Erik Graff's Reviews > The Voyage of the Beagle

The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Apr 16, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: sciences
Recommended to Erik by: Bill Ellos
Recommended for: everyone
Read in June, 1981

Upon matriculating into Loyola University's MA/PhD program in philosophy during the late summer of 1980, I was assigned to Bill Ellos as his teaching assistant. Bill, a deep-cover Jesuit, had come to Chicago from Washington State, having done some work there with educational film as well as being a university professor. His interests were diverse to say the least. His doctoral dissertation form the Pontifical Institute in Rome was on Wittgenstein, but the work he had me doing originally was mostly in medical ethics, sociobiology and the foundations of evolutionary theory. That meant a lot of reading for me, both of Wittgenstein and of Darwin and Wallace. Most of it was close reading in that he expected me to follow themes, to create indices relevant to his work. This was fine. I often was learning more from the research assistantship than from classwork. Besides, we only met occasionally and he got me assistantships every summer so I could literally take the work to Michigan and the beach in the warm months.

Darwin's account of his researches while berthed as a gentleman scientist on HMS Beagle works as a travel book, but it is punctuated by the kinds of observations which led to his theory of natural selection. As such, it is recommended to anyone interested in the subject as an introduction to it. Too often we learn "science" from textbooks, presented as if received from on high as holy writ, and do not learn how the knowledge was obtained, the interpretations derived. The Voyage of the Beagle gives some of that background in a highly entertaining, even adventurous, fashion.

The theory of evolution was not, of course, new with Darwin. One finds such speculation in the ancient Greeks. Kant's Anthropology speculates about our descent from simian ancestors. What Darwin did was to hypothesize an agent, natural selection, for such evolution and provide detailed data supporting his theory.

I was fortunate to have four years and three summers of research assistantships at Loyola and doubly fortunate to be assigned, at least half-time, to Bill Ellos during most if not all of that period. Although I never took one of his medical ethics courses, he probably cared for my intellectual and professional development more than any other at the university. It was he who not only got me to read most of Wittgenstein, but also encouraged me to deliver a paper on the man and later publish it. It was he who got me interested and involved in fields beyond the ken of contemporary academic philosophy. Yet, throughout, I always had the sense that he was adjusting my work assignments somewhat, taking into account my own interests, potential interests and needs, not just his own.

Towards the end of these assignments I learned that one was expected to spend about 16-20 hours weekly on one's assistantship. I was amazed, having spent more like 40 hours weekly at the flat rate of pay we all received. Still, it was worth it. I would have done much of it for Bill and form myself without recompense.

At the end, after orals and after reaching the absolute limit on assistantship assignments, Bill took me out for dinner and conversation at a fine restaurant in Evanston. He needn't have done that, but the human touch, so characteristic of Bill, was much appreciated.

I have no idea where Bill is now.
5 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Voyage of the Beagle.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

04/30 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Amanda L (new)

Amanda L me me me ME! meh. Blah. Blah. Blah. BLAHG. about it.

message 2: by Amanda L (new)

Amanda L Ok. I actually read [more than just paragraph 1]. THIS is seriously passing as a review for Voyage of the Beagle?

Erik Graff No, it's more of a reflection on a phase of study and an appreciation of Bill. Reviews of Voyage are many.

message 4: by Amanda L (new)

Amanda L I can appreciate that. However, just struck me seeing it at the top of the review list. Please pardon my guffaw-appall.

Erik Graff That's fine. Most of my work here is w/cleaning up & organizing the database, the aims of which are to be of help to others and to learn. The reviews range from the highly formal and objective, some of which are intended for publication, to the entirely personal. The formal reviews tend to be of the more academic and obscure books as they're usually intended for a journal about ancient history. The personal ones cover everything else I can remember having read. Here the aim to eventual completeness overrides everything, resulting in some "reviews" which are virtually vacuous--as, say, in the case of a collection of stories read in junior high when the title, cover and occasion for reading may be remembered, but the actual contents forgotten.
As regards reading the works of others on the site, I pay closest attention to what close friends and family compose and find their personal reflections often of greatest interest.
It would be interesting to see the range of purposes the members of GR conceive of themselves as fulfilling here.

back to top