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The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural…

The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation… (original 1859; edition 2004)

by Charles Darwin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,63788409 (4.14)1 / 361
Reintroduces the author's work about the theory of evolution with over three hundred fifty illustrations and photographs, accompanied by excerpts from his diaries, letters, and other writings.
Title:The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
Authors:Charles Darwin
Info:Castle Books (2004), Hardcover, 703 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

  1. 80
    The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (IslandDave)
  2. 30
    The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared M. Diamond (WiJiWiJi, WiJiWiJi)
  3. 30
    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould (Anneli)
  4. 30
    Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer (yapete)
  5. 30
    The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll (Othemts)
  6. 41
    The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (themulhern)
    themulhern: The books are similar in structure and not nearly as dry as most other science or history.
  7. 20
    Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins by Ian Tattersall (John_Vaughan)
  8. 20
    Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated by Steve Jones (Noisy)
    Noisy: Things have moved on somewhat in the last one hundred and fifty years. These two books bear a re-read ahead of the bicentenary of Darwin's birth in 2009.
  9. 20
    Evolution by Douglas J. Futuyma (davidsietsma)
  10. 31
    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade (ColumbusLee)
  11. 20
    Darwin and the Beagle by Alan Moorehead (John_Vaughan)
  12. 10
    Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin (Michael.Rimmer)
  13. 47
    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (2below)
    2below: Carroll was one of many Victorian authors influenced by Darwin's work. Alice is rife with evolutionary thinking--a crazy world inhabited almost entirely by sentient animals, with a heavy focus on eating and being eaten.

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English (80)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Norwegian (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
5 stars, naturally! ( )
  haraldgroven | Sep 8, 2019 |
Huge work, sadly most people that either parrot or mock Darwin, have never read or understood Darwin. That is somewhat understandable as it is a tediously boring read. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 12, 2018 |
I know it is the all important biology book but... As far as a good read... I could barely get through it - and I am a science teacher! But I think that is why it was hard to get through it. I know most of it and was not surprised by anything.... ( )
  ksmedberg | Aug 15, 2018 |
has kangaroo spine ( )
  Drfreddy94 | Jul 17, 2018 |
I became vexed by the title, On the Origin of Species, right from the start. Just what, precisely, is a species? What’s more, no matter how we state our modern definition, what did the word mean to Charles Darwin and his contemporaries?

Darwin, past 40 pages into the 1859 first edition, has this to say:
“Nor shall I here discuss the various definitions which have been given of the term species. No one definition has as yet satisfied all naturalists; yet every naturalist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species.”

Uh, not good enough, Charles. The meaning of “species” must be specified. Else what are we discussing?

Visiting Wikipedia, I learned that “the difficulty of defining species is known as the ‘species problem’” and that this difficulty has led biologists to something they call the “species concept,” of which “there are at least 26.”

26? At least? There’s even a name for the study of species concepts: “Microtaxonomy,” a discipline “fraught with philosophical questions.”

Not feeling fit to be fraught with philosophical fiddle-faddle, I was tempted to return the Darwinian colossus to the library. But fortune smiled: “For Darwin, the species problem was the question of how new species arose: speciation.” That is to say, whatever a species is, the point is to think about how it might become a different expression of that concept. Darwin’s revolutionary ideas, as a best result, ought to apply to any of the species concepts bouncing about among biologists. I could live with that.

As for the rest, this is a book that earns the praise it has received. It is fascinating, philosophical, and surprisingly readable. Terminology is occasionally specialized so it helps, for example, to review the names of flower parts (sepal, stamen, pistil, etc.). Later, when Darwin discusses the fossil record, you might like to have at hand a table illustrating the scale of geologic time, with all those “oics” and “ocenes” and what all, though Darwin’s terminology here differs a bit from modern usage.

A thought bound to occur after getting far in the text is that perhaps the title should have been On the Origin of Newer Species. I think, up to page 484 (of 490), I had seen nothing about the origin of the first species, the original origin. On that page Darwin addresses this issue in what is, to my mind, a startling passage for 1859:
“I believe that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors and plants from an equal or lesser number.
“Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype…all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their germinal vesicles, their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction…Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”

Respect that inference. It’s just the conclusion modern studies have led most biologists to accept.

I like the candor with which Darwin faces criticisms. One difficulty was the fossil record, a point of contention for advocates of the biblical version of life’s origin. The issue is finding the intermediates the Origin posits once existed between known species. Darwin hoped the fossil record would remove doubt about his theory. For reasons he details at some length, he thought it unlikely evidence to do this could be preserved and found, and concedes the importance of the problem:
“Geological research…has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate varieties; and this not having been effected, is probably the gravest and most obvious of all the many objections which may be urged against my views.”

The editor of this volume, James T. Costa, adds: “Paleontologists…in the intervening century and a half since the Origin, [have found] a bounty of intermediate forms…in many groups. Nothing approaches the detailed chain of transition that Darwin lamented not having.”

Advocates of the Creationist position must like that. But if the fossil record eventually were to demonstrate these “fine, intermediate” varieties despite Darwin’s argument that this is unlikely, how would Creationists react? By accepting his theory? Be that as it may, Darwin had a bundle of other evidence for his theory, which is why a book conceived as an “abstract” is 490 pages long.

And here’s something surprising: “evolution” is used nowhere in the first edition. “Evolve” occurs just once, and that as the very final word (“evolved”).

Lastly, let’s attend to Darwin’s final words in the first edition on the concern raised above about the concept and meaning of species. He writes:
“In short, we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely artificial combinations made for convenience. This may not be a cheering prospect; but we shall at least be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable essence of the term species.”

Sometimes words are surpassed by the better authority of nature. ( )
1 vote dypaloh | Dec 29, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (102 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Darwin, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Appleman, PhilipIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beer, GillianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burrow, J. W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bynum, WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carroll, JosephEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eliot, Charles WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghiselin, Michael T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grassé, Pierre-PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hellemans, LudoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huxley, JulianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Landacre, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayr, ErnstIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peckham, MorseEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quammen, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rook, RuudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simpson, George GaylordForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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by David Quammen
On the Origin of Species is a surprising, peculiar work in many ways but among all its peculiarities my favorite is this: Seldom in the history of English prose has such a dangerous, disruptive, consequential book been so modest and affable in tone. That's because its author, Charles Darwin, was himself a modest and affable man—shy in demeanor though confident of his ideas—who meant to persuade, not to declaim or intimidate. You can hear it in his opening sentences:
When on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers.
He sounds lik a gentle uncle, clearing his throat politely, about to share a few curious observations and musings over tea.
When on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.
"It may be difficult, but we ought to admire the savage instinctive hatred of the queen-bee, which urges her to destroy the young queens, her daughters, as soon as they are born, or to perish herself in the combat; for undoubtedly this is for the good of the community; and maternal love or maternal hatred, though the latter fortunately is most rare, is all the same to the inexorable principles of natural selection."
Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.
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For the first five editions the title was “On the Origin of Species”, the sixth edition of 1872 changed the title to “The Origin of Species”.
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400102154, 1400108640

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