The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the Beagle
The Greatest Idea Ever By A Human Mind
This is a book probably very often dismissed as being too intellectual or scientific for mere mortals to understand. Yet the reality is not so; Origin is accessible and remarkably easy reading--indeed there is no other major scientific work as
work as accessible to the lay reader, and in fact, there is no other scientific work as major as this.
The controversy surrounding this book and its implications for humanity's understanding of life on Earth is precisely because no other science publication has had a more profoundly ground-shaking effect on human complacency and ignorance.
Darwin lays out the most compelling argument for the origin of the diversity of life on our home planet that has ever been publicly recorded. It is a delight to read, and even to those familiar with the principles of Darwinian evolution, there is much here to astonish and enlighten.
Apart from one of the most compellingly composed arguments for the evolution of species, this is also a work of literature. Darwin was a master of English prose, and quite capable of soaring to poetic heights when conveying his enthusiastic insights to Nature: the most beautiful, horrific, and fascinating puzzle to face humanity ever.
Religion is perforce taken on during the course of events, and the singular target of Darwin turns out the be the idea of specific and special Creation (and, necessarily therefore, the immutability of species) that held sway among many educated people of his day. Darwin shows the failings of this idea over and over again, using water-tight arguments, breathtaking insights, and illuminating imagery. A particular highlight is his exploration and explanation of the geographical distribution of varieties and species, which he shows to be entirely and profoundly incompatible with the idea of special Creation.
It is clear, by the illuminating guide of Darwin, that species evolve and continue to do so and have always done so. Objections that were raised in his day, like the testimony of the fossil record or the complexity of the eye, were also dashed to pieces by the arguments laid out in Origin. What is truly astonishing is that arguments against the mutability of species that were thoroughly defeated by Darwin himself in his book, are still being used today, as if they still had any respectable force. The intransigent and low character of these Bible-waving Nature illiterates of today is perfectly highlighted while reading Origin which was published over a century ago.
Note: always try to read the first edition of this work. The later editions, especially the sixth, included concessions to his main argument to religious pressures brought to bear on it. Darwin famously introduced the word "God" to the end of his book, but the first edition certainly reads better without it, and contains the more unabashed, pristine, and muscular version of his argument.