What do you mean, you've never read 'On the Origin of Species'?

Take a short trip as the lapwing flies 14 miles north-east of where I am writing these words, crossing Brontë Country, past Keighley, and over the legendary Ilkley Moor, then head back in time exactly 150 years to the day, and you might well chance upon Charles Darwin taking the waters at White Wells Bath House.

But, as we all know, 24th November, 1859 was no typical day in Darwin's quack water treatment. It was the day on which his most famous book was published. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life sold out on its first day, and has never been out of print since. It is a classic text. Arguably one of the most important books in the history of science. And, rather surprisingly, it is still remarkably accessible to the lay reader…

What do you mean, you've never read On the Origin of Species? Surely you jest! Really? You really haven't read On the Origin of Species? Trust me, it's not that hard. OK, so maybe it isn't exactly a page-turner, but we're talking about one of the great revolutionary books here—and it's written in plain English, for ordinary mortals like you and me. You certainly can't say that about Newton's Principia. In fact, I'm struggling to think of another revolutionary scientific text you can say that about.

Yes, Origin is dated in one or two places—and plain wrong in one or two more—but Darwin's great work has withstood the trials and tribulations of the last 150 years remarkably well. The gentle genius's long argument still hold true. More so than ever, in fact, as we now have 150 years of extra evidence to back it up.

So if you consider yourself a Darwin groupie, or simply well-read, yet you still haven't read the great man's most important work, why not make today's 150th anniversary of its publication the perfect excuse to start reading the damn thing?

You never know, you might just learn something.

3 thoughts on “What do you mean, you've never read 'On the Origin of Species'?

  1. Colin Purrington

    Do you know of any stat on the % of biologists who have read it? I'd estimate 0.02% here in U.S. That might be overly optimistic. Given the book's importance in science it is strange it isn't required reading somewhere along the educational process.

  2. Chris Pitcher, FCD

    Well I've not read it but one of the reasons I suspect it isn't read by many Biologists (or electrical engineers) is that when someone explains the few basic ideas, unlike relativity or quantum mechanics (or indeed, electricity), it all seems perfectly understandable and reasonable. In fact I suspect that the broad theory is adequately in covered a chapter of many books undergrad books.

    From me too, Happy vicarious 150th, Richard.

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