BOOK: Darwin’s First Theory: Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth

This new book about Darwin will surely interest those who appreciate his work in geology, can’t get enough of the Beagle voyage, or like to follow along a current geologist as he travels in the footsteps of Darwin in South America.

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Rob Wesson, Darwin’s First Theory: Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth (New York: Pegasus Books, 2017), 384 pp. 

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Publisher’s description Everybody knows—or thinks they know—Charles Darwin, the father of evolution and the man who altered the way we view our place in the world. But what most people do not know is that Darwin was on board the HMS Beagle as a geologist—on a mission to examine the land, not flora and fauna. Retracing Darwin’s footsteps in South America and beyond, geologist Rob Wesson treks across the Andes, cruises waters charted by the Beagle, hunts for fossils in Uruguay and Argentina, and explores sites of long vanished glaciers in Scotland and Wales. As he follows Darwin’s path—literally and intellectually—Wesson experiences the land as Darwin did, engages with his observations, and tackles the same questions Darwin had about our ever-changing Earth. Upon his return from his five-year journey aboard the Beagle, after examining the effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and more, Darwin conceived his theory of subsidence and uplift‚—his first theory. These concepts and attitudes—the vastness of time; the enormous cumulative impact of almost imperceptibly slow change; change as a constant feature of the environment—underlie Darwin’s subsequent discoveries in evolution. And this peculiar way of thinking remains vitally important today as we enter the human-dominated Anthropocene age. Expertly interweaving science and adventure, Darwin’s First Theory is a riveting and revelatory journey around the world with one of the greatest scientific minds in history.

Brief reviews of Darwin’s First Theory from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Nature.

ARTICLE: Darwin the geologist in southern South America

New in Earth Sciences History:

Darwin the geologist in southern South America

Robert H. Dott, Jr. and Ian W. D. Dalziel

Abstract Charles Darwin was a reputable geologist before he achieved biological fame. Most of his geological research was accomplished in southern South America during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1831–1836). Afterward he published four books and several articles about geology and coral atolls and became active in the Geological Society of London. We have followed Darwin’s footsteps during our own researches and have been very impressed with his keen observations and inferences. He made some mistakes, however, such as appealing to iceberg rafting to explain erratic boulders and to inundations of the sea to carve valleys. Darwin prepared an important hand-colored geological map of southern South America, which for unknown reasons he did not publish. The distributions of seven map units are shown. These were described in his books wherein he also documented multiple elevated marine terraces on both coasts of South America. While exploring the Andean Cordillera in central Chile and Argentina, he discovered two fossil forests. Darwin developed a tectonic theory involving vertical uplift of the entire continent, which was greatest in the Andes where magma leaked up from a hypothetical subterranean sea of magma to form volcanoes and earthquakes. The theory had little impact and was soon eclipsed by theories involving lateral compression of strata. His and other contemporary theories suffered from a lack of knowledge about the earth’s interior. Finally with modern plate tectonic theory involving intense lateral compression across the Andean Cordillera we can explain satisfactorily the geology so carefully documented by Darwin.

BOOK REVIEW: Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise

The first title in a new book series for kids called Tiny Thinkers – where real life scientists are depicted as kids – is about Charles Darwin.

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In Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise (Garland, TX: Secular Media Group, 2015, 40 pp.), written by M.J. Mouton and illustrated by Jezreel S. Cuevas, a Beagle named Hitch (perhaps a reference to atheist Christoper Hitchens, given the name of the publisher) accompanies a young Darwin on his famous voyage around the world. They land in the Galapagos Islands, and Darwin of course loves all the plants and animals there are to study. The illustrations are cute and the text given in rhyming form.

Charlie and the Tortoise unfortunately continues the notion that Darwin recognized a group of birds with varying beak sizes and shapes and eating habits as all different species of finches. He did not know they were all finches until an ornithologist in London examined specimens following the Beagle‘s return. Also, another group of birds were more instrumental in his thinking about variation and adaptation, the archipelago’s mockingbirds. Scientific myths remain hard to abandon. (See Frank Sulloway’s 1982 paper on Darwin’s finches and this essay from John van Wyhe.) As an historian of science, such details are important. I am not sure if this new book series has any history consultants. If not, they should. Not only should science books for kids get the science right, they should get the history right, too. I do give credit to the author, however, for not writing that Darwin had a Eureka moment about evolution on the Galapagos – that’s what usually follows his apparent observation of the different species of finches.

BOOK: The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal

This is a nicely-produced, coffee table-style book:

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Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015), 480 pp.

Publisher’s description The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin’s fascinating account of his groundbreaking sea voyage that led to his writing On the Origin of Species. When the HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin was only twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal reveals him to be a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology and natural history as well as people, places, and events. He witnessed and visited volcanoes in the Galapagos, saw the Gossamer spider of Patagonia, sailed through the Australasian coral reefs, and recorded the brilliance of the firefly–these recollections are found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made on the five-year voyage set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the most controversial book of the Victorian age: On the Origin of Species. An introduction on the background to Darwin’s work, as well as notes, maps, appendices, and an essay on scientific geology and the Bible by Robert FitzRoy, Darwin’s friend and captain of the Beagle, provide context for this incredible story. This volume is the first fully illustrated edition of Darwin’s journal and includes excerpts of On the Origin of Species so the reader can connect the author’s journey with his discovery that made him famous.

Do note that this edition is abridged from Darwin’s second edition of 1845 (the first was published in 1839).

Darwin Day lecture in Portland

I hope to be able to attend this OMSI Science Pub lecture on February 16th:

Why Was Darwin on the HMS Beagle? The History of Evolution as World History
with Richard H. Beyler, PhD, Professor of History at Portland State University​

February 16, 7pm
Located at: Empirical Theater at OMSI
Doors Open @ 5PM | $5 Suggested Donation

HMS Beagle is famous today as the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world in the years 1831 to 1836. This voyage sparked many of the ideas that led to his theory of evolution though natural selection. Yet the voyage of this British navy vessel was not planned in order to ferry this young naturalist across the oceans: his presence on board was almost a coincidence. This presentation is about how the story of Darwin’s early development as a naturalist intersects with the history of international politics, naval strategy, imperial expansion, global trade, and anti-slavery activism.

Richard Beyler is a professor of history at Portland State University, where he teaches history of science and intellectual history.

Dinner will be available in our restaurant, Theory, or from the Empirical Café. Guests can check-in at the theater entrance to reserve a seat before grabbing dinner and drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm.

Disney to do Darwin

Disney has green-lighted a film about Charles Darwin, which will look at his years aboard HMS Beagle. The only information given so far is that the film will be an adventure, a la Indiana Jones, with a script and direction by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana).

Variety: Charles Darwin Movie in the Works at Disney

Guardian: The dangers of Disney’s film about Charles Darwin

Guardian: Glenn Beck planning boycott of Charles Darwin movie

HMS Beagle to set sail for LEGO – only with your help!

Luis Peña has designed a LEGO set for HMS Beagle, complete with Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy minifigs, among others. He posted it to the LEGO Ideas website, in which set suggestions receive support and if they reach 10,000 supporters within a year of being posted, LEGO will consider making the set a reality.

I supported this set, and hope you will too. It’s necessary to create an account on the site in order to cast your support, but it’s quick and easy, and worth it, don’t you think?

Here are some images from Luis: