December 21, 2006

Considering Darwin

I'm late in writing this post, but I wanted to recommend a really wonderful book for your holiday reading or holiday gifting. One book I truly enjoyed this year was Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

When Darwin first started on the path that led to The Origin of Species, he was a dilettante. He had been taken on as a companion for the captain of the Beagle in 1831, but aspired to earn his name as the the naturalist. Yet besides a strong curiosity regarding insects and nature he didn't have the experience or background for this position. What Haupt does in her book is explain how a dilettante became the most famous scientist in the world (even today) based on learning to become a naturalist in South America: the great bird continent.

It is an exquisitely told story. By delving into Darwin's journals, Haupt unfolds the trail that changes Darwin from an interested amateur into the extremely gifted scientist he grew into being. He started to learn his craft by his casting nets behind the Beagle to collect sea creatures despite wicked boughts of seasickness which plagued him for the entire time he was at sea. Because Haupt is a naturalist and birder, she was particularly drawn to Darwin's observations of birds. He learned to patiently observe for hours and without pre-judging what he was seeing. He watched and recorded his observations and collected samples to take back with him. It was this habit of almost child-like joy in observing closely as well as his ceaseless asking of questions that made him such a creative and gifted scientist.

As someone who loves birds and loves to watch them as they go about their day, and as one who finds the topic of evolution both elegant and compelling, I must tell you, this book was a sheer joy to read.

Here's more to whet your appetite.

Posted by Mary at December 21, 2006 08:22 AM | Recommended Reading | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |