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The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–82

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Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerized edition: Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerized edition: Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species. Upon its appearance, Loren Eiseley wrote: "No man can pretend to know Darwin who does not know his autobiography. Here, for the first time since his death, it is presented complete and unexpurgated, as it exists in the family archives. It will prove invaluable to biographers and cast new light on the personality of one of the world's greatest scientists. Nora Barlow, Darwin's granddaughter, has proved herself a superb editor. Her own annotations make fascinating reading." The daring and restless mind, the integrity and simplicity of Darwin's character are revealed in this direct and personal account of his life—his family, his education, his explorations of the natural world, his religion and philosophy. The editor has provided page and line references to the more important restored passages, and previously unpublished notes and letters on family matters and on the controversy between Samuel Butler appear in an appendix.


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Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerized edition: Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerized edition: Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species. Upon its appearance, Loren Eiseley wrote: "No man can pretend to know Darwin who does not know his autobiography. Here, for the first time since his death, it is presented complete and unexpurgated, as it exists in the family archives. It will prove invaluable to biographers and cast new light on the personality of one of the world's greatest scientists. Nora Barlow, Darwin's granddaughter, has proved herself a superb editor. Her own annotations make fascinating reading." The daring and restless mind, the integrity and simplicity of Darwin's character are revealed in this direct and personal account of his life—his family, his education, his explorations of the natural world, his religion and philosophy. The editor has provided page and line references to the more important restored passages, and previously unpublished notes and letters on family matters and on the controversy between Samuel Butler appear in an appendix.

30 review for The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–82

  1. 4 out of 5

    عماد العتيلي

    If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week. Oh, Darwin! I cannot understand how anyone could hate such a passionate and loving soul! This memoir is a must-read for everyone. It teaches readers how the human-scientist should be: humble, honest and kind. Darwin is an excellent example of the true scientist. I admit that I have skipped some parts especially those in which Darwin talked about the details of his ‏ “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.” Oh, Darwin! I cannot understand how anyone could hate such a passionate and loving soul! This memoir is a must-read for everyone. It teaches readers how the human-scientist should be: humble, honest and kind. Darwin is an excellent example of the true scientist. I admit that I have skipped some parts – especially those in which Darwin talked about the details of his journey on the Beagle and his life in Down (because I already know about these things). Some parts I read twice and enjoyed very much – especially when Darwin wrote about his religious views and about life and suffering. He is truly wise. Bertrand Russell once wrote: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. I guess this applies perfectly on Darwin! He was full of doubt, always underestimating himself. Also he was so humble that he supposed his opponents to be more intelligent than him. I believe that this particular trait tells us how GREAT Darwin really was. I truly recommend this book. And I’d love to conclude this review by writing one of my favorite quotes from it: “The loss of these tastes [for poetry and music] is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”. Darwin, God bless your soul!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing. This is the quintessential scientific autobiography, a brief and charming book that Darwin wrote for nearly an hour on most afternoons for a little over two months. Originally published in 1887five years after the naturalists deathit was somewhat I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing. This is the quintessential scientific autobiography, a brief and charming book that Darwin wrote “for nearly an hour on most afternoons” for a little over two months. Originally published in 1887—five years after the naturalist’s death—it was somewhat censored, the more controversial religious opinions being taken out. It was only in 1958, to celebrate the centennial of The Origin of Species, that the full version was restored, edited by one of Darwin’s granddaughters, Nora Barlow. The religious opinions that Darwin expresses are, nowadays, not enough to raise eyebrows. In short, his travels and his research slowly eroded his faith until all that remained was an untroubled agnosticism. What is interesting is that Darwin attributes to his loss of faith his further loss of sensitivity to music and to grand natural scenes. Apparently, in later life he found himself unable to experience the sublime. His scientific work also caused him to lose his appreciation for music, pictures, and poetry, which he heartily regrets: “My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts,” he says, and attributes to this the fact that “for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry.” The most striking and lovable of Darwin’s qualities is his humility. He notes his lack of facility with foreign languages (which partially caused him to refuse Marx’s offer to dedicate Kapital to him), his terrible ear for music, his difficulty with writing, his incompetence in mathematics, and repeatedly laments his lack of higher aesthetic sensitivities. His explanation for his great scientific breakthrough is merely a talent for observation and dogged persistence. He even ends the book by saying: “With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that thus I should have influenced to a considerable extent the beliefs of scientific men on some important point.” It is remarkable that such a modest and retiring man should have stirred up one of the greatest revolutions in Western thought. Few thinkers have been more averse to controversy. This little book also offers some reflection on the development of his theory—with the oft-quoted paragraph about reading Malthus—as well as several good portraits of contemporary thinkers. But the autobiography is not nearly as full as one might expect, since Darwin skips over his voyage on the Beagle (he had already written an excellent book about it) and since the second half of his life was extremely uneventful. For Darwin developed a mysterious ailment that kept his mostly house-bound, so much so that he did not even go to his father’s funeral. The explanation eluded doctors in his time and has resisted firm diagnosis ever since. But the consensus seems to be that it was at least in part psychological. It did give Darwin a convenient excuse to avoid society and focus on his work. The final portrait which emerges is that of a scrupulous, methodical, honest, plainspoken, diffident, and level-headed fellow. It is easy to imagine him as a retiring uncle or a reserved high school teacher. That such a man, through a combination of genius and circumstance—and do not forget that he almost did not go on that famous voyage—could scandalize the public and make a fundamental contribution to our picture of the universe, is perhaps the greatest argument that ever was against the eccentric genius trope.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    One of the best ways to disarm critics of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection would be to get them to read his posthumous autobiography, originally edited by his son, then rereleased in an unexpurgated version by his granddaughter. Whatever one might believe about the bible, or punctuated equilibrium for that matter, one cannot read this memoir without coming to like this man. This was, after all, a fellow who dug an enormous hole in order to calculate earthworm distributions One of the best ways to disarm critics of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection would be to get them to read his posthumous autobiography, originally edited by his son, then rereleased in an unexpurgated version by his granddaughter. Whatever one might believe about the bible, or punctuated equilibrium for that matter, one cannot read this memoir without coming to like this man. This was, after all, a fellow who dug an enormous hole in order to calculate earthworm distributions underground.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Reading this feels a bit voyeuristic, in that it was intended as a family document rather than a public one. It's short and not a very good biography; it talks in little detail about Darwin's life or character, whilst rambling about the personalities of various other contemporary scientists, Darwin's religious views and his own books. It's nevertheless of some interest and so short as to hardly allow for getting bogged down. It's nowhere near as fun as The Voyage of the Beagle or as important as Reading this feels a bit voyeuristic, in that it was intended as a family document rather than a public one. It's short and not a very good biography; it talks in little detail about Darwin's life or character, whilst rambling about the personalities of various other contemporary scientists, Darwin's religious views and his own books. It's nevertheless of some interest and so short as to hardly allow for getting bogged down. It's nowhere near as fun as The Voyage of the Beagle or as important as On the Origin of Species, however. It is probably most useful for the section on how developing his theory of evolution eroded his faith in literal interpretation of the Bible and eventually in Christianity altogether.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    There were several pleasant surprises for me in this book, the first of which was how engaging a writer Darwin was. He had a natural, easy flow to his writing that pulled me along and I found it hard to stop reading. There are many very amusing anecdotes (the story of how he tried to carry three rare beetles at once made me snort with glee) and Darwin does a wonderful job balancing serious reflection and scientific exploration with the human interest story. The second surprise for me was just There were several pleasant surprises for me in this book, the first of which was how engaging a writer Darwin was. He had a natural, easy flow to his writing that pulled me along and I found it hard to stop reading. There are many very amusing anecdotes (the story of how he tried to carry three rare beetles at once made me snort with glee) and Darwin does a wonderful job balancing serious reflection and scientific exploration with the human interest story. The second surprise for me was just how ordinary a person he seemed to be. He was, it appears, not of above normal intelligence. In fact in his school days he was a very ordinary student, often just doing the bare minimum to get by; cramming for exams and then forgetting what he had learned immediately afterwards. What set Darwin apart, ultimately, was that he found his passion and applied himself to it with hard work. Hard work, not some spark of divine genius, is what usually does the trick. I am so inspired that I may even try hard work myself someday.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bogdan Teodorescu

    Good book overall, although not really what I expected. You know you're reading about a genius, but the book doesn't really show that. Still, I had in mind who I'm reading about, so I guess it was enjoyable

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I'm a bit fascinated by Darwin, though most of the interest in this is that it is what he himself chose to record for his descendants. It doesn't cover the Beagle voyage, as those journals were published elsewhere, so it's a rather general account of his growing up and his life upon return from his voyage. It gives a good sense of the man though, and the appendices are truly brilliant. Not so much the letters surrounding the ridiculously blown-up spat between himself and Samuel Butler, but the I'm a bit fascinated by Darwin, though most of the interest in this is that it is what he himself chose to record for his descendants. It doesn't cover the Beagle voyage, as those journals were published elsewhere, so it's a rather general account of his growing up and his life upon return from his voyage. It gives a good sense of the man though, and the appendices are truly brilliant. Not so much the letters surrounding the ridiculously blown-up spat between himself and Samuel Butler, but the various letters from family, the references to articles theorising over what Darwin's strange illness might have been, and in particular the pros and cons of marriage...nothing could show more clearly the kind of man that Darwin was I think, than these lists he drew up and somehow kept.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    It should be essential for anyone who has ever heard someone say, "Darwin said (insert Darwinism here)" to read not only Origin of Species but what Darwin thought of his life and work, in his own words. This is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Darwin's ability to self reflect is unmatched by anyone I have read to date. What a treat it is to be allowed to travel through the mind of a humble, compassionate, genius or a man who wrote with his whole heart. This book was originally It should be essential for anyone who has ever heard someone say, "Darwin said (insert Darwinism here)" to read not only Origin of Species but what Darwin thought of his life and work, in his own words. This is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Darwin's ability to self reflect is unmatched by anyone I have read to date. What a treat it is to be allowed to travel through the mind of a humble, compassionate, genius or a man who wrote with his whole heart. This book was originally intended to for his family and not for public consumption. Perhaps this was its best attribute because it allowed for true intimacy and stunning close look at what sort of learner, thinker, researcher, and theoretician Darwin truly was. I will read this again and again.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter A. van Tilburg

    Very interesting insight in the mind and work of Darwin. His zeal for understanding what he saw and time to think it over for possible explanations is impressive. He also was humble and has a realistic view on his strong and weak points.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Milan

    I found Darwin's writing to be quite engaging. This autobiography was written by Darwin exclusively for his children and grand-children and was published posthumously. He writes his life's story with brevity but it gives a good sense of his life. Darwin's ability to self-reflect is one of the factors that lead to his profound insights on natural selection. His power of observation and critical analysis changed the course of science and how people looked at the world. Reading this short book is a I found Darwin's writing to be quite engaging. This autobiography was written by Darwin exclusively for his children and grand-children and was published posthumously. He writes his life's story with brevity but it gives a good sense of his life. Darwin's ability to self-reflect is one of the factors that lead to his profound insights on natural selection. His power of observation and critical analysis changed the course of science and how people looked at the world. Reading this short book is a great way to know his personal perspectives and motivations on science, evolution, geography, his friends, family and slavery, and the things he missed. "If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week." This is a book where the appendices also make for a very good reading. This was the second Darwin biography that I have read. Now I need to get my hands on Janet Browne's two-part biography.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Armin Books

    I just finished reading the 'Autobiography of Charles Darwin' a few minutes ago. Darwin portrays himself as an ordinary man with an extraordinary zeal for science. As he put it, "My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort." Darwin was a humble, mild-mannered Englishman whose great power of observation and critical analysis revolutionised our view of the I just finished reading the 'Autobiography of Charles Darwin' a few minutes ago. Darwin portrays himself as an ordinary man with an extraordinary zeal for science. As he put it, "My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort." Darwin was a humble, mild-mannered Englishman whose great power of observation and critical analysis revolutionised our view of the world, and ourselves. In my opinion, he was the perfect discoverer of such important scientific fact as evolution. No doubt sooner or later other scientists would have come up with an evolutionary theory, as indeed Wallace did. But, Darwin was a great persuader and he had his job cut out for him. Reading his autobiography is also a great way to get some insight into his personal perspectives and motivations. For instance, he had a surprising melodramatic sense of humour. There were few lines in the book that made me chuckle! :) He received much joy from poetry and music in his youth, which he lamented losing them later in life. In fact, this would be the one thing he would have changed if he was to live again. "If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week." There are some life lessons to be gleaned from this little book. A witty, inspiring read. That's all I'm going to say. Read it for yourselves!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This was a great little book to aid my quest to learn a bit about Charles Darwin. Darwin's actual autobiography is pretty short and makes up only half of the volume. Not a riveting autobiography, but his rambles were pleasant enough, and there were a couple amusing anecdotes. I enjoyed it. The remaining half is mostly devoted to letters and articles about some controversy between Darwin and Butler which I had absolutely no interest in, and the rest are a couple of Darwin's personal notes, which This was a great little book to aid my quest to learn a bit about Charles Darwin. Darwin's actual autobiography is pretty short and makes up only half of the volume. Not a riveting autobiography, but his rambles were pleasant enough, and there were a couple amusing anecdotes. I enjoyed it. The remaining half is mostly devoted to letters and articles about some controversy between Darwin and Butler which I had absolutely no interest in, and the rest are a couple of Darwin's personal notes, which was my favorite part.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bjorn

    When Darwin sat down to write his autobiography - more for his children's sakes than because he thought anyone outside his immediate family would be interested - he was 67 years old. He had travelled around the world, he had met the elite of 19th century English thinkers, he had published a number of books including at least two which would still be widely read 150 years later, and revolutionised the field of science in general and biology in particular. After all this, he managed 120 pages of When Darwin sat down to write his autobiography - more for his children's sakes than because he thought anyone outside his immediate family would be interested - he was 67 years old. He had travelled around the world, he had met the elite of 19th century English thinkers, he had published a number of books including at least two which would still be widely read 150 years later, and revolutionised the field of science in general and biology in particular. After all this, he managed 120 pages of autobiography, almost half of which describes his childhood and teen years. In other words, Autobiography neither is nor tries to be the ultimate word on the life of Charles Darwin. For most of the book, he simply relates the facts of his life, his friends and family and his work, without doing much to try and put it in context, draw conclusions or reveal secrets - or even discern between harmless anecdotes and important events; he spends almost as much on stealing apples as a child as he does on his 5-year trip around the world on the Beagle. (Though to be honest, the latter is because he'd already published an account of that and didn't want to repeat himself.) Darwin comes across as a genuinely humble guy, who acknowledges that he's done something huge but isn't out to defend his conclusions or parade his knowledge; he's already done that in his other books, and now he just briefly tells us why he came to be interested in biology, how he started questioning prevailing attitudes, and how he drew his conclusions and wrote his books (and he says very little about the 20-year wait before he dared publish Origin of Species). He's as calmly objective about himself as he is about his findings; it's all in a day's work. Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that "I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this." I remember when in Good Success Bay, in Tierra del Fuego, thinking (and, I believe, that I wrote home to the effect) that I could not employ my life better than in adding a little to Natural Science. This I have done to the best of my abilities, and critics may say what they like, but they cannot destroy this conviction. The result is a well-written, if not terribly fascinating book; the kind of autobiography that tells you more about its subject by what it leaves out than by what it includes. I'm sure there are better accounts of his life and the importance of his work; hearing ol' Chuck himself tell it, you'd almost think he did no more than invent a better mousetrap. But hey, if you're interested in a look inside the mind of the man who basically came up with the idea that mice could be caught at all, you could do a lot worse.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Feisty Harriet

    I kind of have a thing for Charles Darwin, so it was inevitable that I would want to read his autobiography. I loved reading his own words and some of his own thoughts on science, evolution, his friends, family, and slavery (he was adamantly anti-slavery). That being said, this autobiography was written by Darwin, exclusively for his children and grand-children. And as such, it doesn't cover much of his life, especially when compared to the 1200 page, 2-part biography by Janet Browne that I read I kind of have a thing for Charles Darwin, so it was inevitable that I would want to read his autobiography. I loved reading his own words and some of his own thoughts on science, evolution, his friends, family, and slavery (he was adamantly anti-slavery). That being said, this autobiography was written by Darwin, exclusively for his children and grand-children. And as such, it doesn't cover much of his life, especially when compared to the 1200 page, 2-part biography by Janet Browne that I read last summer. It is interesting the pieces Darwin felt were most important (combined with his volumes of letters and correspondence, some of which are included in the Appendix), compared to what a careful biographer would include--which includes researching multiple records and documents around Darwin's life, not just his personal journals and papers. I am glad I read the behemoth biography first, because it helped me fill in the gaps that Darwin skims over.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ross

    I found this work very interesting and charming, but as I read it I kept thinking if I were not a huge fan of the author and his life's achievements, this book would be colossally boring. So I am happy to give it 4 stars, but if Charles Darwin is not a great man for you, then this would not be a good book for you. I rate Charles Darwin as one of the two greatest men who has ever lived, along with Abraham Lincoln. I never get over the incredible coincidence that these two greatest of men were born I found this work very interesting and charming, but as I read it I kept thinking if I were not a huge fan of the author and his life's achievements, this book would be colossally boring. So I am happy to give it 4 stars, but if Charles Darwin is not a great man for you, then this would not be a good book for you. I rate Charles Darwin as one of the two greatest men who has ever lived, along with Abraham Lincoln. I never get over the incredible coincidence that these two greatest of men were born on the very same day. One in an English manor house and the other in a log cabin in the American wilderness thousands of miles across the sea. Goes to show that where you were born may not be all that important if you have the right stuff. If you would like to read this book, you can download it for free from the Gutenberg Project web site.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    Interesting read. Not too long, but enlightening. He said he was pleased that his many works were not treated with controversy because his only concerns were the pursuit of his passion for science, and how his peers and mentors viewed him. He ignored the criticisms of any who had no scientific credentials, and was gratified by the public response, measured largely in great book sales of virtually all of his many esoteric works on science and related studies. His self proclaimed best qualities Interesting read. Not too long, but enlightening. He said he was pleased that his many works were not treated with controversy because his only concerns were the pursuit of his passion for science, and how his peers and mentors viewed him. He ignored the criticisms of any who had no scientific credentials, and was gratified by the public response, measured largely in great book sales of virtually all of his many esoteric works on science and related studies. His self proclaimed best qualities were patience, diligence, industry and common sense. I recommend this short book with 4 stars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rohit Amberker

    A humbling read It was a real pleasure to read this book. It truly felt like the legend himself in his frail voice is narrating his life story. It's a very short book and it talks to the ingenuity of Charles Darwin to deliver the message in a most concise manner. A lot to learn in this book and it left me humbled. LOVED IT!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    muthuvel

    It's one of the most successful autobiographies ever written as it satisfies the core purpose of getting inside the author's head and his thoughts very clearly! I would highly recommend it to science lovers and geeks.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paleoanthro

    You cannot know Charles Darwin without reading his Autobiography, which, combined with some other great works on this great scientist, will only help highlight his life, thoughts, and scientific achievements.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bcoghill Coghill

    A nice biography but lacks the insights we would like from such a genius, a man who changed the world. He did have a charming modesty and I think was likable fellow. I wonder what he would have been like in the day of modern science. Probably, he would still be outstanding.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Cloyd

    Before he made his big discovery, Darwin intended to become a pastor. Fortunately for us, his passion for knowledge ultimately led him towards science and away from theology, though his thoughts on both are certainly worth reading. Though he was bold, even daring, he was never arrogant or condescending, but displayed great humility and grace in his writing: "I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (& I can't resist forming one on Before he made his big discovery, Darwin intended to become a pastor. Fortunately for us, his passion for knowledge ultimately led him towards science and away from theology, though his thoughts on both are certainly worth reading. Though he was bold, even daring, he was never arrogant or condescending, but displayed great humility and grace in his writing: "I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (& I can't resist forming one on every subject), as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it." "I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men." "I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished." "Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake. I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joie

    I'm sad to say that on my first trip through a History of Psychology course, I wasn't super interested in Darwin. A little older and a little wiser when I took a similar grad school course, that all changed. I was assigned a presentation on Darwin's early life through his voyage on the Beagle, which led me to reading some snippets of his own writing. His writing was charming, often full of wit, and sometimes deeply moving (his letter on the death of his daughter Annie is particularly touching). I'm sad to say that on my first trip through a History of Psychology course, I wasn't super interested in Darwin. A little older and a little wiser when I took a similar grad school course, that all changed. I was assigned a presentation on Darwin's early life through his voyage on the Beagle, which led me to reading some snippets of his own writing. His writing was charming, often full of wit, and sometimes deeply moving (his letter on the death of his daughter Annie is particularly touching). Soon enough I found myself ordering this fully restored edition (edited by his granddaughter). I read a decent chunk in 2016 before life got in the way, and I've just devoured the rest of it in 2 days. Perhaps it's my own ignorance, but Darwin's autobiography didn't read at all like I would expect something from a 19th century man of science would read. Perhaps this is because his autobiography was initially written for his family, but the tone is conversational, detailed without being boring, and full of humor. This edition includes passages previously removed by his family, including his then-controversial thoughts on religion (well, maybe now-controversial too in some circles). I lost a bit of steam in the appendices when passages detailing a semi-feud between Samuel Butler* and Darwin seemed to go on a bit longer than needed, but the original letters from Darwin's friends and families - full of their advice to him on dealing with a bully - were completely enchanting. I did not expect to laugh out loud multiple times at letters from the 1880s today, but hey, there you have it. You can actually read this whole she-bang through Darwin Online, but it was well worth the money to own my own copy. Given how much my attitude toward Darwin changed in just 5 years, I'd love to reread this again in the future and see how my perspective has changed again. * Edit 7/9/2017: In my first review I accidentally wrote Samuel Barber instead of Samuel Butler. To clarify, Darwin did not feud with one of the most important American music composers who lived a century after Darwin.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brett

    Darwin's autobiography is a personal document, not written with the intent to be a published book for all the world to read. As such, it's interests tend to be more personal--Darwin's boyhood, his children, his professional development, and his relations with other scientists of his era. Though it touches on some of the controversies his work ignited, that's not really the point. Though I found the book vaguely interesting, it's hardly the defining word on Darwin's life or the meaning and impact Darwin's autobiography is a personal document, not written with the intent to be a published book for all the world to read. As such, it's interests tend to be more personal--Darwin's boyhood, his children, his professional development, and his relations with other scientists of his era. Though it touches on some of the controversies his work ignited, that's not really the point. Though I found the book vaguely interesting, it's hardly the defining word on Darwin's life or the meaning and impact of his work. The few scant pages devoted to his thoughts on the intersection of his scientific work with religious dogmas were to me the most engaging part of the book. Darwin fully accepts the consequences of his chain of logic, and doesn't in his own mind soft peddle the meaning of evolution. However, this is really only a small fragment of the whole, and doesn't give us a full context or extended treatment of any of the issues involved. Reading about Darwin's childhood, relationship with his parents, search for a fulfilling career, and other parts of his personal life is interesting in the same sense that reading any thoughtful person's journal might be interesting, but there is little that is really striking. Perhaps Darwin's utter ordinariness is the most surprising thing you'd learn. He felt driven in his work. He loved his kids. He seemed like a genuinely nice person. But Darwin is not a great writer and, truth be told, my patience was often stretched. In my version of the book, the last section is devoted printing a great number of letters regarding a quarrel with another scientist, Richard Owen. The reasons for the quarrel are really too small of potatoes to matter to anyone in the present day--mostly it comes down to Owen being mad about the way an article was edited. Evidently, the disagreement with Owen caused Darwin great personal stress during his life, though why it should occupy such a large chunk of the book is a mystery to me. It has no relevance to the modern reader. Darwin's autobiography is informative and pleasant, but it is hardly illuminating. For those wishing to delve into the deeper significance of his work, I'd look elsewhere.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Mackey

    A quick, easy, illuminating view into the beautiful, messy, diligent and earnest mind and habits of Charles Darwin. (Having been taught some untruths about Darwin in my childhood, I still feel compelled to make up for lost time.) One of the most interesting facts I learned in this autobiography is that Darwin did not publish The Origin of Species until 15-20 years AFTER having compiled his key observations, notes and findings. As a result, The Origin of Species has stood up to 157 years of A quick, easy, illuminating view into the beautiful, messy, diligent and earnest mind and habits of Charles Darwin. (Having been taught some untruths about Darwin in my childhood, I still feel compelled to make up for lost time.) One of the most interesting facts I learned in this autobiography is that Darwin did not publish The Origin of Species until 15-20 years AFTER having compiled his key observations, notes and findings. As a result, The Origin of Species has stood up to 157 years of subsequent biological research because Darwin took the time and care to make sure the theory was nearly impossible to refute. Later scientists found Origin slightly incomplete, but not incorrect. Darwin was admittedly not the smartest of his peers in terms of raw brainpower, but he possessed the superpower (or super-habit) of paying special attention to collecting facts that did not agree with his prior conceptions... "I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer." Darwin's success, by his own analysis, owed to his ability to see, note and learn from objections to his cherished thoughts. Oh, that we all could follow this example... I also very much enjoyed reading the accounts of Darwin's deep relationships with his family members, his peers and even his critics.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sbijapure

    Charles Darwin's son Francis Darwin states on the very first page that "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." This edition contains two appendices by son Francis Darwin (1) reminiscences of My Father's Everyday Life. (2) The Religion of Charles Darwin. The autobiography gives information Charles Darwin's son Francis Darwin states on the very first page that "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." This edition contains two appendices by son Francis Darwin (1) reminiscences of My Father's Everyday Life. (2) The Religion of Charles Darwin. The autobiography gives information regarding his education and names of the interesting people he knew, and mentions all the books he published. The first appendix gives clear information of his daily life and of his character and nature. The second appendix gives extracts of some of his letters which indicate that he was initially a theist but later slowly changed is opinions and became agnostic.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Yannis Charalabidis

    Ah, sir Charles Darwin ! This auto-biography illustrates how impeccable the merging of persistence with humbleness can be. A true analytical mind, faraway from the typical ethics-restrained research, well before anyone else. Writing about himself, not to be published, but for his kids to read after his death. But also a kind and loving human being, in a repeatedly appearing mild depression caused by his poor physical condition and his great, otherwise, mind. If biographies can be life-changers for Ah, sir Charles Darwin ! This auto-biography illustrates how impeccable the merging of persistence with humbleness can be. A true analytical mind, faraway from the typical ethics-restrained research, well before anyone else. Writing about himself, not to be published, but for his kids to read after his death. But also a kind and loving human being, in a repeatedly appearing mild depression caused by his poor physical condition and his great, otherwise, mind. If biographies can be life-changers for the reader, then this has good chances. Do not bypass the small part on his religious beliefs, at the end. Replying to the usual "is there God" question, after declaring himself a humble scientist, says "I cannot but be an agnostic when such difficult questions arise. Also, our evolution from lower species does not at all make me more confident that, if any, WE would know the answer"

  27. 4 out of 5

    Keagan Foshee

    I read the autobiography of Charles Darwin, written by him self Charles Darwin. Darwin was a very interesting dude. I absolutely loved his "Origin of Species" because at the time it was released it received major backlash from the scientific community. It was kind of odd to read this because the book was originally written for his family, and that can be seen through his writing. Darwin was a very humble man and his story was really good. Darwin's posthumousness was really funny, he was also a I read the autobiography of Charles Darwin, written by him self Charles Darwin. Darwin was a very interesting dude. I absolutely loved his "Origin of Species" because at the time it was released it received major backlash from the scientific community. It was kind of odd to read this because the book was originally written for his family, and that can be seen through his writing. Darwin was a very humble man and his story was really good. Darwin's posthumousness was really funny, he was also a really good writer, he was able to create good flow throughout his book. I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for a good read and is interested to hear more about Charles Darwin from nobody better then himself.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Vavřička

    A short autobiography that moreover includes really useful advices for researchers, e.g. how to organize work or what used to be his approach for writing scientific articles and books. I find a parallel between his life and mine when he laments about his lost ability to appreciate reading poetry, listening to music, etc.; when he says that his mind had turned into a kind of "machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts". He continues that the loss of those above-mentioned A short autobiography that moreover includes really useful advices for researchers, e.g. how to organize work or what used to be his approach for writing scientific articles and books. I find a parallel between his life and mine when he laments about his lost ability to appreciate reading poetry, listening to music, etc.; when he says that his mind had turned into a kind of "machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts". He continues that the loss of those above-mentioned "higher aesthetic tastes" is a loss of happiness and so if he had to live his life again, he would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some nice music at least on a weekly basis in order to prevent that from happening.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deep

    A short autobiography of Darwin. Darwin was a great collector of facts. He loved to ponder on his ideas. He tested his ideas. He noted things immaculately. He was rigorous. He loved collecting facts, and scientific experiments. His love of 'finding things out' allowed him to put in the long years in forming each theory and in writing his papers/books. Thanks to him we now know the revolutionary theory of 'Evolution'. A theory that has lasted 100+ years.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hageman

    Nice short reflection straight from the horses mouth of such an influential figure. Very cool that he had written it privately for his children, and that it was released to the public, have to wonder how he would have felt about that, and how he might have approached the telling of his story differently!

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