Monday, July 7, 2008

Recommended Reading: David Quammen's Short Book on 'The Reluctant Mr. Darwin'

We ran across a copy of David Quammen's short biography of Charles Darwin the other day and found it a real joy.

One of the blurbs on the back of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin calls the book "a rich, dramatic story brought to life by a gifted and entertaining storyteller." It's an accurate assessment.

We didn't know Quammen before we read the book, but we can testify to the man's literary skill. In his hands, Darwin's life and scientific achievements are spelled out in plain and compelling language.

Along the way, Quammen explains Darwin's principal ideas, clears up a few misconceptions, and lays out the long and painstaking process that led to his theory of evolution. It's fascinating stuff, even when we see Darwin as a hypochondriac and an obsessive field biologist.

There are more thorough biographies of Darwin out there (as Quammen acknowledges), but this is one terrific introduction to Darwin and his ideas, from the famous voyage of the Beagle through his years of self-doubt and eventual success (and acceptance) by the scientific community.

As we say in the headline, recommended reading.

The book, again, is David Quammen, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (New York: Atlas Books, 2006). The book is part of the publisher's Great Discovery Series, which also includes short biographies of Einstein, Marie Curie, Copernicus, and several others.

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