From So Simple a Beginning
Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845): Found here is some of the best science writing ever to be penned. It is very readable and was a best-selling phenomenon in its day - people did not have the means to travel they do now and without television,
Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845): Found here is some of the best science writing ever to be penned. It is very readable and was a best-selling phenomenon in its day - people did not have the means to travel they do now and without television, Darwin's detailed and fascinating tale of the animals and peoples and strange lands he encountered must have seemed like a steriod-boosted hybrid of a David Attenborough nature documentary and exotic travel programme.</p><p>Considering the tone and quality of the writing it is a sobering wake-up call to realize that Darwin was only 23 when he started writing it and the voyage lasted more than 5 years. Though the book was only published in 1945, much of it had been serialized during the voyage in scientific journals. </p><p>He comes across as a well-rounded young scientist. His knowledge of geology was as impressive as his intimate familiarity with animals and plants of all kinds. He had a sharp eye for detail but unlike most people could always put those details into a bigger picture. Details for him were the means to notice larger patterns, more general implications. The mere way grass grew, or the way stones were arranged across the road and in the surrounding country-side spoke volumes to him of seasonal weather influences, or climate. The kinds of plants and foods he noticed in an area could lead to insights of the food-chain dependencies of the common fauna of the locale and what further implications these relationships might have entailed. </p><p>History has confirmed that he had an uncanny instinct about natural systems that led him to make many guesses and predictions on a paucity of evidence that have since been vindicated. Almost every chapter surprises you, or rocks you back on your heels as you reel in the face of his astoundingly accurate conclusions; though you probably need to be familiar with the natural sciences to some degree to fully appreciate his insights.</p><p>My favourite chapters were the one describing with great humour what truly miserable pieces of frozen excrement the Falkland Islands are, and the landmark one that covers his first appraisal of the Galapagos islands. But there are gems scattered throughout the work like his bang-on-target analysis of the curious formation of reefs and atolls and why they can tell us about the changes in height of the earth's crust that happened hundreds of thousands of years ago, and why they are good correlators of volcanic activity, earthquakes, or the lack of both. Awesome. He did all that just by thinking about things very carefully, the very same things that were in plain sight of everybody else, too, who had previously tried and failed to come up with viable theories.