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We will all be spending 2009 hearing from hundreds of different experts on Darwin but why not give the man himself a chance to speak? In just 89 pages you get a wonderful plunge through his entire life, in a very personal autobiographical document he wrote for his immediate family and descendants.

His memory of the guilt he felt after once hitting a puppy as a child; his dad telling him he'd never amount to anything; his time spent at Cambridge practising how he looked shooting a gun in the mirror; his memory of watching two bodysnatchers caught by a mob in the street; a whole chapter on his thoughts about religion, the keenest difference between him and his wife; his vivid character sketches of his supporters and enemies; the description of how he remembered having come to his novel theory of evolution; and his opinion of the surprising advantages of spending a lot of time ill. Really vivid, and well worth having if you are a Darwin fan.
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on 1 September 2013
The previous reviewers are too kind in grading this volume, perhaps because unaware of the alternatives available. This edition completely misdescribes Emma's religious views and the impact that religion would have had on the Darwins' marriage. I have just come across the 1958 Collins edition, edited and annotated by Nora Barlow (their grand-daughter), and available at [...] , which is far superior. For example, as Barlow tells us, Emma wished to suppress the passage ending "damnable doctrine" because she thought it no loger represented Christianity; a fact that totally changes the complexion of this passage from what this edition's introduction alleges.

Darwin's widow Emma, a few months after Charles's death, annotated this passage as one she did not wish to see published, saying "Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief--but very few now wd. call that 'Christianity.'" Emma was a Unitarian, and would also, at that time, have had the strongest possible reasons to reject this doctrine, but rather optimistically regarded it as a thing of the past. This is explained in a footnote supplied by Nora Barlow, Darwin's grand-daughter, in the on-line edition. The editors of the Penguin Classics edition, although familiar with Barlow's, ignore the information in this footnote and thus both here and elsewhere, end up misinterpreting their subject.
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If, like me, you've read some of Darwin's major works (the Voyage of The Beagle and The Origin so far, in my case), or enjoyed Attenborough's Charles Darwin And The Tree of Life [DVD], you may well, as I did, want to know more about Darwin the man. This little gem of a book, written not for public consumption, but for his children, is a perfect starting point.

Without going into the detail, and spoiling your fun, suffice it to say that the man that emerges from these pages is all that one might hope for and expect. Viewing himself with charming but neither false nor exaggerated modesty, he describes his life's work, centred around his awakening and the pivotal point of his professional career, the Beagle voyage, and his subsequent labours, culminating in The Origin, not as the result of a clichéd eureka moment, but rather as summed up in the phrase "it's dogged as does it".

Rather like David Attenborough, who's done so much to disseminate and popularise an understanding of Darwin's ideas, Darwin emerges as a slightly old-fashioned gent, a model of politeness and good manners, keen to maintain privacy where his home life is concerned, but alert and receptive to the latest in science and intellectual ideas, happy to enjoy a position of eminence and status, but with a strong and irrepressible desire for truth and honesty. Also, like Attenborough, Darwin is possessed of a gentle dry wit, and a charmingly engaging boyish enthusiasm for his passions.

There's a good essay introducing this edition, which discusses many aspects of the content of the book, not least the need to be cautious in appraising someone as reported in their own words. The balance of self-indulgence and self-awareness seems to my mind about right (I'm saving the Desmond/Moore biography, Darwin, a dauntingly weighty tome which promises to be a more thorough and academic overview, for another time!), and in some respects, for a man of Darwin's acumen, that shouldn't be so surprising.

If, like me, you already love Darwin, you'll find more to admire here. If you think he's the devil incarnate, well, perhaps have a read of this anyway, and see what you think by the end of it.
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on 15 May 2014
It's long, but readable. Possibly the best insight into the problems Darwin had and the reasons for the delay in publication of 'The Origin...' Much speculation about his health problems which seem to have been a form of migraine. Highly recommended.
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on 25 September 2014
great book useful as a follow up read to "The Voyage of the Beagle" etc
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on 9 May 2012
I intended to order Anthony Trollope's 'Autobiography' and to my horror I received the Autobiog of Charles Darwin - I couldn't make out how I could make such a mistake - which I did - and then after thinking over what I did on the day I ordered, I realised that the mistake was because I was searching for the Anthony Trollope in a Penguin Classic version to match all my other Anthony Trollope's - and I ended up clicking on the Charles Darwin in Penguin Classic - because I didn't do a second check - an easy mistake to make and costly and one to watch out for.
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