- by Sean B. Carroll
- 2009 / 352 pages – paperback
- rating – 7.5
This was a really mixed dry/fun book for me. If it weren’t for the little biographies I would have given up. Some of the main subjects, Darwin, Wallace , Bates, Walcott, Leaky, Pauling had pretty interesting lives – but the science part of the book just fell flat for me. I don’t even know what those geological formations Carroll just mentions in passing are! I suppose if you’re interested in the development of today’s theories of evolution this book might be fascinating.
Starting with Alexander von Humboldt, a highly influential scientist of the early 19th century, Carroll outlines the history of the ideas and discoveries of the explorers and scientists who worked on the “search for the origins of species,” as the book is subtitled
Darwin is covered in a couple well-written chapters but so much has been written about him there’s nothing really new here. It’s the later chapters which give new names to the history – Alfred Wallace, a young contemporary of Darwin who was on the verge of his own publication at the time of Darwin’s monumental Origin of Species. Wallace developed “survival of the species” which Herbert Spencer actually named. For Wallace the question was “how” species evolved, not “if” they did. ”The life of wild animals is a struggle for existence.” Henry Walter Bates traveled to South America and the islands of the West Indies in search of animal variations traceable to evolution, especially those of butterflies and insects. He published a book of his travels and findings, Darwin was very impressed and the book is still being published.