Explore Darwin's world in a unique, first hand account through his letters, many of which have never been published before.
Gregg Sapp - Library Journal
In addition to Darwin's scholarly books and articles, his voluminous letters make him perhaps the most prolific correspondent in the history of science. This body of work has been edited and presented selectively in a variety of sources, most notably the projected-32-volume Correspondence of Charles Darwin(Cambridge Univ., 1985-), and can be viewed at Darwin Online (darwin-online.org.uk). What, then, is the value of these three new epistolary anthologies? The linchpin is the editorship of the late Burkhardt, founder of the Darwin Correspondence Project. Throughout, his careful selections, accompanied by clarifying footnotes, provide context and connections for the separate entries so that they can be read as a continuous narrative. Origins begins with a 12 year old's diary entries about his brother's rude behavior and proceeds chronologically, one chapter per one year's smattering of abridged correspondence. Included are letters on Darwin's studies, his family and personal life, and various reflections on subjects as varied as barnacles and poultry. Evolution picks up where Origins leaves off, with Darwin squarely in the midst of the public controversy surrounding his evolutionary theories. The methods of Darwin's genius are especially evident in his personal writings answering critics. Still, both books are essentially samplers, and, while enlightening, serve dilettante interests rather than scholarly needs.
By comparison, the sections in Origins covering Darwin's Beagle correspondence contain around two dozen significant letters, while the much more expansive The Beagle Letters reprints over 200 from thatsame period, with details on every port of call. The scrutiny of this period (1831-36) is appropriate in that these were formative years when Darwin conducted the major field research that led to his formulation of evolutionary theories. These letters also tell a gripping tale of high seas adventure and exploration.