5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Like others before me, I came to this book via Darwin. Having got heavily into reading Darwin, particularly over the period of his bicentennial, I wanted to go to some of Darwin's own sources: Malthus 'On Population', and the oft-referred to 'Principles of Geology', by Charles Lyell, for example.
Not quite as easily readable as Darwin at his best (both Darwin and Lyell do at times exhibit that rather stodgy and verbose style so characteristic of their time), this is nonetheless fascinating and informative stuff. The Penguin Classics version I read is heftily abridged, so I guess I'll miss out on quite a bit of the detail that someone like Darwin no doubt ploughed through conscientiously! But even so I learned a lot, albeit that some of the ideas and information are now almost certainly out of date (this was written before the discovery of plate tectonics, and even Darwin's 'Origin' would add to, augment, and modify some of Lyell's ideas).
But in principle - pardon the pun - the book remains sound. How and why? Because it's built on the bedrock of the scientific process: reasoning, theorising, and testing for evidence. And Lyell, averse initially to the conclusions Darwin was to reach in 'The Origin', in no small part thanks to some of Lyell's pointers, had, unlike another of Darwin's near contemporaries and mentors, Adam Sedgwick, the capacity for intellectual robustness and honesty that allowed him to modify his views as new evidence and better fitting theories emerged. So, in the long run, having started as a mentor, he became a friend and supporter of Darwin (in fact one of my only criticisms of Darwin's 'Origin' is that his references to Lyell veer towards the cloyingly reverential and ingratiating).
One of the ways in which even the abridged version most resembles Darwin's 'Origin' (itself only intended as the 'abstract' of a never completed multi-volume version, doubtless inspired by Lyell's multi-instalment work) is the thoroughness of the research, and the copiousness of the cited examples, used to back up theories and arguments.