”I hate every wave of the ocean”, the seasick Charles Darwin wrote to his family during his five-year voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. It was this world-wide journey, however, that launched the scientists career.
The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin’s fascinating account of his trip – of his biological and geological observations and collection activities, of his speculations about the causes and theories behind scientific phenomena, of his interactions with various native peoples, of his beautiful descriptions of the lands he visited, and of his amazing discoveries in the Galapagos archipelago.
Although scientific in nature, the literary quality rivals those of John Muir and Henry Thoreau. Charles Robert Darwin, FRS (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection. Darwin published his theory with compelling evidence for evolution in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, overcoming scientific rejection of earlier concepts of transmutation of species.
By the 1870s the scientific community and much of the general public had accepted evolution as a fact. However, many favoured competing explanations and it was not until the emergence of the modern evolutionary synthesis from the 1930s to the 1950s that a broad consensus developed in which natural selection was the basic mechanism of evolution. In modified form, Darwin’s scientific discovery is the unifying theory of the life sciences, explaining the diversity of life.
Author: Charles Darwin
Narrator: Barnaby Edwards
Running Time: 25hrs 17 mins
Publisher: Audible Studios
Audible Release Date: 08/04/2013
My Rating of ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’: 5 out of 5
As a fan of science, nature and discovery in general; this book was pretty certain to tick all of the boxes that the non-fiction part of me clamours for when picking up a book. The only pitfall I thought might be present was the ‘well, this is a sciencey book written by a man who did sciencey things, therefore it might be a bit dry’.
Far from it, in fact. Darwin, had he not fancied a life of travelling the globe and discovering new and exciting things in the field of naturalism, would’ve had a fine career ahead of him as a writer. Unlike some academics, Darwin’s personality bleeds on to the page and, when he’s enjoying a thing, you can feel the enthusiasm leaping out at you. Likewise, when he’s not having the best of days, you can clearly tell. My feeling on this is that he wrote it to be read, rather than simply absorbed.
He’s excellent at setting a scene so that you feel as though you’re there with him. It was rare that I couldn’t picture what he was doing or where he was. He also had very vivid anecdotes (my favourite of which was him standing upon a tortoise’s shell … only to be unseated as it got up and toddled off with its human rider quickly losing his balance).
Darwin doesn’t simply recount his findings in exhaustive detail, he recounts his experiences alongside them. A good part of each chapter is spent not only talking about his surroundings and the animals/plant species he finds there, but the people he meets and travels with. It’s very much a snapshot of the world as it was rather than simply a codex of facts and educational insights. The perfect educational travelogue if ever there was one.
I think my only slight criticism is that, due to my not being a scholar and knowing a lot of the species mentioned, it was easy to get a bit bogged down in places. Thankfully, a quick google image search sorts out the mystery that would otherwise of lingered around such things as ‘Well, it was quite clear to see how <species one> looked remarkably similar to <species two> and even had features reminiscent of <species three>’ but that is by far more a failing on my part than Darwin’s. He obviously wrote this to be enjoyed, but to be mostly read by those who’d know what he was cracking on about. He did not foresee a future where Joe Average picked it up and tried to hold on for dear life.
The narration was glorious. Baranaby Edwards’ voice (what one might describe as a ‘well-educated, aristocratic English accent’) suited this far too well. I found that his reading pace was a tad slow (I never listen to anything at any speed other than 1.0. but for this I had it turned up to 1.25 just to make it feel like a decent speaking pace).
If you have the urge to dive into the past and witness the discoveries and, most of all, the journey that shot Charles Darwin to the heights of scientific fame he still enjoys, this is well worth picking up.