On “On the Origin of Species.”

Biologists aren’t reading “On the Origin of Species”? That’s a shame—it’s a really interesting, really enjoyable book. Charles Darwin walks you right through his thinking, so that you can appreciate anew what now seems obvious. If evolution is a topic in which you’re at all interested, add this to your reading list. Or, if you prefer, you can read it as HTML or download it as plain text or as a PDF.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

8 replies on “On “On the Origin of Species.””

  1. It is a great book and it is still worth reading, especially if one is interested in the history of ecological science and conservation. However, much of the Darwinian model for how evolution happens has since been disproven. The basic idea of species changing over time was correct, but most of the details have been dramatically revised following over a century of science since the voyage of HMS Beagle.

    Do history students still read Macaulay? Or Gibbon? I dunno. Many of Gibbon’s statements in his ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ have since been disproved, so a lot of people say that for history students to read it is counter-productive, as they may come away from it thinking things that are not true. I suspect the same is true of ‘Origin of Species’ among teachers of biology.

    Personally, I read all of that stuff because I’m a total weirdo with one foot firmly planted in the 19th century. But it seems to me that more or less ignoring the classical works of most fields of either the physical or social sciences is standard procedure nowadays. Astronomy students don’t actually read Galileo’s ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’ and geneticists do not trouble themselves with Gregor Mendel’s ‘Experiments on Plant Hybridization.’

    I think that probably the only field in which study of the classical foundations of the field is typically required is economics. Everybody still reads Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’, even if most undergraduate economics classes do cherry pick their chapters.

  2. Biologist here and I never read it. As stated in the article, just about every textbook I had covered Darwin’s theories in some form, from Micro to Inverts to Mammology to Botany and everything in between. And as also stated, each textbook added onto the original concept.

    Jackson Landers is on the right track. Are physicists and mathematicians taught to read Newton’s books? No. But the concepts are taught. That’s ALL disciplines.

    Imagine having to read every book by every famous/important professional in your particular discipline. Yikes. Yeah, I get it, Darwin is the “father of evolution,” but biology is a lot more than just evolution.

  3. Huh–I was required to read a decent bit of the Origin of Species to get my degree in Human Evolutionary Biology.

    And, frankly, maybe you shouldn’t have to read all the works of famous folks in your dicipline, but *Of course* you should be required to read the classics of your discipline. If you don’t know the ideas that our current ideas are derived from, you run the risk of repeating old mistakes, or being overly constrained by the origins of the ideas without even knowing it.

  4. Marcel Proust once observed that the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. I think scientist–and indeed all of us–could stand to benefit a great deal by reading the great theories of the world as first penned by the men who thought them–whether Galileo and heliocentricity, Newton and the laws of motion, Darwin and the origins of the species, or Einstein and relativity. Anyone can understand the simple theories of these men, but to understand how they arrived at them, to grasp the unusual intersection of empirical observation and immaginative interpretation, is to understand what it’s like to think a completely new thought for the first time in human existence.

    Though granted, there were a few contemporaries of Darwin who were struggling to explain something very similar to his theories.

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