworm distributions under ...more
Reading this feels a bit voyeuristic, in that it was intended as a family document rather than a public one. It's short and not a very good biography; it talks in little detail about Darwin's life or character, whilst rambling about the personalities of various other contemporary scientists, Darwin's religious views and his own books. It's nevertheless of some interest and so short as to hardly allow for getting bogged down. It's nowhere near as fun as The Voyage of the Beagle or as important as ...more
Tyler Jones
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nature
There were several pleasant surprises for me in this book, the first of which was how engaging a writer Darwin was. He had a natural, easy flow to his writing that pulled me along and I found it hard to stop reading. There are many very amusing anecdotes (the story of how he tried to carry three rare beetles at once made me snort with glee) and Darwin does a wonderful job balancing serious reflection and scientific exploration with the human interest story.

The second surprise for me was just ho
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found Darwin's writing to be quite engaging. This autobiography was written by Darwin exclusively for his children and grand-children and was published posthumously. He writes his life's story with brevity but it gives a good sense of his life. Darwin's ability to self-reflect is one of the factors that lead to his profound insights on natural selection. His power of observation and critical analysis changed the course of science and how people looked at the world. Reading this short book is a ...more
Bogdan Teodorescu
Good book overall, although not really what I expected. You know you're reading about a genius, but the book doesn't really show that. Still, I had in mind who I'm reading about, so I guess it was enjoyable ...more
Jun 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I'm a bit fascinated by Darwin, though most of the interest in this is that it is what he himself chose to record for his descendants. It doesn't cover the Beagle voyage, as those journals were published elsewhere, so it's a rather general account of his growing up and his life upon return from his voyage. It gives a good sense of the man though, and the appendices are truly brilliant. Not so much the letters surrounding the ridiculously blown-up spat between himself and Samuel Butler, but the v ...more
It should be essential for anyone who has ever heard someone say, "Darwin said (insert Darwinism here)" to read not only Origin of Species but what Darwin thought of his life and work, in his own words.

This is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Darwin's ability to self reflect is unmatched by anyone I have read to date. What a treat it is to be allowed to travel through the mind of a humble, compassionate, genius or a man who wrote with his whole heart. This book was originally in
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a great little book to aid my quest to learn a bit about Charles Darwin.

Darwin's actual autobiography is pretty short and makes up only half of the volume. Not a riveting autobiography, but his rambles were pleasant enough, and there were a couple amusing anecdotes. I enjoyed it.

The remaining half is mostly devoted to letters and articles about some controversy between Darwin and Butler which I had absolutely no interest in, and the rest are a couple of Darwin's personal notes, which wa
Peter A.  van Tilburg
Very interesting insight in the mind and work of Darwin. His zeal for understanding what he saw and time to think it over for possible explanations is impressive. He also was humble and has a realistic view on his strong and weak points.
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading the 'Autobiography of Charles Darwin' a few minutes ago. Darwin portrays himself as an ordinary man with an extraordinary zeal for science. As he put it,

"My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort."

Darwin was a humble, mild-mannered Englishman whose great power of observation and critical analysis revolutionised our view of the wo
Feisty Harriet
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I kind of have a thing for Charles Darwin, so it was inevitable that I would want to read his autobiography. I loved reading his own words and some of his own thoughts on science, evolution, his friends, family, and slavery (he was adamantly anti-slavery). That being said, this autobiography was written by Darwin, exclusively for his children and grand-children. And as such, it doesn't cover much of his life, especially when compared to the 1200 page, 2-part biography by Janet Browne that I read ...more
Rohit Amberker
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A humbling read

It was a real pleasure to read this book. It truly felt like the legend himself in his frail voice is narrating his life story. It's a very short book and it talks to the ingenuity of Charles Darwin to deliver the message in a most concise manner. A lot to learn in this book and it left me humbled. LOVED IT!!!
Muhammad Kamal
A simultaneously abstract and detailed read, that reverently maintains a poise between modesty, and absolute candour. "Nunc dimittis", we have some beetles to thank. ...more
Apr 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: uk
When Darwin sat down to write his autobiography - more for his children's sakes than because he thought anyone outside his immediate family would be interested - he was 67 years old. He had travelled around the world, he had met the elite of 19th century English thinkers, he had published a number of books including at least two which would still be widely read 150 years later, and revolutionised the field of science in general and biology in particular.

After all this, he managed 120 pages of au
James Cloyd
Before he made his big discovery, Darwin intended to become a pastor. Fortunately for us, his passion for knowledge ultimately led him towards science and away from theology, though his thoughts on both are certainly worth reading. Though he was bold, even daring, he was never arrogant or condescending, but displayed great humility and grace in his writing: "I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (& I can't resist forming one on ever ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Darwin portrays here himself in a short and humble autobiography, in fact not even intended to be published but, written above all for the sole benefits of his descendants.

We learn about his childhood's interest in (already!) insects, the authoritative figure of his father, and his calling as a clergyman up to the crucial turn in his life: the journey onboard the HMS Beagle. He then moves on to talk about his career and the social prestige he benefited, describing some high intellectual figures
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found this work very interesting and charming, but as I read it I kept thinking if I were not a huge fan of the author and his life's achievements, this book would be colossally boring.
So I am happy to give it 4 stars, but if Charles Darwin is not a great man for you, then this would not be a good book for you.
I rate Charles Darwin as one of the two greatest men who has ever lived, along with Abraham Lincoln. I never get over the incredible coincidence that these two greatest of men were born
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. Not too long, but enlightening. He said he was pleased that his many works were not treated with controversy because his only concerns were the pursuit of his passion for science, and how his peers and mentors viewed him. He ignored the criticisms of any who had no scientific credentials, and was gratified by the public response, measured largely in great book sales of virtually all of his many esoteric works on science and related studies.

His self proclaimed best qualities we
Bcoghill Coghill
A nice biography but lacks the insights we would like from such a genius, a man who changed the world. He did have a charming modesty and I think was likable fellow.
I wonder what he would have been like in the day of modern science. Probably, he would still be outstanding.
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
You cannot know Charles Darwin without reading his Autobiography, which, combined with some other great works on this great scientist, will only help highlight his life, thoughts, and scientific achievements.
It's one of the most successful autobiographies ever written as it satisfies the core purpose of getting inside the author's head and his thoughts very clearly! I would highly recommend it to science lovers and geeks. ...more
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very readable. Great insight into the life of this amazing scientist, and into his times.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, honors
Interesting dude.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm sad to say that on my first trip through a History of Psychology course, I wasn't super interested in Darwin. A little older and a little wiser when I took a similar grad school course, that all changed. I was assigned a presentation on Darwin's early life through his voyage on the Beagle, which led me to reading some snippets of his own writing. His writing was charming, often full of wit, and sometimes deeply moving (his letter on the death of his daughter Annie is particularly touching). ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Darwin's autobiography is a personal document, not written with the intent to be a published book for all the world to read. As such, it's interests tend to be more personal--Darwin's boyhood, his children, his professional development, and his relations with other scientists of his era. Though it touches on some of the controversies his work ignited, that's not really the point. Though I found the book vaguely interesting, it's hardly the defining word on Darwin's life or the meaning and impact ...more
Kevin Mackey
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A quick, easy, illuminating view into the beautiful, messy, diligent and earnest mind and habits of Charles Darwin. (Having been taught some untruths about Darwin in my childhood, I still feel compelled to make up for lost time.)

One of the most interesting facts I learned in this autobiography is that Darwin did not publish The Origin of Species until 15-20 years AFTER having compiled his key observations, notes and findings. As a result, The Origin of Species has stood up to 157 years of subseq
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Charles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist, eminent as a collector and geologist, who proposed and provided scientific evidence that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process he called natural selection. The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selec ...more

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“...Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers... for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality... But I had gradually come by this time, i.e., 1836 to 1839, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow at sign, &c., &c., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.

...By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, (and that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become), that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost uncomprehensible by us, that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, that they differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me, to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can be hardly denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.

But I was very unwilling to give up my belief... Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished.

And this is a damnable doctrine.”
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