The Voyage of the Beagle - Charles Darwin

This is the personal journal of Charles Darwins from his five years onboard the surveying ship HMS Beagle. This trip ultimately led him to formulate the theory of evolution. Which in turn was published many years later in 1859 in the well known book Origin of species(1). I have wanted to read these two books for years. 


The trip was made between 1831 and 1836 and the journal was first published in 1839 as the third account of this trip. The other accounts were written by the officers on board. Charles Darwin was a young(2) collector and naturalist. But that was not his task while on board this ship. The ship already had a naturalist. His role was much more modest. He was actually only the captains conversation companion. Captain Robert FitzRoy wanted a gentleman to accompany him during the long voyage. It might have something to do with the previous captain's demise(3).

Today we would probably called Darwin a biologist but he might have known just as much about geology at the start of the journey. The journal shows what an amazing and keen observer Darwin was. Through out his journey he consistently describes he localities starting with the geology and what the minerals and types of rock mean. How do they influence the soil and what does that in turn mean for the plants in the region. He goes on in describing the climate, common wind direction, precipitation and last but certainly not least the lists the types of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibia and animals he can find. He also discusses the different people he meets along the way, both the "modern" people of South America and Australia, but he also describes the natives. Wherever he meets them. 

The listing of all the organisms found can be a bit tedious and boring at times. But the book also has some very exiting parts such as his time among the gauchos in Argentina, where they were in constant threat of local native americans. Or the time on the Falkland islands when they had to cross a river mouth during very bad weather. 
"To complete our discomforts we were obliged to cross the head of a creek of the sea, in which the water was as high as our horses backs; and the little waves, owing to the violence of the wind, broke over us, and made us very wet and cold. Even the iron-framed gauchos professed themselves glad when they reached the settlement, after our little excursion."

They lost a whale boat (small rowing boat) in a storm, they rescued sailors who had been shipwrecked for 15 months, and they met with General Rosas, who was on a punitive war against the natives. In Chile they experiences a major earthquake, which helped Darwin understand that the crust of the earth moves. It seems like he came very close to realizing how the land rises and subsides according to plate tectonics. Especially when he talks about the formation of coral reefs. He describes how a tsunami works and many other interesting natural phenomenon. So there are without a doubt some very exiting parts. 

He is sometimes funny like when he describes the effects on high altitude on the body. He completely forgets about his fatigue when finding fossils. 
"There was some imagination even in this; for upon finding fossil shells on the highest ridge, I entirely forgot the puna(4) in my delight."

Throughout the book I get the image of an upper class victorian gentleman who, no matter how stressful or dangerous a situation is, always keeps his calm. He is a master of the english language, and it is a delight to read some of the passages. Like this one where he compares the pyramids to coral islands.
"We feel surprise when travelers tell us of the vast dimensions of the Pyramids and other great ruins, but utterly insignificant are the greatest of these, when compared to these mountains of stone accumulated by the agency of various minute and tender animals! This is a wonder which does not at first strike the eye of the body, but, after reflection, the eye of reason."

He also offers some comments on the different people he encounters throughout his journey. He describes the clothes, customs and traditions of different native populations. And he seems to be amused when he encounters superstitions. Darwin is also totally disgusted and appalled by slavery in Brazil and other places. In all his descriptions of other people offer an insight into his own mind and also I guess other Englishmen of his time.  

BBC made an excellent tv-series based on the book in the late seventies. I can recommend that as well, If you have almost 8 hours to spare.
Darwin Online(5) is a treasure if you like to explore the works of Charles Darwin. 

I really liked this book, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the development of the framework of natural selection. It is not, however, an easy read. I actually listened to the audio book twice before reading the book. Which was actually an alright way of approaching it. So I have without a doubt struggled with this book. The book was written almost 180 years ago and the english of the 1830s is sometimes difficult and it takes some time getting used to. 

It is almost as if our language has evolved.

Rating: 6/6
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1. Full title - On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
2. Charles Darwin was 22 at the start of the journey and 28 years old when he came home. What had you accomplished at that age?
3. Captain Pringle Stokes killed himself during the first voyage of the HMS Beagle.  It is believed that Captain FitzRoy might have wanted to avoid a similar fate by bringing a companion along. 
4. Puna - local name for altitude fatigue
5.Charles Darwin complete publications, letters, notes, diaries and so on has been made available online for free on the website Darwin Online.  

 

#bokanmeldelse #bookreview #charlesdarwin #naturalselection #evolution #thevoyageofthebeagle

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, Notodden

Im interested in the natural world and normally read books about science such as biology, our evolutionary history, astronomy, and general popscience. I occasionally dabble in archeology, philosophy, ancient history, and world religions too. To mention a few interests. Ive also been interested in Diving, Kayaking, and Triathlon for years. Have also done all kinds of martial arts for more than 10 years. Ive now been working for the Norwegian Humanist Association (Human-Etisk Forbund) since 2012.

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