779 of 798 people found the following review helpful
The original book by Charles Darwin is a classic that should be on everyone's reading list. There are ample reviews here which address it, praise it, and I am completely in agreement with them. Darwin's Origin of Species is a true masterpiece.
Unfortunately, this review is to help readers/buyers realize that there is a 'vandalized' version which has been published, and to tell you how to avoid it and get the real thing.
To explain; there is yet another edition also called "The Origin of Species, 150th Anniversary Edition", put out by Christian Fundamentalist Ray Comfort in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theory and Charles Darwin, and it has some extra 50 pages of unintelligible drivel about creationism, as well as having ABRIDGED Darwin's original text. If you want to read about creationism, find another book... if you want the facts, read ALL of what Darwin has to say, and please don't give any money to Comfort by accidentally buying his ABRIDGED version.
Note that he used the EXACT same name as the 'real' anniversary edition -- "The Origin Of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition by Charles Darwin". You can easily tell which version you're getting by who wrote the introduction - go with Julian Huxley, NOT Ray Comfort, and you'll have the correct and complete version.
Also, note that Amazon reviews are mixed between the books (normally not a problem at all) - I hope they are straightening this out, but currently that's not the case. Sadly, the negative reviews of the Comfort version are bringing down the rating of the 'good/real' book.
Sorry to have to write about the 'drama', but I'm sure you want to know that you have ordered the correct book, and I know you'll love it.
78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2010
My four-star rating is more for this particular product than for the work of Darwin itself. Clearly Darwin's book is the cornerstone of modern biology, and I won't even pretend to try to rate its importance using one to five stars.
However, I felt it was important to let people know that this is the *sixth* edition of the book. I ordered it thinking it was the first, although I admit I had no reason to believe that other than that it did not specify that it was any other edition. The main problem with later editions is that Darwin continually responded to his critics in subsequent editions, thus changing some aspects of his theory. He also added the obnoxious concession "by the Creator" to his beautiful final sentence in order to appease the religious critics. The sixth (final) edition even has an extra chapter in response to criticisms by Catholic biologist George Mivart (which chapter is present in this edition, thus proving it is the sixth edition).
The benefit to later editions would be that they contain minor corrections to the writing, as well as these answers to objections and criticism, but at the same time I don't feel that Darwin's answers needed to be added to the book itself. "The Origin" should simply present his theory (as the first edition does) and he could easily have answered his critics in other ways and not by editing the actual theory itself.
But to reiterate my main point, I am not reviewing the actual work of Darwin. I am posting this review to inform people of which edition they are getting with this particular book, because I wish I had known in advance.
Edit: I should add that the copy I received did not have the same cover as what is displayed here. My copy shows a bird, a wildcat, and a dolphin on the cover. The cover shown on the product page at the time of writing is of a ship. However, my copy is still the 150th Anniversary Edition (Signet Classics) with an introduction by Julian Huxley.
124 of 158 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2007
I read this book after discussing "intelligent design" with someone. It had never has occurred to me that the theory and facts of evolution wouldn't be more compelling to someone than Bible myth that wasn't intended to teach science at all.
Darwin's writing style can be awkward. He is working with a lot of facts to try to discern some laws. It isn't easy material to begin with. After a long delay of collecting evidence and formulating ideas, he was in a hurry to publish and may have skipped a useful rewrite to increase readability. He is clearly not adverse to long sentences.
Nevertheless, he does present himself clearly and in an exemplary manner for a scientist. He packs his presentation with supportive facts. He presents tentative laws to explains what he observed and then sees how well this explain the data he had collected. He points out his assumptions, raises doubts about them and responds sincerely to those doubts.
As can be seen in this book, Charles Darwin was scientific, inquiring, open, honest, and genuinely concerned about advancing human knowledge about the natural world.
It is surprising, as Darwin explains, how much can be accounted for given sufficient time (millions of years, not 5000, as scientific dating methods show), given small variations within any single generation and given conditions of scarcity. Darwin recognized that what may be hardest of us to accept is that we can not see the cumulative changes that took those millions of years to occur. He does make an effort to explain why the fossil record has gaps for which intermediate forms of life are missing. He also explains that grouping life into species is just a scientific convention and that the apparent fixed form of species can be explained by consistent conditions on earth over long periods of time (such that new variations aren't selected).
Darwin does, both to identify a regularity and to make reading smoother , reify the process of "natural selection". "Natural selection" should be understood as the complement to "artificial selection" or variation under domestication, which Darwin considers first as such selection influenced by humans was well known. There is no one doing natural selection, but rather it is process that some variations are able to survive under certain conditions which they themselves cannot be aware of in advance. It is the considerable variation that occurs which enables life in some form at all to go on for so many million of years while other forms become existence.
That Darwin was able to formulate the laws he did prior to the science of genetics is a tribute to his skills and to the science involved.
It is a work that makes me proud to be a human being and grateful to Charles Darwin. Anyone who thinks evolution is incompatible with their religious beliefs should read this book and then realize that they have misunderstood the spirit of the portions of the Bible they believe conflict with Darwin's and science's great contribution to us.
If there is a Christian God, you should feel certain He will have a special place close to Him in heaven for Charles Darwin.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2011
Many, if not most, non-fiction works do not age well, as further evidence is brought and the theories exposed are refined. And this is perfectly normal, in the usual course of science: theories are made to shift, to adapt in order to best model what they were intended to.
Yet Darwin's "The Origin Of Species" is one of the very few truly visionary works. Darwin has laid the foundations of the only process known in nature capable of creating information ; the closest we'll ever get to violating the second law of thermodynamics. His work is today more actual than ever.
However, for a non-scientific audience, I would suggest reading a more thouroughly explained book, such as Dawkins' "The Greatest Show On Earth", in order not to fall into fallacies such as the claims that "it is just a theory", etc.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2012
For someone who has a great fascination for the theory of evolution (despite being a Software Engineer) I realized that it's unacceptable, not to mention a little hypocritical that I had yet not read On the Origin of Species by the great man Charles Darwin. Yes I had devoted a lot of time to learn the theory which is how I was captivated by the simple elegance of the theory, but I needed to read the original work itself. After all, I believe, nay, I am sure of it, that this is one of the most profound ideas in the history of mankind and I was curious what the actual work was like. I was pretty sure it was going to be a lot complex.
I was in for a surprise though.
For one of the greatest books ever written, On the Origin of Species is also remarkably simple. So much so that I am pretty sure any fifteen year old kid who has had a reasonable education should not have a problem understanding it. Darwin never goes into complex stuff, instead he tries to explain with evidence the phenomena you see all around you. It's simple, it's also enjoyable.
Also, contrary to popular belief there is very little about human evolution in it as well. If fact, there is only one line, but I also think it is the best line in the whole book;
"Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history."
Cheeky, witty and brilliant.
I highly recommend everyone read this book.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2010
When it comes to subjects like biology and medicine, I am an absolute moron. I only barely avoided failing the one and only biology class I ever took, thanks to an absurd amount of extra-credit outside reading assignments and a science fair project that I still don't understand. I can never remember if DNA is made out of chromosomes or the other way around. Same with proteins and amino acids. I'm not a generally stupid person, but I do recognize my limits: biological matters are opaque to me.
It was with the hope of redeeming myself that I read "The Origin of Species". I felt that, if I could read and somewhat comprehend probably the most influential and controversial book ever written on biology, then I might once again be able to present myself in modern society without wearing a veil.
"The Origin of Species" sold out its entire first printing on the day of publication in 1859, largely because of its expected controversial contents. Darwin had written and spoken on such subjects for years, so the public anticipated some pretty scandalous stuff. The book is still considered controversial for several reasons. First, the theory that it presents appears to contradict the Biblical account of creation. (I say "appears" because it doesn't really. Anyone who genuinely believes in a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis, as opposed to a metaphorical interpretation, must necessarily also believe that Jesus actually was a door, a shepherd, a vine, a light, and a loaf of bread, which rather diminishes his or her credibility.) Second, it seems to contradict common sense ideas of inheritance: how can the offspring of a horse be anything but another horse? Third, it's kind of icky: we're essentially the same kind of things as slugs and worms: e[...] Fourth, it brings up uncomfortable ethical issues: if we're essentially the same kind of thing as the contents of a Happy Meal, how do we justify being the eaters and not the eatees? Finally, it's hard to comprehend that it's all true, in much the same way that it's hard to comprehend that we are all really blizzards of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
The book is very different from any science book I've ever read. Darwin is not lecturing from the podium of an auditorium. He's your learned friend sitting in the easy chair next to yours, probably in front of a cheerful fire after a nice dinner, telling you about some really interesting things he's seen and ideas he's had. Much of it is written in first person, which is very refreshing and personal.
It's clear that Darwin is multiple kinds of a genius. He's a lucid writer, with concise and telling expressions: he never uses two words if there's a single better one. He's also a gifted experimenter. He refers in many places to decades of clever experiments he's done with pigeons, bees, ants, grass, flowers, and other organisms, and you get the definite impression that these are only the tip of the iceberg of his accomplishments. Besides his deliberate experiments, he's also an amazing observational naturalist. He alludes to many things that he himself has witnessed, not only on his famous voyage around South America, but also on trips around England and Europe. In addition, he's an exhaustive and thorough researcher. The first part of the book is a review of everything (and I mean everything) written to that point on the subject. It's obvious that he's read everything available on the topic. Finally, he is an active correspondent with everyone doing related work or research at the time. He quotes the research and observations of numerous others, from some of the most famous scientists of his time to ordinary farmers who raise crops and animals for a living.
He begins by discussing the variations possible among members of the same species that are easily observable and are obviously deliberate, namely among domesticated animals and plants. This makes it clear that significant differences within a species are possible during only a few generations. This is what he calls "selection": deliberately choosing animals and plants for definite features, and encouraging these features.
He then expands his view to look at variation within nature, outside domestication. This allows him to bring up "natural selection": the conditions of nature favoring certain features over others. Organisms with good features are more likely to survive and reproduce. Organisms with bad features are unlikely to reproduce, and may become extinct.
Darwin packs a lot into his writing. His sentences are fireworks. Practically every one explodes off the page as a condensation of vast amounts of detailed research, or the statement of an amazing observation or theory. He consistently refers to this book as a "sketch," because he feels that he is not presenting all the detail he could on each point. But this is a sketch in the sense that Michelangelo's David is a rock. There is a vast and astonishing amount of detail in this book. Indeed, for me to say that I have "read" this book is not accurate. To truly appreciate this book, you would have to read one of his blockbuster sentences, then go off and contemplate its significance for hours, days, or weeks. In that sense, I have really only skimmed this book.
This is not dry theory, by any means. The wealth of practical examples he offers is amazing. I have to repeat one bit of reasoning about how the population of cats in an area affects how many flowers there are. Ready? The more cats there are, the fewer mice there are. Since mice gnaw on beehives and bother the bees, the fewer the mice, the more active the bees can be in the area. The more active the bees, the more pollen they can spread. And the more pollen they spread, the more flowers bloom. So, the more cats, the more flowers. Is that great?
Moron that I am in biology, I was surprised to find that there were things I know that Darwin didn't. He didn't know about Mendel's laws of inheritance, for example. Truth be told, I don't remember what these are, but I know that there are such laws, and Darwin didn't. I often found myself wishing that I could tell him about Mendel, DNA, radioactive dating of geological strata, mass extinctions, continental drift, and other topics.
One consequence of this for me, the biology moron, is that this book is pitched at just the right level to not lose me. He talks about animals and plants, things that even I can relate to. He doesn't - because he can't - delve into the biochemical stuff that always loses me. His writing is always concrete.
Having established his theory, and the usefulness of this theory in explaining the variety we observe in nature, Darwin brings up the difficulties of his own theory. This is the mark of the true scientist, as opposed to the partisan promoter. He recognizes that there are difficulties, and doesn't sweep them under the rug. Among the problems he discusses are the lack of fossils of in-between forms, how sterile insects can pass on their features, how complex organs (like eyes) come about, where complicated instinctive behaviors come from, and how similar species get distributed globally. In what I've read elsewhere, I've never seen a criticism of his theory that Darwin himself did not anticipate and address here.
Here's something interesting. I didn't notice the word "evolution" anywhere, for which I am grateful. I think that "evolution" is a terrible label for his theory of descent by natural selection. "Evolution" implies that something - some thing - is changing, which is not true. No animal changes into another animal. No dinosaur changes into a bird, no wolf changes into a Pekingese, no monkey changes into a human. The word "evolution" gives the wrong connotation entirely.
In the end, the book is absolutely convincing. The wealth of examples that Darwin presents, and the clarity and thoroughness of his discussion of his ideas, is compelling and persuasive. It's hard to imagine someone reading this book and saying, "Yeah, but." I am tempted to sum up by saying that a person either accepts the theory of natural selection or they have not read this book. And I now have that nifty cat story to tell at cocktail parties.