The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

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Begun in 1876 and published posthumously in 1887, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin contains the life and experiences of the man, not only in his own words, but also in the words of his son, Sir Francis Darwin. "My father's autobiographical recollections, given in the present chapter, were written for his children,--and written without any thought that they would ever be published. To many this may seem an impossibility; but those who knew my father will understand how it was not only possible, but natural. The autobiography bears the heading, 'Recollections of the Development of my Mind and Character,' and end with the following note:--'Aug. 3, 1876. This sketch of my life was begun about May 28th at Hopedene (Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's house in Surrey.), and since then I have written for nearly an hour on most afternoons.' It will easily be understood that, in a narrative of a personal and intimate kind written for his wife and children, passages should occur which must here be omitted; and I have not thought it necessary to indicate where such omissions are made. It has been found necessary to make a few corrections of obvious verbal slips, but the number of such alterations has been kept down to the minimum.--F.D."

Customer Reviews:

  • The simplicity of genius
    Listening to Charles Darwin talk about his life, from his earliest childhood experiences, proved to me, yet again, that really great people completely lack pomposity and artifice.

    Darwin spends barely anytime talking about his great works, he really just sets the scene in which these works took place. And because that scene was so firmly Victorian with society tightly bound by religion and class, you also realise what a brave man he was in pursuing his scientific observations.

    This is only a small book, the actual biography I read in a couple of days. This edition was edited by his grand-daughter and in the end notes some space is devoted to a row between Darwin and a Mr Butler - who you may well ask was Butler, its interesting to note how all these other characters fade into history's darkness, whilst the legacy of Darwin's work lives on.

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  • Darwin's autobiograph is great
    This is a wonderful book. It provides an insightful view of Darwin himself, with only light reference to his revelations about nature and evolution. By reading this book, one learns that Darwin was not the dark, confrontational, angry person religious people try to portray him (they are projecting, I think). Rather, Charles Darwin was a man full of life, wonderment, and humor. He was a very sociable humanitarian who cherished his family, children (10!), and associates. Most of all, he had an insatiable thurst for knowledge about nature, and was a complete devotee to the scientific method. His contribution to our understanding of biology is, of course, historic, but he was also a central figure in the immediate functions of the scientific community of his day. His work lead to the realization that religion is myth, but he does not dwell on this, but mentions it in passing. Instead, he writes about the beauty of the diversity and functionality of nature and how Natural Selection has provided such a rich environment. ...more info
  • The descent of Mr. Darwin
    Reading the memoir that Darwin wrote for his family, two qualities of the man stand out above all others. The first is his intense humanity--indeed, his lovability. He is modestly self-deprecating in a totally uncalculating way; his devotion to his father, wife, and children shines through, as does his compassion for suffering animals; and his reminiscences of childhood, youth, and young adulthood are quaintly idiosyncratic (he doesn't remember and record "big" events so much as funny or curious little ones that lodged in his memory). He comes across as an incredibly decent guy.

    Second, he is a scrupulously honest thinker. He abandons his early Christianity (although he admits that he was never very fervent) because his understanding of natural selection rules out the possibility of a Paleyesque divine design in nature, and he rejects the idea of eternal damnation because it seems to him hideously unjust. (The bulk of his religious reflections are found in pp. 85-96.) He is devoted to the empirical method, carefully collecting and collating years and years worth of data before drawing conclusions from them. He especially notes, he tells us, data that seem to run contrary to his hypotheses, because he knows how easy it is to "forget" such inconvenient facts. And he takes great delight in his scientific work. Curious that Darwin laments on at least two occasions that he's lost his youthful taste for poetry, art, and music. His love of the natural world surely is as artistic as scientific.

    I highly recommend this autobiography to all persons interested in the on-going fracas over evolution. It goes a long way to revealing the real man too often demonized by polemicists....more info
  • A mind becoming a machine to grind out general laws
    Darwin wrote his autobiography between the ages of 67 and 73. In the publisher's introduction it is noted that Charles Darwin tells of the slow maturing of his mind. A family tree is provided. Charles Darwin was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin and the son of Robert and Emma, nee Wedgwood. His mother died when he was eight. In boyhood he had a passion for collecting.

    Charles Darwin went to Dr. Butler's school in Shrewsbury until age sixteen. As a young boy he enjoyed solitary walks. Dr. Butler's school was strictly classical. He found the odes of Horace to his liking. He reports his father had excellent powers of observation. The father was a physician who hated the sight of blood but was able to divine the character of others. He possessed an extraordinary memory for dates and other facts. Charles Darwin was taught Euclid by a private tutor. Clear geometric proofs gave him intense satisfaction. As a boy Darwin enjoyed literature, Shakespeare included. Later in life he lost his pleasure in poetry. He was the cousin of Francis Galton. He once wondered why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist. He assisted his brother in chemical experiments.

    Charles was sent to Edinburgh University with his brother. In his second year he met several young men fond of natural science. He attended meetings of the Plinian Society. He also went to meetings of the Wernerian Society. At Edinburgh he saw Audubon and Walter Scott. He liked shooting but was half-ashamed of his zeal.

    After two years at Edinburgh in medical studies it was decided Charles should be a clergyman. He spent three years at Cambridge. He studied Euclid and Paley's NATURAL THEOLOGY among other things. He should have attended but did not the lectures of Sedgwick on geology. He did attend Henslow's lectures on Botany. He acquired a strong taste for music. He was introduced to entomology by his second cousin, W. Darwin Fox.

    At Cambridge Darwin took long walks with Professor Henslow. After 1831 Darwin began to study biology. The existence of a volute shell from the tropics at a site in the English midlands made Darwin realize completely that science is the grouping of facts so that general conclusions or laws can be found. After a short geological tour in Wales he learned tht he could volunteer as a naturalist for the Beagle expedition. It lasted for five years. His participation was permitted by his father when his uncle gave his considered opinion that it was an opportunity in which Charles should be engaged. On the voyage his habit of energetic industry and concentrated attention was crucial to his development as a scientist.

    His love of science gradually preponderated over other tastes. He worked on the ORIGIN OF SPECIES for twenty years. He felt enormously indebted to Charles Lyell. He lived with his family in the country and felt compelled to give up dinner parties because they were too exciting. He knew a wide range of people including Thomas Huxley, Charles Babbage, and Herbert Spencer. In October 1838 he read Malthus's POPULATION. The struggle for existence provided a basis for his theory.

    In 1857 he received Wallace's essay and spent the following thirteen months preparing the ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Two condensed sketches were written prior to the longer work. THE DESCENT OF MAN took three years to write. Darwin says that his mind became a sort of machine for grinding out general laws....more info

  • A Revealing Work By One of the Most Influential Figures in Scientific History
    I recommend this book for anyone wanting to acquire a better understanding of the mind and personality of the man who first came up with the famous theories of natural and sexual selection: Charles Darwin. As in any autobiography, this one offers unique insights into the thoughts and opinions of the writer that otherwise would likely not be known. For instance, Darwin's intimate and affectionate reflections on his family - his brother, his father, and his wife - are all very personal accounts, unlikely to be found in many other letters and notes written by Darwin. Darwin also writes at length on his candid opinions of several noted and famous colleagues, such as Charles Lyell and Thomas Huxley, each of which played a not so small part in the history of the theory of evolution. While he generally assumes a humble and congenial tone, he can at times be unsparing in his opinions on the faults of certain colleagues.

    Where Charles Darwin's autobiography differs from many other autobiographies, however, is that Darwin did not originally intend to publish his autobiography for the mass public, but had meant it to be a sort of personal memoir by which his children and grandchildren could remember him. Thus, Darwin writing to a family audience, puts down his religious views at a time when writing them in public would have been far too controversial for Darwin's taste. This section in Darwin's autobiography, in my opinion, is the most valuable part of Darwin's work, as it gives a clear account of Darwin's view on a topic that even today is coming into conflict with his theories.

    However, when Darwin's children decided to publish the autobiography, some parts, deemed too sensitive, such as his thoughts on religion, were taken out of the published version. The Nora Barlow edited edition is thus particularly good in that it is the only edition that offers the complete autobiography, including the passages with Darwin's religious views. Her footnotes and introduction also help the reader gain a better understanding into the historical and social context in which Darwin writes.

    Overall, this book was a short read and captivating throughout. ...more info
  • A grandfather's humble account of his extraordinary life
    Charles Darwin wrote this book as an account for his children and grandchildren to read. It contains many descriptions of scientists and other people who influenced him. His description of Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle is particularly entertaining; he both wrote of his admiration for Fitzroy and bluntly described Fitzroy's failings. He betrays no false sense of his own importance in the book, freely admitting that he was "a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect" (27). Because of his emphasis on the importance of other people around him, the book serves not only as a portrait of Darwin but also as a portrait of many other scientists in England in the 19th century.

    I highly recommend the Barlow edition of this book because her introduction, footnotes, and choice of appendix add greatly to the book. She indicates in the footnotes who wrote them, showing the involvement of both Francis (Charles' son) and Emma (Charles' wife) Darwin in publication of the book. Also interesting is her account in the introduction of how Emma, Francis, and others decided what to leave out of the book.
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  • A must read for Darwin enthusiasts
    Don't be put off by the rather grim portrait of Darwin that adorns this edition -and be aware that there are SEVERAL editions of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY, including a somewhat "censored" one in which Darwin's wife took out bits that she didn't like -perhaps the most interesting editions are the ones that put these bits back in but italicize or bold them so that you can get a sense of what wasn't "proper" in Emma's mind. This is by no means a definitive Life of Darwin (for that I strongly encourage you to read Janet Brown's excellent 2 part series)but it does give us a gentle portrait of Darwin as he saw himself in late middle age, and it has provided lots of grist for the historians & psychohistorians in their speculations about what Darwin felt about religion, his parents, etc. For my part it only reinforces my impression of a truly wonderful man who was constantly puzzled in a pleasant way with the diversity of life & living, and while he may have had personal demons to grapple with (don't we all?) he was still able to enjoy both his science and his friends and his family. It is primarily this enjoyment that I walk away with after reading this book. Oh yes, the grim portrait on the cover. I doubt that Darwin thought of himself like that, he was FUN, and I think he mostly HAD fun, apart from the periodic bouts with illness. My favorite "portrait" of Darwin is the fantasy picture of young Chas "hanging out" in high top sneakers that adorns Phil Darlington's too-long-out-of-print EVOLUTION FOR NATURALISTS....more info
  • Who would have guessed?
    Very often, the name Charles Darwin conjures up images of a mythical figure responsible for the development of one of the most influential scientific theories. How often, however, do we think about the scientist's human side? The Autobiography of Charles Darwin is a fun read that lets you take a peak into his life and demystify the man behind the name. The human side emerges from anecdotes, whether from his childhood or young adulthood or after. Expectedly, Darwin confesses of a keen interest in beetles and collecting and describes the lengths to which he would go to study the insect (even putting a beetle in his mouth). However, who would have imagined that his friends would tease him for his careful bird record keeping and his lack of an ear for music? Who would have guessed that certain papers he published were a source of embarrassment? The autobiography reveals other, unexpected sides of Darwin. But as you read this book, do not expect to be exposed to Darwin's deepest thoughts and reflections. The tidbits of stories present in the autobiography definitely leave you wanting to know more.

    Additionally, reading the autobiography serves as a source of inspiration. Darwin's lack of success in other aspects of life, such as with his attempts to be a doctor and a clergyman, contrasted with his great scientific success. With his matter of fact tone, Darwin admits that he did not do well in many academic subjects. However, he made up for the difference with long hours of work and perseverance. While we will never know if Darwin's intended for his autobiography to be inspirational, we can derive the personal take-home message of persevering and pursuing what truly interests you.

    I highly recommend reading this autobiography as it gives you a glimpse into the human side of a great thinker. ...more info
  • Thoroughly enjoyable
    I enjoyed reading the autobiography. It is written in a simple and straightforward manner; the human side of the author emerges from the text clearly. Darwin was a simple man and an eminent scientist; there was nothing complex about him. He loved what he did for science and naturally wanted to be recognised for his contributions. Evolution was in the air in his time but probably not the way he presented it. He was responsible for formulating the concept of 'natural selection' which makes a whole deal of difference in the theory of evolution. As a scientist, he felt vulnerable perhaps like Newton who did not like to get embroiled in controversies and disputes with Robert Hooke and others. Newton refrained from publishing his work for a long period of time in order to avoid scientific disputes which however muddled the priority claim, later on, with Leibniz for the development of 'calculs'. Darwin hated to deal directly with similar situations such as the argument with Butler. Darwin depended on the advice of his family and friends for handling the argument with Butler. Curiously, however, a dispute on priority of developing the concept of natural selection that could have arisen with Wallace did not happen and both of them (Darwin and Wallace) stayed friends through out their lives. According to Reveal et al: "The story of interrelationship between the two men over their professional careers is one of gentlemanly: Darwin, the Country squire, living off inherited wealth and sound investments on a small estate working leisurely in the pursuit of evolution, and Wallace, the committed socialist, saved ultimately from abject poverty by Darwin and his friends who arranged a Crown pension, laboring seemingly forever in other's shadow".

    REFERENCE "The Darwin - Wallace 1858 Evolution Paper", Introduction, prepared by James L. Reveal, Paul J. Bottino, and Charles F. Delviche, Mohammad A. Gill...more info

  • The Man Behind the Controversy
    Given the amount of attention placed on Darwin's ideas for the last 150 years, it is an interesting new twist to examine the man himself. The aspects of Darwin's life on which he chooses to focus his self-description are, naturally, very revealing. He portrays himself as methodical and extremely devoted to his various passions, be they hunting, beetle-collecting, or writing. It seems that although Darwin was fairly social in his youth, his health precluded many visitors from calling on him later in life; perhaps this gave him time to complete his many works! This is an engaging and entertaining look at the man behind the books that impacted so much in the world of science....more info
  • A good personal explanation of Darwin's train of thought.
    A small book which covers a range of issues unknown to those who only got a glimpse of the man Charles Darwin trough his Origin of Species book. The background for the Origin of Species is all there : the influences he got from many people on his frame of mind and on his very particular way of thinking and of experimenting with things, the convivial relationship he had with some of the greatest men of his time, Herbert Spencer included, the love of hunting he later hesitatingly abandoned, the love his sisters devoted to him and the difficult relationship he had with his authoritarian (and rich) father, rich to a point that Charles knew that he never would have to fight for his own survital,etc...
    It is interesting to know, for instance, that the first answer he got from his father Robert when Charles asked for his permission to the famous Beagle voyage was a resounding NO. And amazing as it seems, Charles in no way was against his father decision. Were not for the help of his beloved uncle, brother of his father, who was very much in favor of the trip and convinced Charles'father to revert his earlier decision, the world would wait some more time for his revolutionary theory of the evolution of the species trough Natural selection of the fittest.

    A very interesting book, which has value added to it by the many letters included as appendices that treat on many interesting issues of Charles' life: the so-called Butler controversy, the letters refering to the first refusal of Charles Darwins father to his Beagle voyage and many others. I am sure you will not be disappointed....more info

  • A quick, informative, and inspiring read
    This autobiography is a fun and easy-to-read journey through the events that made Darwin into a meticulous visionary. It serves as an excellent spark to make any person into a Darwin-enthusiast. Regardless of how you feel about his theory of evolution, Darwin's life experiences as described in this book can teach you to examine the world and everyday occurrences in a new and fascinating way.

    Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this account of Darwin's life was the value that Darwin himself placed, not on conventional means of gathering knowledge (he refers to many of his early university Professors and lectures as wastes of time), but on the people that he met and the questions raised by the world around him. Darwin's observant and inquisitive nature is expressed genuinely in this book and can inspire any reader to share in the sense of wonder that Darwin takes from the simple, everyday interactions with the natural world....more info


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