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Customer Review

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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