Customer Reviews: The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809-1882
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on January 1, 2003
Don't be put off by the rather grim portrait of Darwin that adorns this edition -and be aware that there are SEVERAL editions of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY, including a somewhat "censored" one in which Darwin's wife took out bits that she didn't like -perhaps the most interesting editions are the ones that put these bits back in but italicize or bold them so that you can get a sense of what wasn't "proper" in Emma's mind. This is by no means a definitive Life of Darwin (for that I strongly encourage you to read Janet Brown's excellent 2 part series)but it does give us a gentle portrait of Darwin as he saw himself in late middle age, and it has provided lots of grist for the historians & psychohistorians in their speculations about what Darwin felt about religion, his parents, etc. For my part it only reinforces my impression of a truly wonderful man who was constantly puzzled in a pleasant way with the diversity of life & living, and while he may have had personal demons to grapple with (don't we all?) he was still able to enjoy both his science and his friends and his family. It is primarily this enjoyment that I walk away with after reading this book. Oh yes, the grim portrait on the cover. I doubt that Darwin thought of himself like that, he was FUN, and I think he mostly HAD fun, apart from the periodic bouts with illness. My favorite "portrait" of Darwin is the fantasy picture of young Chas "hanging out" in high top sneakers that adorns Phil Darlington's too-long-out-of-print EVOLUTION FOR NATURALISTS.
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on February 8, 2000
I enjoyed reading the autobiography. It is written in a simple and straightforward manner; the human side of the author emerges from the text clearly. Darwin was a simple man and an eminent scientist; there was nothing complex about him. He loved what he did for science and naturally wanted to be recognised for his contributions. Evolution was in the air in his time but probably not the way he presented it. He was responsible for formulating the concept of 'natural selection' which makes a whole deal of difference in the theory of evolution. As a scientist, he felt vulnerable perhaps like Newton who did not like to get embroiled in controversies and disputes with Robert Hooke and others. Newton refrained from publishing his work for a long period of time in order to avoid scientific disputes which however muddled the priority claim, later on, with Leibniz for the development of 'calculs'. Darwin hated to deal directly with similar situations such as the argument with Butler. Darwin depended on the advice of his family and friends for handling the argument with Butler. Curiously, however, a dispute on priority of developing the concept of natural selection that could have arisen with Wallace did not happen and both of them (Darwin and Wallace) stayed friends through out their lives. According to Reveal et al: "The story of interrelationship between the two men over their professional careers is one of gentlemanly: Darwin, the Country squire, living off inherited wealth and sound investments on a small estate working leisurely in the pursuit of evolution, and Wallace, the committed socialist, saved ultimately from abject poverty by Darwin and his friends who arranged a Crown pension, laboring seemingly forever in other's shadow".
REFERENCE "The Darwin - Wallace 1858 Evolution Paper", Introduction, prepared by James L. Reveal, Paul J. Bottino, and Charles F. Delviche, Mohammad A. Gill
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on March 31, 2003
A small book which covers a range of issues unknown to those who only got a glimpse of the man Charles Darwin trough his Origin of Species book. The background for the Origin of Species is all there : the influences he got from many people on his frame of mind and on his very particular way of thinking and of experimenting with things, the convivial relationship he had with some of the greatest men of his time, Herbert Spencer included, the love of hunting he later hesitatingly abandoned, the love his sisters devoted to him and the difficult relationship he had with his authoritarian (and rich) father, rich to a point that Charles knew that he never would have to fight for his own survital,etc...
It is interesting to know, for instance, that the first answer he got from his father Robert when Charles asked for his permission to the famous Beagle voyage was a resounding NO. And amazing as it seems, Charles in no way was against his father decision. Were not for the help of his beloved uncle, brother of his father, who was very much in favor of the trip and convinced Charles'father to revert his earlier decision, the world would wait some more time for his revolutionary theory of the evolution of the species trough Natural selection of the fittest.
A very interesting book, which has value added to it by the many letters included as appendices that treat on many interesting issues of Charles' life: the so-called Butler controversy, the letters refering to the first refusal of Charles Darwins father to his Beagle voyage and many others. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
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on March 24, 2007
The man had a sense of humour and did not, apparently, take himself as deadly serious as some of his modern proselytes do.
By which I do not want to imply any basic anti-Darwinism on my part, but a certain allergy to dogmatic hair splitting, noticed when reading some current discussions of Mr.Darwin's legacy.
The best parts of the book, for me, are those where he light-handedly defines his relation to predecessors, influencers, peers and successors, like e.g. his grandfather Erasmus Darwin (and his version of evolution), or Thomas Malthus (on populations and selection pressure), like Alfred Wallace, who co-fathered the theory of evolution by natural selection (and whose Malay Archipelago is my favorite travel book of all times), or like Herbert Spencer (the man about 'social Darwinism'), with whom CD disagrees completely.
I also like CD's thoughts on religion. One moment he defines himself as a definite atheist (regarding a personal interfering god), which surprised me, I did not think he was so clear about that. But then, next page, he backtracks and calls himself a theist in some other way of looking at things (the preceding intelligence). Then somehow he concludes that he is an agnostic. Sound attitude.
He does not really spend awfully much time and effort on this memoir, and that determines the easygoing character of this highly readable book. A must for all who are interested in 'the meaning of life'.
This edition by N.Barlow adds back some texts which had been purged by the family for this or that reason. That is a good thing. Unfortunately she also adds the whole dreary controversy called the Darwin-Butler disagreement, which is wholly superfluous.
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on October 25, 2004
A great book both for its autobiographical voice (Darwin is surprisingly funny, especially when he describes his young life) and for the lovely extras Barlow, a descendent, has added. My personal favorite part, and one of the funniest, is the letter written by Darwin's uncle in his behalf to convince Darwin's father that letting him go on the Beagle won't be a waste. As we see the many difficulties of a guy who was, in his youth, a slacker, a major-jumper (so to speak) and a spendthrift, we wonder if maybe we aren't making to stiff a criterion for the

It's fun to think about to what degree Darwin's greatness (or influence) would have been predicted, whether he was just a product of the time, and how a man can spend his life describing and defending a boat trip he took in his 20s.
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on April 2, 2011
Not bad, but be warned, this is the version censored by Darwin's son Frank. Some great and hilarious bits of commentary have been removed.
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VINE VOICEon July 13, 2010
This review is for The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809-1882, 224 pages, which is erroneously connected to at least two other versions that are not equivalent, namely the 62 page paperback put out by CreateSpace, and the Kindle version, which states it is edited by his son, Francis Darwin (the bowdlerized edition).

The most important thing to know about this edition of the autobiography of Charles Darwin is that it is the edition that contains the entire autobiography. Most editions of the autobiography, especially those edited by his son Francis Darwin, were bowdlerized by his family, removing sections that could be seen as far too controversial for his day, especially on the issue of religion. The version by Penguin, 128 pages, which Amazon identifies as a newer edition of this volume, may be the unedited version, but I cannot tell the exact differences, since I do not own that one. I did search it for certain passages that are normally not present in the autobiographies, and they seem to be present in the Penguin edition, but at about 100 pages shorter than the Norton edition, at least some extras are missing.

This edition, edited by his granddaughter Nora Barlow, first made available the complete autobiography in 1959, a full century after the publication of his seminal work, "On the Origin of Species."

Other items in the Norton edition: letters between Charles and other family members, namely his wife, Emma; notes jotted down by Darwin on various things, some quite humorous, such as his evaluation of the pros and cons of getting married; the controversy between Darwin and Samuel Butler on the nature of evolution.

If one wants to read the autobiography, the Norton edition is the definitive edition, with the Penguin edition being a possible alternative. If one wants instead to read an authoritative scholarly biography of his life, select the two volume edition published through Princeton University Press by the Darwin scholar and historian of science, Janet Browne of Harvard. Those may be found here: Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 1 - Voyaging and Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 2 - The Power of Place. All other Darwin biographies are inferior.
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on February 6, 2015
This book is not what I ordered. This is an abridged version edited by Darwin's son Francis. I ordered the original version by his granddaughter Nora Barlow. To me, it's not worth the hassle to figure out how to correct this mistake.
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on August 23, 2008
This reprint of Francis Darwin's edition of the Autobiography is not the full version, but is fascinating nonetheless. Francis omitted some passages in deference to his mother, Darwin's widow Emma, who marked passages that she did not want published. (Interested readers can go to Nora Barlow's 20th century edition of the Autobiography for the full text). Francis Darwin's reminiscences of his father's working habits and "everyday life" (chapter 4) are wonderful. Chapters 5-18 are largely chronologically arranged extracts from Darwin's letters with Francis's commentary.
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on October 9, 2005
Even if this book weren't entertainingly written it would be an absolutely necessary read for anyone who wanted to understand Darwin the man. It IS entertaining, though, and you see a delightful sense of humor peaking through on the page. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read it almost at one sitting.

Charles Gramlich

Author of "Cold in the Light."
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