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Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870 Hardcover – 24 Apr 2008

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'… the letters remind us of the sheer brilliance of the man … Darwin commented that 'If any man wants to gain a good opinion of his fellow men, he ought to do what I am doing, pester them with letters'. The judicious choice of letters presented … reveal the truth of Darwin's statement, as his personality and trains of thought are revealed. His geniality, thoroughness and tenacity as he progressed as a scientist also shine through. Furthermore the letters offer a wider insight into the development of science at a key moment in history. … highly recommended.' Biologist

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A unique piece of publishing containing letters written to and by Darwin, charting his struggle to have his theories accepted. With a Foreword by Sir David Attenborough and incorporating previously unpublished material, readers experience a first-hand insight into some of the most intense and productive years of Darwin's life.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Commemorative Collection of Darwin Letters 22 Aug. 2008
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
2009 is the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species." To mark these important dates, Cambridge University Press is publishing three new or augmented collections of Darwin letters drawn from the fantastic Darwin Correspondence Project's resources. The first or "Origins" collection (covering 1822-1859) has long been in print (I reviewed it a while ago on Amazon), but this new edition has some additional childhood Darwin letters. The second is this volume which covers the period of 1860-1870. The final or "Beagle Letters" is edited by the wonderful Janet Browne, the premier biographer of CD. Obviously, since Darwin supposedly had 2,000 correspondents, these volumes can only reprint a few morsels from the extensive collection held at the Darwin Correspondence Project which recently put 5,000 CD letters on line covering the period just up to 1865. So, the skill of the editors in selecting the best letters is paramount.

I found that letters once again are the best way to gain insight into an individual for reasons I have expressed in other reviews (Henry Adams, e.g.). These letters cover the decade after publication of the "Origin" and the correspondence is flying hot and heavy. Darwin emerges from these letters as even more remarkable than we might think. Despite continuing illness, he labors away. He apparently is interested in anything and everything having to do with life and the earth: plants; animals; age of the planet; expressions; do chimps have hair on the their backs; how do insects attract mates, and on and on it goes. He is uniformly patient in responding to hostile (and foolish) letters. He writes extensively to his network of supporters (Hooker and Huxley in particular) as they face continuing opposition to his theories in public meetings, periodicals and books. He seems never to have lost his temper and continues to write, write and write ("Variations" and the "Descent" for example). One sees, as Browne points out in her biography, how critical the superb British postal service was to Darwin who seldom ventured outside his home in Kent.

The editors' selection of letters is almost flawless. The book is printed on outstanding glossy paper, and contains some helpful annotations (though probably more would have been helpful); an extremely valuable "Biographical register" with mini-biographies of most of the individuals whose letters we are reading or whom are referenced in the letters; a "Bibliography of biographical sources"; and an exhaustive index. I can think of no commemoration of CD that would have pleased him more than these fine volumes, edited and produced with the utmost care and scholarship.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Darwin's 200th Birthday Celebration! 21 Oct. 2008
By David N. Campbell - Published on
Format: Hardcover
These selected letters document that time after the publication of Origin of Species and reveal much about Darwin that few people know and understand.There are several letters to Asa Gray in America while the Civil War was raging-"I have begun to think whether it would not be well for the peace of the world, if you were to split up into two or three nations. " He was strongly opposed to slavery. He considered whether it would be better for a man of science to not have a wife and children for he then,"might work away like a Trojan." Here is an indication of the vast correspondence he carried on with sources of information from all over the world and also how much of that time he was ill, so much so that he spent whole days in bed and could get no work done. These letters are essential to knowing the man who changed our lives forever.
One of the world's great letter writers 20 July 2011
By John Duncan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book at the same time as the companion volume Origins, but for some reason I have never got around to reviewing it until now. That is unfortunate, because this is in many ways the more interesting volume, as it consists of letters from one of the most important periods of Darwin's life, starting with the publication of "The Origin of Species", and concluding when he was, at last, planning to publish his views on human origins. It thus provides many details about the reaction to his most famous book, and his efforts to answer his critics. Of the huge number of letters that he wrote and received (David Attenborough says in his Foreword that he sent as many as ten a day) the Editors have made an excellent selection that provides a detailed account of the development of his view of natural selection.

Far from simply writing his book and leaving it at that, Darwin was always searching for new information, asking questions, reflecting on the answers he received. In 1867, for example, he wrote to Charles Kingsley, saying "I had no idea that the double function of an excretary passage had even played a part in the history of religion", to which Kingsley replied "Sex --- you will find --- plays THE part in the real ground of all creeds. It is the primaeval fact wh. has to be explained, or misexplained, somehow. I cd. write volumes on this."

In 1862 he received a tantalizing question from Alphonse de Candolle about crossing varieties of Primula: "I have not noted whether you sowed the seeds obtained from the different crossings of your Primula. One would like to know whether the two forms reappear in equal proportions...". Tantalizing because we now realize that in his studies of Primula Darwin observed the 3:1 ratio for which Mendel is famous, but drew no conclusion from it.

It is well known, of course, that Darwin was chronically ill, and was unable to attend meetings where his contribution could have been very useful, such as the famous confrontation in Oxford between Thomas Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford. The entry "Health" occupies almost a full column of the Index, and is a constantly recurring theme of the book. For example, in a letter of 1864, "Nothing would please me more than to see you here, ... yet it would be very rash of me, as it wd. surely bring on my vomiting, & I shd. suppose few human beings had vomited so often during the last 5 months." The nature of his illness has been a matter of speculation and argument ever since (perhaps finally resolved as late as 2011 by a very plausible diagnosis of Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, or Intermittent Mitochondrial Failure), but one thing is certain, and is brought out very clearly in his letters: he was a very sick man for much of his life.

This is a book to dip into rather than one to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but it will richly repay the effort.
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