It's hard to talk about The Origin of Species
without making statements that seem overwrought and fulsome. But it's true: this is indeed one of the most important and influential books ever written, and it is one of the very few groundbreaking works of science that is truly readable.
To a certain extent it suffers from the Hamlet problem--it's full of clichés! Or what are now clichés, but which Darwin was the first to pen. Natural selection, variation, the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest: it's all in here.
Darwin's friend and "bulldog" T.H. Huxley said upon reading the Origin, "How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that." Alfred Russel Wallace had thought of the same theory of evolution Darwin did, but it was Darwin who gathered the mass of supporting evidence--on domestic animals and plants, on variability, on sexual selection, on dispersal--that swept most scientists before it. It's hardly necessary to mention that the book is still controversial: Darwin's remark in his conclusion that "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history" is surely the pinnacle of British understatement. --Mary Ellen Curtin
From Publishers Weekly
Costa, professor of biology at Western Carolina University, does a wonderful job of annotating Darwin's groundbreaking classic On the Origin of Species.
In more than 900 notes, he explains, expands, contextualizes and updates much of what Darwin had to say about evolution and its causes. For example, throughout the Origin
, Darwin briefly referenced many informants; Costa provides background information on each of those individuals. He also directs readers to places in Darwin's earlier writings that presage points made in the Origin
. When discussing what Darwin terms [o]rgans of extreme perfection and complication, he focused on the evolution of the vertebrate eye. Costa explains the logic Darwin used and how modern biological studies have supported Darwin's contentions, concluding that his insight underlies modern phylogenetic reconstruction. In a brief Coda, Costa summarizes the changes Darwin made to the Origin
in its six editions and the reasons for them. Costa's thoughtful and informative notes enable readers to gain a much fuller appreciation for Darwin's genius and breadth of knowledge—a fine tribute in the great scientist's bicentennial year. (May)
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