Sunday, July 19, 2009

Darwin's Origin of Species by Janet Browne (unabridged audio book read by Josephine Bailey)

Notable Charles Darwin biographer Janet Browne (Voyaging and The Power of Place) focuses on the evolutionist's landmark work in Darwin's Origin of Species, part of the Books That Changed the World series from Atlantic Monthly/Grove Press. Browne lightly covers the history and legacy of the work from Darwin's first inspirations to the controversy that followed the 1859 publications of On the Origin of Species to its effects on science to the present day. She only hits the high points, making it ideal for beginners to the subject.

Refreshingly, Browne is not afraid to cover some of the more embarrassing consequences of On the Origin of Species (like eugenics), making Darwin's Origin of Species a well-rounded "biography" and a perfect stepping stone into deeper investigation. Browne's prose is dry by necessity — after all, she's trying to cover a lot of information in a few words: about 200 years in the same number of pages. Reader Josephine Bailey does her best, but she still ends up sounding like a lecturer (though since Browne is a professor, perhaps that was the intent).

This year, the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species and also the 200th anniversary of its author's birth, would seem to be an ideal time to revive appreciation of both. Darwin's Origin of Species certainly piqued my curiosity, especially regarding some of Darwin's later works. The next one I intend to tackle is the particularly intriguing The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin's 1872 study tying human psychology with evolution.

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