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VINE VOICEon 25 December 2000
Remember this says "Journal" and that is what it is. It is his first parson adventures on and off the Beagle. He even includes stories about the people on the ship, the ship's life, and maintenance. He is always going ashore and venturing beyond the ship charter to go where no Englishman has gone before. He makes friends with tyrants and the down trodden. Once, to get an animal to come to him, he lay on his back and waved his arms and legs in the air. Whatever you do, do not turn your back on him. He is always knocking something on the head and taking it back for study. It is fun trying to match the old names for places with the new.
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2008
It's a familiar story. Med-school drop-out Charles Darwin is being pestered by his dad to settle down and get a proper job. Meanwhile, Darwin Jnr., having finally got a degree (of sorts), hangs around Cambridge showing every sign of becoming a perpetual student.

Then in 1831, he gets the opportunity to join HMS Beagle for the trip of a lifetime. So, having persuaded dad to bankroll him, he sets off on something between a scientific Grand Tour and an extended gap year. Blogging hasn't been invented, so he keeps a journal.

If you're nervous about finding yourself all at sea in stodgy early 19th century scientific prose; don't worry. The writing has a real freshness and vitality. Darwin is fascinated by everything; a keen observer with a real gift for describing everything he sees and everyone he meets. It took me a couple of chapters to get the hang of Darwin's style, but after that I was hooked.

The Penguin edition is based on the earliest published version and the text has been cut to two-thirds of its original length, reducing it to the length of a standard paperback. Short chapters and diary-style entries break the text up into chunks suitable for reading on the bus or train.

Extras include a copy of the Admiralty's official instructions for the voyage which include, amongst other things, invectives against over-artistic mapmakers and advice on avoiding trouble with native populations. There's also a good map, a who's who of explorers and an excellent introduction that puts the voyage into its historical context. A glossary would have been welcome as would English translations of Darwin's occasional excursions into French or Latin.

This edition is aimed at general readers who may be slightly wary about tackling Darwin and I would say that it pretty much achieves its objective. Other editions may have a fuller text, colour illustrations or other additional material.

Darwin 5 stars : Penguin 3+ stars : 4 stars overall
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on 5 October 2006
having read Origin of Species, I was expecting this to be rewarding but a little dusty - and was delighted at how hugely readable it is. Darwin's descriptions of not just the natural world but also the human cultures at the time really bring the era to life - though he is not afraid to express judgements, and Australians and New Zealanders in particular might not be too flattered by his comments! The book is also often hilariously 'non-PC'; whenever he finds some rare beast which has never met and so is unafraid of mankind, he doesn't hesitate to knock it on the head and have it stuffed.... Absolutely recommended.
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on 8 December 2013
This book revealed Darwin to be a fascinating person, who was himself intrigued by all he found on this lengthy voyage. He was evidently very fit and prepared to undergo some deprivations to explore many of the lands he visited. The way he records his thoughts and observations are quite readable and generally comprehensible to the layman; we learnt a lot and were also entertained. Incidentally, the book is about the places visited and almost nothing about the voyage itself.
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on 2 July 2009
A very good account of Darwin's voyages, a little technical in places but so well-written that it grips the reader. Apart from the obvious scientific interest, this book gives a good insight into Darwin's views on slavery, on other ethnic groups and races and on the social conventions of the period. Darwin is very liberal and progressive in his views on humanitarian issues.
He is surprisingly respectful of the work of missionaries and admires the discipline they instilled into the local native population.
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on 4 November 2012
This book is the story of the long journey made by Darwin that gives him the data for the Origin of Species. One of the joys of this book is that Darwin is a wonderful writer. It is amazing to think that he went on the trip as a gentleman companion for the captain who was a biblical/literal christian and who wanted someone to talk to who was of the same social class/education. I would fully recommend this book as it is the precursor to one of the greatest books of all time.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 December 2012
This an abridged edition of Charles Darwin's journal of researches first published in 1845.

Darwin as we know spent five formative years voyaging around the globe on HMS Beagle - although of those five years, only 18 months was spent at sea.

Hence the book mostly details his experiences on land, being a detailed account of his observations of fauna, flora and geology of the lands he visited, combined with vivid observations of the peoples he met along the way. There is barely (in this edition at any rate) any description of what life was like on-board HMS Beagle itself and no remarks are recorded about his impressions of Captain Fitzroy.

This isn't the book in which the theory of evolution is developed. At this stage, he is aware that species are not immutable but the description of the finches' beaks barely gets a few sentences in one paragraph. The penny was not to drop till much later. He also praises the efforts of missionaries in places like Tahiti and New Zealand. His break with Christianity has not come yet.

The book is a compilation of the recollections of a young man, whose personality and intellectual convictions are yet to be defined. It is also the picture of Darwin in his prime, as a physically vigorous young man of action, not the sickly recluse of Downe House that he was to become. He scales mountains in the Andes, journeys with gauchos in Argentina, encounters the indigenous people of Patagonia, Tahiti and New Zealand, and is caught in a catastrophic earthquake in Chile.

Occasionally the discussion strays into technical questions about the composition of rocks and unless you have some grounding in geology then you are likely to struggle with these (mostly brief) passages. But overall the book is readable and entertaining and you feel you are seeing the world through Darwin's eyes (and his prejudices, inevitably).

For a Victorian era travelogue, it is well written, and some of the descriptions of the places he visits are crystal sharp, so much so they will stay in your recollection for some time after you have finished reading the book. To take an example, who that has travelled will not be stirred to this passage, a vivid description of his last look at a scene in the Azores before sailing back to England to end the voyage:

`In my last walk, I stopped again to gaze on these beauties, and endeavoured to fix forever in my mind an impression, which at the time I knew, sooner or later must fail. The form of the orange tree, the coconut, the palm, the mango, the tree-fern, the banana, will remain clear and separate; but the thousand beauties which these into one perfect scene must fade away; yet they will leave, like a tale heard in childhood, a picture full of indistinct, but most beautiful figures (p.368)'

For those wishing to become acquainted with the life and thought of Charles Darwin, this is an excellent primary source and I highly recommend it.
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on 28 November 2015
A tremendously interesting travelogue, Darwin has an amazing eye for the killer details and the fascinating anecdote, the breath and depth of his knowledge is stunning and all conveyed in a marvelously vibrant and evocative prose style.
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on 16 October 2015
Informative, and offers a window to the world gone, attitudes of the time gone. Wanted to read this before going to the Galápagos. It was fascinating to compare Darwin's first impressions with my own, then.
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on 2 May 2010
This is a relatively short and easy book to read, and I enjoyed it. I think it has been heavily abridged which is a blessing because Darwin does tend to be very detailed. There are two helpful maps at the beginning of the book, which helps greatly with the geography, particularly South America.

Sadly we get very little information about the sea voyages and I suppose this is because Darwin was a terrible traveller by sea. He clearly avoided it wherever he could, and actually it gave him plenty of time to explore species on land.

I would recommend this book. It is certainly a much more interesting read than "Origin of the Species".
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