BOOK REVIEW: Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution

I have long wondered if someone would put together a book of Darwin quotations. Given the volume of resources out there on Darwin, published and online, I figured that such a collection would be similar to the wonderful The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, compiled and edited by an Einstein expert (who worked on the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein), with sources for the quotes. Would Cambridge University Press, which has put out more than 20 volumes of Darwin’s correspondence, put together a Quotable Darwin? Or perhaps historian of science John van Wyhe, with so much Darwin material at his fingertips with Darwin Online?

No such luck, yet. Until then, our only offering is from a publisher that also put out quotation books on Jack London, John D. Rockefeller, Machiavelli, Mark Twain, and Abraham Lincoln.

When I first learned of Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, 144 pp.), my hopes were not set high upon seeing the quote given on the book’s cover: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” As has been noted by the Darwin Correspondence Project, among others, these words (or variations of them) do not come from Darwin at all (see: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did). And then, in the publisher’s description of the book on the inside of the dust jacket, there is “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” And, “Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.” Neither of these are from Darwin, either.

The contents of the book – at least that portion I read until I decided to not continue – include other non-Darwin quotes as well:

It is difficult to believe in the dreadful but quiet war lurking just below the serene facade of nature. – no source found, but not Darwin

Whilst Man, however well-behaved, at best is but a monkey shaved! – W.S. Gilbert (1884)

We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realized that they were inside us. – Jordyn Berner (poet)

While including quotes not from Darwin’s own pen make this collection problematic, it’s organization does injustice to the collection as well. Quotes are included from Darwin’s most well-known books and correspondence. But whether or not a particular quote is given its reference seems to have been completely at random. About half the quotes have a reference, while others have none despite being from the same works as others that are referenced. There is redundancy as well – one quote is even listed three times! Considering that all this was evident from my reading just the first third of the collection, I decided it was not worth my time to give the book a full reading. Surely no one put in the time to edit a worthy collection of quotes.

4 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution

  1. Excellent review. The “dreadful but quiet” passage is mostly from Darwin, Notebook E: “It is difficult to believe in the dreadful but quiet war of organic beings. going on [in] the peaceful woods. & smiling fields”; I have no idea where the “serene facade” business comes from.

  2. Thank you, Glenn, for that clarification. So, not only does that particular quote not have a reference, but someone added words to it. So, when searching for a source, as I did on Darwin Online, nothing came up because of the “serene facade.”

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