A Pleasant Read on Darwin Day

Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography will be published in the United States in March, but was released in the U.K. last June. It’s a tidy little 151 pages (plus notes and index) that would make a very nice Darwin-day gift for your evolution-loving Valentine!

The book is one title in the series “Books that Changed The World” (for some reason, in the U.K., they only “shook” the world) that also includes Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Francis Wheen on Marx’s Das Kapital, Simon Blackburn on Plato’s Republic, Bruce Lawrence on the Koran, Karen Armstrong on The Bible, Hew Strachan on Clausewitz’s On War, Alberto Manguel on The Iliad and The Odyssey, and P.J. O’Rourke on Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Browne is Darwin’s leading biographer, and she manages somehow to encompass not only the development of Darwin’s thought, but its implications to the present—including the modern synthesis and creationist opposition—all in a book that can be easily read in a day. In some places, Browne’s writing seems inelegantly simplistic, but all told, the only real objection to this book is that it’s not possible to present Darwin’s great ideas in their full color in such a short space. Still, this book comes as close as possible. Darwin comes across as an exceedingly pleasant man, the very image of what a scientist should be: careful, precise, polite, honest, and brave enough to stand for unpopular ideas when the evidence supports them. Happy birthday, Charles Darwin, and thank you Janet Browne.