on June 3, 2000
There is only one reason to read "On the Origin of Species" -- to discover how Darwin himself first articulated the most revolutionary scientific theory of all time. And to achieve this purpose there is only one means -- to read his original argument, set forth with the greatest force, clarity, and brevity in that very first edition published in 1859. So, unless you happen to have the $$$ to buy an actual first edition, this facsimile of the first edition is the *only* way to read Darwin: all other paperback "Origins" publish Darwin's latest edition.
But even if you are not interested in the history of biology (scoundrel!), and you think you'll learn complete evolutionary theory from the "Origin" (fool!), you should get this edition -- and *not* later ones. Darwin's later editions of the "Origin" contain many errors that are not found in the original edition, including especially a progressive weakening of his original argument (evolution by natural selection) by the importation of Lamarckism (evolution by the inheritance of acquired characters). In these later editions, Darwin had been convinced by blockhead, mystical *physicists* that his *geology* was wrong (as if!), so he had to speed up the timing of everything, which meant smuggling in Lamarckism.
Last, this volume contains an introduction from one of the most charming biologists and philosophers of all time -- Ernst Mayr. This intro alone is worth the price of the book.
on January 7, 2003
NOTE that this is a review of the Harvard University Press facsimile of the first edition of "On the Origin of Species" (intro by Ernst Mayr). This is NOT a commentary on Darwin's text.
I blithely bought and began reading the Modern Library's "Origin", then came across this facsimile of the first edition in the library. Hmm, I wondered. I used the quotations in the front of my copy to deduce that I was reading the sixth (and last) edition, rather than the first. While that, too, has its considerable interest in illustrating the twists and turns of Darwin's thought during those years, the evolution revolution was made by the first edition. As Ernst Mayr says in his introduction, "When we go back to the Origin, we want the version that stirred up the Western world, the first edition." Besides which, if one is going to do any historical research, one needs this edition, for contemporary references use the first edition's pagination.
But most importantly, this is the firstborn of Darwin's mind, long gestating, and contains his most confident and positive statement of his thesis. He had tried to anticipate all the major objections to his theory and answer them preemptively here. Still, at the time of this writing he had no critics, so the tone and content display none of that waffling that mar, to a certain extent, the final edition.
This volume was put together in 1964, and Ernst Mayr's introduction dates from that time. It is a good historical introduction to Darwin and his contribution, and some more specific remarks on the first edition, its general approach and some of its path-breaking arguments. Also included in the extra matter is a bibliography of Darwin's published works, plus current works on evolution, as of 1964. There is also a quite comprehensive index of the text, which should make the book considerably more usable to us than it was to Darwin's original readers.
My only gripe is that Harvard University Press only offers a paperback, although it used to have a hardcover edition. The paperback version is readable enough at 5.5 by 8.2 inches, yet it's too thick for its size, and, while definitely not of poor quality, vulnerable to the binding breakage typical of the breed, so serious scholars of the work might find themselves literally pulling it apart. For you and me, though, it should be just fine.
on May 14, 1999
A group of my students and I read this book this semester. During the discussion period for the final chapter, one of the students said, "I cried. This was the best book I have ever read." On the other hand, another student expressed great disappointment with the book. Another student quipped, "There weren't enough examples about pigeons." All in all, this book provides excellent food for thought today, just as it did 140 years ago when it was first published. I found Darwin's insights and synthesis of ideas, based on the accumulation of carefully collected observations combined with intellectual leaps to be inspiring. There are flaws in portions of the book to be sure, but this is a book that all biologists and biology students should have a chance to read and discuss. When you read it, make sure you read the entire book, discuss it with a friend or two as you read, and you can look forward to a perfect conclusion to this paradigm shifting book that continues to influence modern biological thought.
on December 20, 2005
Many love to read science whether it is the newest technological innovations for high definition TV's or we expose to learn more about the unified field theory or String Theory. Science leaves us with alot to explore. What is the scientific equivalent of Shakespeare's Folio's? Or perhaps Cervante's-Don Quioxte's? Many scientist may say Darwin's-Origin of Species. This fascimilie of the 1st edition which is full of elegent prose and vivid descriptions and analogies while later editions are less decisive and espouse more questions than answers is the edition to read. Which is a dated romantic language. So arguably the most important text written in English is also easy to read and understand with little thought primarily to Darwin clear use of prose. It is a book that has been most heavily criticised since its inception and publication in November 29, 1859 but it is now gaining the long overdue momentum accorded the works of Copernicus and Newton. Just bring your imagination along for the splendid ride.
on December 26, 2005
Charles Darwin rushed his Origin to press when he became aware that he would be pre-empted with the theory of natural selection by Alfred Russell Wallace. In the course of the following few years he reviewed the manuscript thorougly at least twice. The Third edition is generally the standard. This facsimilie may be interesting for historical reasons, but I recommend the edition with Jilian Huxeley's introduction.
Many people assume that Darwin's initial account of natural selection is so out of date that it is to be avoided in favour of more recent text books of evolutionary theory. While it is true that huge gains have been made in the one and a half centuries since the first publication of "The Origin", there is nothing in this work which is wrong. Darwin was too good a scientist and too cautious.
Some claim that Darwin admitted of the possibility of Lamarkian mechanisms. They have not read the original. Darwin knew nothing of the molecular basis of genetics, but knew that natural selection did not need a Lamarkian mechanism. He simply did not rule it out, although he found it improbable. Everything that is stated in this great classic is as true today as it was at the time of first publication.
It is also said that Charles Darwin was a lesser intellectual when compared to most other great names of science; that he was a plodder, a naturalist, a sort of gentleman stamp collector who pressed flowers into his books and barely a scientist in the contemporary sense. This is nonsense. Darwin was one of the giants of rigorous systematic thinking; the kind of rigorous thinking and critical attitude that asks the right questions and provides the capacity to answer them. Let me buttress this claim with one example.
At the end of chapter six Darwin noted that the theory of natural selection could not account for structures or behaviors found in one species that exist solely for the benefit of another unrelated species. In setting out the theoretical terms for the refutation of the theory in this way, he anticipated Karl Popper, that analytical non-nonsense philosopher of science, by more than a century.
I recommend you read this book with an attentive curious analytical mind. You will find yourself walking in the footsteps of an intellectual giant.
on November 13, 2002
A lot of unanswered questions of Darwin's age have been answered today, but still one does not fail to see the genius behind the logical derivations and counterweighted arguments.
In this edition, Darwin expresses himself much more boldly than in the later editions, when he was countered and threatened by the dogmatic religious groups simply because it doesn't support 'their' theory.
(This is for the anti-theorists) A theory is always a theory, it can't be proven like a mathematical formula, it may have gaps in understanding, it may not be able to explain everything under the sun, but that does NOT provide a good reason to throw the whole theory out. For the ones attentive to the nuances, it is NOT a hypothesis, it's a theory, and in spite of not being provable by deductive logic, this provides a good insight on how the species might have evolved, and very interestingly, the role of mankind in it.
One of the reason behind my liking this book is that the author is aware of the weak areas and mentioned what kind of proofs (fossils and the like) would substanciate the theory, and in many cases such pieces of proof were found much afterwards. The book is really a masterpiece.
on December 6, 2001
In the 1st edition of Origin, Darwin makes bolder statements that in later editions are watered down, undermined, or simply omitted. Read the original to find out why this is such an important work, why it created such a stir at the time, and why Darwin earned a place in our consciousness. Should be required reading of any student of life sciences. A little long and wordy for a popular audience, perhaps, but well worth the effort. Be sure to read The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, as well.
on May 2, 2014
I've been happy with this Harvard Paperbacks facsimile of the first edition, but my reason for posting a review is not to endorse one publisher's version over another but to encourage you to read at least some version of the original Darwin.
First, this is a much easier read than one might imagine. It's true that any book from 150 years ago is going to have a different style, but Darwin's subject is very interesting and he's a master of it.
Second, this book is interesting and informative. Before reading it I had imagined Darwin as some sort of "arm-chair philosopher," some guy who sat around speculating on how the various animals and plants got here. Not so. Darwin was a serious biologist who corresponded with other biologists all over the world. Consequently, his book is rich with anecdotes. For example, he crawled around on Scottish highlands and discovered that what appeared to be fields covered with weeds also had 25-year-old trees that nobody ever noticed because the sheep were nibbling off the tops. When he fenced off some areas, lo and behold the area was soon populated by trees.
Third, Darwin's is not anti-religion. Many people imagine he was some sort of antichrist, but the truth is he was a deeply religious Christian and a solid creationist. He himself was more appalled by the implications of his theory than we can imagine today. Remember, he didn't even know about Mendel's law of combination, much less the germ theory of disease or DNA. When he figured out that Nature was doing the same thing the selective breeders of his day were doing, and realized that "natural selection" could fully explain the origins of different species, he was as shocked as anybody at the ramifications.
Fourth, the intellectual honesty is astonishing. These days we only see partisan presentations of issues like Climate Change. If you read a book supporting it, you'll only find arguments supporting it. Conversely, if you read a book debunking it, you'll only see arguments against it. In contrast, Darwin tried to break his own ideas. He devotes an entire chapter to "Difficulties on Theory" where he not only raises the questions that he thinks might be the most troublesome, he admits that certain discoveries could be fatal to his theory. For example, on page189 he writes, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organism existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." The book is full of similar statements, which I find very refreshing.
In summary, this is an excellent book, almost timeless in its clarity and elegance. I thought it might be too dense or complex, but I found it a surprisingly easy read. Try it.
on July 16, 2015
The perfect edition for someone who wants to read Darwins original thoughts. Great book to have and should be read by everyone . Easy to read, but you will notice many sentences going on for a paragraph or two, so re-reading is a must.
This is a quick review of the book not a dissertation on Darwin or any other subject loosely related. At first I did not know what to expect. I already read " The Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches". I figured the book would be similar. However I found "Origin" to be more complex and detailed.
Taking in account that recent pieces of knowledge were not available to Charles Darwin this book could have been written last week. Having to look from the outside without the knowledge of DNA or Plate Tectonics, he pretty much nailed how the environment and crossbreeding would have an effect on natural selection. Speaking of natural selection, I thought his was going to be some great insight to a new concept. All it means is that species are not being mucked around by man (artificial selection).
If you picked up Time magazine today you would find all the things that Charles said would be near impossible to find or do. Yet he predicted that it is doable in theory. With an imperfect geological record many things he was not able to find at the writing of this book have been found (according to the possibilities described in the book.)
The only draw back to the book was his constant apologizing. If he had more time and space he could prove this and that. Or it looks like this but who can say at this time. Or the same evidence can be interpreted 180 degrees different.
In the end it is worth reading and you will never look at life the same way again.