Saturday, August 20, 2016

Voyaging: The Beagle

Biological Evolution
History of Science
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I read Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle not too long after graduating high school. Physically, it was a lovely book to look at, to hold. Clothbound, in forest green, a binding sewn with thread, type set in hot metal (I think), with endpapers. It was an Everyman's Edition (Everyman's Library No. 104).

Much, if not most of the material pertinent to evolutionary biology sailed right over my head but I enjoyed the natural history and the richly described journey. I read a lot of it at sea; none of it, though, was on Darwin's route.

The Beagle. From Wikimedia Commons.
Whatever I learned in 10th grade biology about evolution was not much, if anything.  I think it was avoided. This was a transition period, perhaps better described as an intellectual and science education backwater, between texts such as Moon, Mann, Otto and Towle and the revolution in biology textbooks, notably three versions developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study--the famous blue, green and yellow texts.

I'm not at all certain why I bought the Voyage other than an interest in natural history and bioilogy or for that matter where I first heard the name Charles Darwin. I was not in college or heading there soon.  However, I didn't discard the book and carried it with me as I moved. It is now somewhat faded and worn, a result of reading it several times.

There is now another reason to read it again but in a different version. A new edition was released September 25, 2015 (Zenith Press) which I recommend if you are a first-time reader or maybe even an old friend of the book.  It is beautifully illustrated (see below for examples).

This edition is linked to passages in On the Origin of Species, thus connecting the compelling features of the journey to Darwin's findings on how the biological natural world works to produce its stunning diversity through natural selection. This feature I think (or like to) would have helped this naive reader gain some insights into Darwin's world and the grandest of all scientific theories.

In the most recent news from the National Center for Science Education, a link is provided which allows a preview of an excerpt from the book--Chapter XVII, Galapagos Archipelago.

h/t Glenn Branch, NCSE

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