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Evolution's Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle Paperback – June 29, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060088788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060088781
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,106,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers familiar with how Darwin developed his theory of evolution will recognize the HMS Beagle as the ship that took him on his research expedition, but that's probably the extent of their knowledge of the vessel. Nichols (A Voyage for Madmen, etc.) fills in the gaps with this biography of Robert FitzRoy, the Beagle's second captain. In 1828, FitzRoy took command after the first captain went mad and killed himself. Picking up where his predecessor left off charting the waters off South America, FitzRoy captured several natives and brought them back to England so they could be taught the ways of Western civilization. Complications required their immediate return, and it was FitzRoy's request for a traveling companion of equal social status on this hastily planned journey that resulted in Darwin's coming aboard. Nichols, who has taught creative writing at Georgetown and NYU, picks his narrative details well, fleshing out FitzRoy's personality and his shifting relationship with Darwin (though initially friendly, the captain came to violently reject his traveling companion's scientific conclusions). The bulk of the story is devoted to FitzRoy's two missions for the Royal Navy, both of which made him a well-known figure in England. The final chapters trace his eventual downfall, though emphasizing the "dark fate" in the subtitle is rather misleading. Though the author's enthusiasm for his subject can lead to hyperbole, it'll prove hard not to share his fascination with how FitzRoy's naval career inadvertently set off a scientific controversy still flaring to this day. 8 illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

HMS Beagle set off in 1831 under the command of a promising young aristocrat, Robert Fitzroy. The expedition to map parts of the South American coast would last years, and Fitzroy eagerly desired an educated companion to help stave off the boredom and isolation that drove Fitzroy's previous captain to suicide in Tierra del Fuego. The companion chosen was an aimless student named Charles Darwin. Of course, Fitzroy's work and career were ultimately eclipsed by those of Darwin, who, at the time, represented little more than an afterthought. Nichols details Fitzroy's previous voyage to South America and presents a complicated web of cause and effect that led to the Beagle's next expedition and Darwin's participation in it, yet the book is supposed to be more a biography of the captain forgotten by history. It goes on to describe his post-Beagle career and his opposition to Darwin's developing ideas. Fitzroy's story is interesting reading, but even Nichols seems inclined to pay more attention to Darwin. Regardless, this historical account is definitely worth reading. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Peter Nichols is the author of the international bestsellers "A Voyage for Madmen" and "Evolution's Captain" and three other books of fiction, memoir, and non-fiction. He spent ten years at sea working as a professional captain and has taught creative writing at Georgetown University. NYU in Paris, and Bowdoin College. He divides his time between Europe and the United States.

"Not an unswerving literary trajectory. I've wanted to write - and to be a writer - since childhood. In my 20s I worked at writerly jobs in advertising and journalism while I wrote two unpublished novels. Then I stepped aboard a friend's yacht and my life swung away toward boats and the sea for a decade. I became, in turn, a boat bum, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed commercial captain, and a proficient navigator with sextant. Then the leaky 27-foot, engineless wooden sailboat that had been my home for 5 years, in which I'd twice crossed the Atlantic, sank near the end of my third crossing (I was alone). But I had found a subject.
I was rescued and crawled ashore in Los Angeles where, naturally, I began writing screenplays. I was fatally encouraged: I found agents and made a little money, but never saw my screenplays (they were full of leaky projects and rootless characters) turned into films. Unhappy with my screenwriting career (and my non-writing career of many jobs, including being a 'ship wrangler' in Borneo for a bad pirate movie), I fled LA to a shack in Northern California where I wrote what became a memoir of my years afloat and the twinned sinkings of my boat and first marriage (Sea Change). In the next ten years I published a novel and three more books of non-fiction - all about not so much the sea and sailors, but fringe characters who have retreated to the water's edge and have nowhere else to go.
Being published changed everything. I went fairly quickly from being a yachtie, shepherd, carpenter, ship wrangler with literary delusions to a visiting professor of creative writing at some good colleges. I've been fortunate to have wonderful students. I love teaching because I can tell young writers what it took me decades to learn - simply, that yes, you can, if you really believe in yourself and don't give up. I dreamed of becoming a writer and I became one. And if I did it, they can too."

PN, 2013

Customer Reviews

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The book is very readable and presents even difficult facts in easily understood way.
Pavel Faigl
This was bought as a gift and I only leafed through it ... The recipient was delighted and I intend to borrow the book as soon as possible.
Eileen Walker
It's actually very interesting, providing detailed information about the journey Darwin went through in his discoveries.
Jess

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on October 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Poor Robert Fitzroy has been relegated to the footnotes section of history....oh yes, wasn't he the captain of "The Beagle"? Yes he was, but he was much more. He was also a member of Parliament, a governor of New Zealand, and he founded the British government's Meteorological Office. The downside of Peter Nichols' book is he gives rather short shrift to these generally unknown aspects of Fitzroy's career. But, when Mr. Nichols is on his home turf (the ocean, if that isn't a non sequitur!), he sparkles. He is clearly most happy when discussing Fitzroy the "boy wonder" captain and surveyor. (Fitzroy was in his mid-twenties when he squired young Mr. Darwin around the world.) We can feel the ocean spray and smell the salt air. Not only that, but we really feel that we get to know Fitzroy. He was an excellent and brave captain. He cared about his men. He was also intelligent and charming. On the less pleasant side, he had a very thin skin, a bad temper, and was subject to bouts of depression. During five long years at sea Darwin got to see every facet of Fitzroy. Mr. Nichols is also fascinating when he writes about the four Fuegians that Fitzroy brought back to England...hoping to "civilize" them and bring them back to further spread British culture along the southern tip of South America. The second voyage of "The Beagle" with Fitzroy as captain was the voyage where Fitzroy brought the natives back home, and it was also the voyage with Darwin on board as naturalist. Fitzroy was a strong believer in phrenology, and initially had doubts about Darwin because of Darwin's "hooded brow and large, spatulate nose." Fortunately for science, Fitzroy was won over by Darwin's intelligence and genial personality.Read more ›
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Charting a path through the Americas, Captain Robert FitzRoy crosses paths with a young Charles Darwin, an event that affects the direction of scientific study. In 1829, Capt. FitzRoy, of the HMS Beagle, sails with Capt. Phillip Parker, of the HMS Adventure, on a survey that will enable Great Britain's complete dominance of world trade. FitzRoy has his first sighting of natives in Tierra del Fuego; he finds their primitive appearance repulsive. On their return home, FitzRoy carries four natives back to England, his specimens. It is his intention to "save" the savages, baptize them as Christians and expose them to the advantages a civilization defined by its Godliness.
By 1831, the savages are the source of constant embarrassment and it is necessary to return them to Tierra de Fuego. Finagling a commission, ostensibly to finish the survey of the Americas, FitzRoy releases the natives to their homeland. This new commission involves an extended voyage navigating the globe and FitzRoy is concerned about the years of isolation, not one to mix with those of lesser rank. The prospect of such solitude is daunting to the young captain, haunted by the history of insanity in his family.
Charles Darwin is a naturalist, the perfect choice as FitzRoy's companion. Both possess astute minds and spend hours discoursing on scientific principles. While FitzRoy surveys the rugged coastline of Tierra del Fuego, Darwin roams the countryside, gathering specimens. The trip almost flounders when the overstressed FitzRoy loses his focus, but he rallies, able to continue. By the time they reach the Falklands, Darwin is writing voluminous notes on the aberrations observed on various islands, particularly the Galapagos Islands.
Returning home, the two scientists prepare for publication.
Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By brian phillips on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Nichols does a good job of providing historical detail without descending into excessive academic drudgery. It is readable and entertaining most of the time. The author occasionally delves too deeply into a tangential detail, but just when I began to get bored, Nichols got back on track. If you like reading about sailing and exploration of the "new world", or are interested in Victorian era academic thought, or of course the origin of the "origin of species", check it out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luis Mansilla M on April 27, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I was a kid I lived in the city of Punta Arenas (Chile), in a neighbourhood known as Fitzroy. I didn't know much about this name until I read "The voyage of the Beagle" by Darwin a few years ago, and truth is the book really made an impression on me. But I was eager also to know more about captain Robert Fitzroy and especially the years he spent in the southest part of my country, surveying all the islands and having contact with the natives of this zone, either Yaghan, Ona or Alacalufe.

The life of Robert Fitzroy is so interesting and fascinating. In his first voyage he took three natives back to England and they spent two years there until the second voyage, where these natives were brought back to their "countries" and also was the moment for Darwin to accompany Fitzroy as a naturalist. The story of these yaghans, the descriptions of its life and customs, the time spent in England and how they were put back with his people make this story worthy of admiration, worthy for a PBS/BBC documentary. One of these indians lived in Navarino Island, a place my mother lived in the 1960s, in the little Chilean city of Puerto Williams -- another reason for reading this book. I can only recommend all the readers to travel to the south of Chile, you can go to Punta Arenas and from there to know the Magellan Strait, cross to Tierra del Fuego and even go to Navarine island and to know the Beagle Channel ... those are just captivating and precious landscapes., you won't be regretted.

In my opinion, Fitzroy should be known more in my country, he is part of it, and this book or another biography is for sure a pleasant reading. This book is precious, commendable for lovers of exploration and the reading is fluid. I wish I could take a course in "creative writing" with this author.
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